Pacific Northwest Food and Cocktail Ramblings Part 1: Seattle

Mountains, evergreen trees, the Pacific Ocean, a haven for vegans – is the Pacific Northwest all it’s cracked out to be?  Yes, it is, in every possible way.  Is it the most racially diverse and cutting edge place? No.  Is it celebrating sustainability and environmentalism?  Yes…and they have a statue of Lenin.  I didn’t know what to expect from Seattle and had grand expectations for Portland as a fan of Portlandia.  I ended up falling in love with Seattle and as someone who isn’t an “outdoorsy” person, I fell in love with its gorgeous nature.  You don’t have to be into hiking or camping to appreciate the scope of its visual beauty.  Yes, the tech scene has a prominent role in Seattle, it’s expected to be the next San Francisco.  But until that nightmare happens, I was quite pleased with what I saw and experienced in Seattle.

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What was it like being a pescatarian in Seattle and Portland?  It was a dream.  You think Chicago is good, but Seattle and Portland are on a whole other level.  Restaurants and bars that don’t even market themselves as “vegetarian” or “vegan” have SUBSTANTIAL and healthy vegetarian and vegan options.  Bars have late-night menus with vegan options.  I had the opportunity to go to a vegan cheese shop in Portland that had 10 types of vegan cheese and the best vegan macaroni and cheese I have ever had.  And if you’re a pescatarian, you’re in heaven because the seafood out there is plentiful and fresh in ways that even if you’re at a fine dining establishment in Chicago, the freshness of the Pacific Northwest’s seafood rivals anything I’ve had back home.

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While Seattle isn’t known for its racial diversity, they sure do have diverse cuisine.  There were Turkish restaurants, Taiwanese restaurants, Indian restaurants, and Vietnamese restaurants amongst many other delicious international cuisines.  And the Sushi in Seattle is jaw-droppingly delicious.  Of course we did some touristy activities while being out there such as the coffee tour.  Seattle does take great care with their coffee and their reputation as a coffee mecca is well-earned.  While Pike’s Place Market is a symbol of Seattle and it was quite impressive – it was a tourist nightmare for me.  It was so crowded to the extent where I could not really enjoy the food there.  But I did have many opportunities to enjoy food outside of Seattle’s tourist trap.  Read below for my food journey throughout the lovely Seattle.

Day 1:

First stop: Cafe Turko

Neighborhood: Fremont

Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★★

Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★★

Affordability: ★★★★

Ambience: ★★★★

Service: ★★★

Food Quality: ★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★1/2

We had just completed a four hour flight and were starving so we hit up a restaurant close to where we were staying in the chic and boho Fremont neighborhood.  I was intrigued to see a Turkish restaurant since there aren’t too many in Chicago.  I was utterly impressed with the decor there.  Gorgeous decorations and ambience with intricate art work adorned the walls.  They have an extensive menu that is easy to get lost in so we had pretty high expectations.  The service was quite slow there though.  It took awhile for them to even greet us at the table, take our order, etc.  I also felt like they were a bit condescending.  I ordered the Turkish coffee since I have had it many times before and love how intense it is.  The server had assumed I had never had it and kept pushing sugar in the coffee and I said I would be fine.  I don’t like when someone assumes that I haven’t experienced something and that I need a watered down version of it.

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Turkish coffee

Overall, the food was good but nothing was amazing.  I am glad I was able to try flavors that I typically don’t get to try.  The Turkish coffee was intense and strong as expected and I loved it.  It was served in this intricate silver mug.  We started with the Wholesome Aegean Musakka, which had minced eggplant, onions, tomatoes, and a Turkish red paste with olive oil and various spices.  It was refreshing and cold, which I didn’t expect but it was a good dish overall.  We also had the Gypsy’s Yahni, which comes from Turkish-Romani cuisine.  It consisted of a mélange of baked  cauliflower and other vegetables in a mild tomato sauce served with rice pilaf and a light salad.  Again, the flavors were decent and I liked how hearty it was.

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Wholesome Aegean Musakka
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Gypsy’s Yahni

The last dish was from their breakfast menu and I appreciate that they were willing to serve us something from that menu later on in the day.  But it was the most underwhelming dish, which was the Mother-In-Law’s Breakfast Plate.  It came with a hardboiled egg, cucumbers and tomatoes.  The olives and bit of olive tapenade was great, I just wished they would’ve added more of it.  For $12 I expected more than fresh vegetables and a hard-boiled egg.  Overall, if you’re looking to try some Turkish cuisine, this is a great option, but don’t expect to be wowed.

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Mother-In-Law’s Breakfast Plate

Thackeray Cafe and Bar: Sample Chic International Wine

Neighborhood: Fremont

Affordability: ★★★

Ambience: ★★★★1/2

Service: ★★★★★

Wine Quality: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

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Did you know that Seattle has quite the wine scene?  There are so many wineries and wine shops that let you try the deep and complex wines from the region.  Being a wine lover, I had to stop at a wine bar.  We went to Thackeray for wine and they do this incredibly genius concept where you can have two glasses of different wines for $18.  This way you can sample more wine and compare/contrast them to one another.  I love this concept because I don’t need to drink a massive quality and am more curious to try the different wines.  This was my favorite wine bar in Seattle.  It had a relaxed and upscale atmosphere with a lovely outdoor patio.

Hazlewood Bar: Craft Cocktails and a Sexy Aesthetic

Neighborhood: Ballard

Affordability: ★★★

Ambience: ★★★★

Service: ★★★★★

Cocktail Quality: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★1/2

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Mezcal Cocktail

Ballard is also a favorite neighborhood of mine in Seattle since it has quite the vast array of restaurants, coffee shops, and cocktail bars.  Hazlewood is a small, intimate cocktail bar in Ballard serving unique and tasty concoctions.  They have a remarkable ordering concept where you can order your drinks at the bar in a line and then wait to pick it up from the bar.  Then you can transport your drink to the dark and brooding upstairs area to sip on your favorite craft cocktail under candlelight.  I had the Mezcal cocktail, which was smoky and tasty – basically what a Mezcal cocktail should be like.  This place is ideal for a romantic date!  Drinks are strong and its dimly lit.

Roxy’s Bar: Gorgeous Interior, Affordable Cocktails

Neighborhood: Fremont

Affordability: ★★★★

Ambience: ★★★★

Service: ★★★★★

Cocktail Quality: ★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★

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Roxy’s Bar is a late night, speakeasy bar in the trendy Fremont neighborhood.  The bartender was chill and it had a very down to earth vibe.  They do have cocktails and they’re not nearly as good as Hazlewood or some of the other places we went to in Seattle, but they definitely have more affordable drinks.  And the interior is gorgeous with sulking statues, grand chandeliers, and a dark red interior with paintings of happy people on the walls.  I would just come here for the regal decor.

Day 2:

Cafe con Todo: Vegan Donuts!

Neighborhood: Fremont

Affordability: ★★★★

Ambience: ★★★★

Service: ★★★★★

Coffee and Snacks Quality: ★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★

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Vegan Apple Fritter

If you’re looking for a relaxed vibe and vegan donuts, Cafe con Todo is an excellent choice.  We had some delicious iced coffee and they had quite a few options for vegan donuts.  I tried their vegan chocolate donut and apple fritter and they were both satisfying.  While vegan donuts tend to be on the dryer side, the donuts were still moist enough (especially the chocolate one) for me to be happy.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  And why not lay in a hammock while drinking your cold brew?

Brouwer’s Cafe: Belgian Mussels, Yes Please!

Neighborhood: Fremont

Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★★

Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★★

Affordability: ★★★

Ambience: ★★★★

Service: ★★★

Food Quality: ★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★

After walking around and seeing the Fremont troll and the other pleasant sights of Fremont, we ate lunch at Brouwer’s Cafe – a Belgian beerhall.  It definitely had dark beer hall vibes, which was kind of a turn off but we got to sit in the empty patio area outside.  You also have to be 21 to just even walk in the place so they were pretty aggressive about checking our ID’s and they made my boyfriend throw out his iced coffee, which was kind of awkward.

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Belgian Mussels

However, it was nice to have the patio to ourselves – no fears of anyone eavesdropping in our conversations.  It was also an extremely sunny and gorgeous day outside.  The stereotype of Seattle being rainy is only half true.  We experienced some gorgeous summer weather.  Since we were at a Belgian place, we had to try their mussels.  We ordered the Brouwer’s Mussels and Frites, which came with a New Belgian Sour Saison cream sauce.  The sauce was mouthwateringly delicious, it wasn’t heavy at all and had a perfect balance of beer and savory flavors.  The sauce came with tasty leeks, carrots, celery, and onions.  They served a baguette, which was perfect for dipping in the sauce along with my guilty pleasure, frites.  The frites were crispy and the curry ketchup was delicious.

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Croque Savoyard

Being a Francophile, I was also excited to see a vegetarian version of a Croque Monsieur.  They had a Croque Savoyard, which was glorified, gourmet Grilled cheese and I loved every minute of it.  It came with Swiss and parmesan cheese on local Sourdough bread with basil, roasted red pepper and tomatoes.  It also came with frites so we were in frites heaven.  The Croque was a savory delight.  Since we had dinner plans that night, we took a lot of leftovers back.

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Frites

Din Tai Fung: A Taiwanese Feast

Neighborhood: Downtown

Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★

Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★★

Affordability: ★★★1/2

Ambience: ★★★★

Service: ★★★★

Food Quality: ★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★

After we walked from Fremont to the downtown area (we walked on that big bridge), we did work up a bit of an appetite.  As I stated before, Seattle has an incredibly diverse dining scene that was quite impressive.  We were meeting our Taiwanese-American friend for dinner that night who basically showed us the best pescatarian dishes that the restaurant offered and we were given so much more insight on what we were eating than if we just went there by ourselves.

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Vegetarian Dumplings

Seattle has two locations for Din Tai Fung and the one we went to was in the busy downtown area inside of a mall.  A mall?  You wouldn’t expect to find delicious, gourmet cuisine inside of a mall, but Din Tai Fun was the exception.  We also were lucky enough to be seated on the rooftop where we had access to a scenic view of the city.  The menu is quite extensive and whatever you are in the mood for, you will be able to find.  They have regular dumplings, soup dumplings, noodles, rice, rice cakes, etc.  We ordered an assortment of shrimp dumplings and vegetarian dumplings.  The vegetarian dumplings were my favorite and dipping them into the sauces that are served at every table made them even more appetizing.  The flavors were pure and undiluted.

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Spicy Noodles

While I am very much into saucy, spicy dishes, Taiwanese cuisine stands out with its pure, undiluted flavors.  It’s still satisfying even though it’s not necessarily spicy or saucy.  We did order the noodles with spicy sauce and the sauce was complex and spectacular.  It was basically just noodles and sauce, but it was exciting enough to keep me interested and it did have some spice!  Another favorite of mine were the Shanghai Rice Cakes – there were so many interesting textures and flavors.  The rice cakes were tasty and served with bok choi with a light soy-based sauce.  I haven’t had too many dishes like it before and I was impressed.

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Vegetarian Rice Cakes

For dessert, we had the sesame buns and they were phenomenal.  The buns were fresh and moist and the sesame inside of it was sweet, but not overly sweet.  I feel like Chinese, Japanese, and Taiwanese desserts do such a good job of satisfying your sweet tooth without being overly sweet.  We had plenty of leftovers again and I cannot wait to the next time I get to try some more Taiwanese delicacies.

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Sesame Buns

The Hideout: Post-Dinner Cocktails

Neighborhood: First Hill

Affordability: ★★★

Ambience: ★★★★★

Service: ★★★1/2

Cocktail Quality: ★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★

We did some more walking around after our Taiwanese feast and were ready to be social over some craft cocktails at the Hideout (different from the Chicago one).  I really enjoy the vibes of the Hideout.  It was dark and relaxed with descent music and thought-provoking art work on the walls.  They have a vast assortment of cocktails and can even make you a custom cocktail if you describe what flavors you like.  We did run into a weird issue where the bartender there that night claimed to not serve cocktails after 1am.  There was no announcement about it being last call or anything so we were confused about this random rule.

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Silent Protest

Before they shut down the cocktails, I had the Silent Protest being a Mezcal lover.  It was herbaceous and refreshing with Campari, grenadine and fresh mint, which tied everything together.  My friends ordered the Andy Warhol, which was a cosmopolitan that came with a polaroid shot.  Yes, our bartender took a polaroid photo of us because it came with the drink.  This cocktail bar had my favorite ambience of all the bars we went to in Seattle.  I also enjoyed the unique polaroid experience.

Day 3: Milstead Coffee: Cold Brew in a Cheerful, Modern Space

Neighborhood: Fremont

Affordability: ★★★★

Ambience: ★★★★★

Service: ★★★★★

Coffee Quality: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

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Milstead Coffee is the epitome of a fresh, hip, and well-curated coffee shop.  They have a large, open, white interior with a nice patio area outside.  They’re serious about their coffee whether it’s their cold brew or hot coffee and their coffee flavors really stood out.  Their coffee was pungent, rich and complex.  Their baristas were anything but pretentious and were actually very friendly and enthusiastic about their coffee.  Millstead was my favorite coffee shop experience in Seattle and Portland.  It was a perfect start to a perfect day.

Walrus and the Carpenter: Fresh Raw Oysters

Neighborhood: Ballard

Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★★

Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★★★

Affordability: ★★★1/2

Ambience: ★★★★

Service: ★★★★★

Food Quality: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

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Bread and Butter

We were energized to explore more of Seattle and walked from Fremont to Ballard, another hip, trendy neighborhood in Seattle.  A friend had recommended the Walrus and Carpenter to us as being one of the best restaurants for oysters.  We went there for their oyster happy hour, which meant half-priced oysters!  We ordered an assortment of their oysters, all West Coast – some more briny than others and they were all insanely fresh and flavorful.  It makes it really hard for me to enjoy eating oysters in the Midwest.

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Olives

If you aren’t a fan of oysters, this place will convert you into a believer.  They also served it with a zesty horseradish and fresh mignonette.  We also ordered a side of their bread and butter and it was incredibly remarkable.  The bread was freshly baked and extremely tasty along with their delicate, salty butter.  To make this even more of a heavenly experience we ordered their marinated olives.  The olives were moist, dressed in olive oil with an orange zest and served as the perfect bitter complement to the briny oysters.  They also had a decent-looking cocktail menu but we needed a break from drinking so we didn’t try them.  Our server was enthusiastic and incredibly knowledgeable about their oysters.  It’s a small restaurant with a sunny interior and exterior.

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Oysters

Miro Tea: Global Tea with Vegetarian Snacks

Neighborhood: Ballard

Affordability: ★★★★

Ambience: ★★★★

Service: ★★★★★

Tea Quality: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

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Miro Tea is a gem of the lively Ballard neighborhood.  While Seattle is known for its coffee, I was extremely impressed with this tea shop that serves over 150 different types of teas from all over the world.  I tried their Black Oolong tea and it was heavy and flavorful.  I really wish Miro Tea was in Chicago because there were so many teas I wanted to try.  They have a nice little patio and a large interior for some serious work and/or conversations.  Their food menu also looked vegetarian-friendly making it even more of an attractive place to hang out at.

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Oolong Tea

No Bones Beach Club: Festive Vegan Food with a Side of Tiki

Neighborhood: Ballard

Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★★★

Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★★★

Affordability: ★★★★

Ambience: ★★★★

Service: ★★★★

Food Quality: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

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Buffalo Cauliflower

Where do I even start with this restaurant?  I loved everything about it from the flavorful vegan dishes to the fun tiki environment.  No Bones Beach Club is all over Seattle and Portland and they need to come to Chicago!  They don’t just have your typical vegan fair like tofu and seitan.  They’re really good at cooking with vegetables and beans to curate incredibly flavorful and texturally rich dishes.  No Bones Beach Club is vocal about their love and concern for animals and they aren’t just all talk.  A percentage of their profits are donated to a local animal rescue.  Our server was enthusiastic and took great care of us. It has a fun tiki environment with a wide variety of tiki drinks.  I was holding off on the drinking and saving it for later on at night so I didn’t get to try their cocktails.  Maybe next time!

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Sticky Sugarcane Drumsticks

We started off with the Buffalo Cauliflower Wings – they were amazing!  The buffalo cauliflower wings were crispy and crunchy with a generous serving of their coconut buffalo sauce that didn’t have a strong coconut flavor at all.  I loved how the cauliflower was bathing in the buffalo sauce and if you needed a break from the heat, they served it with a refreshing vegan ranch on the side, which can convert even the most stubborn ranch haters like myself.  We also ordered the Sticky Sugarcane Drumsticks.  I haven’t really seen vegan drumsticks on a menu before so I was intrigued.  The “bones” part was made out of sugar cane with a soy protein surrounding it.  It had a zesty and sweet Gojuchang Sauce with sesame seeds and peanuts drizzled on top with radishes.  It came with a creamy vegan sriracha aioli.  I really liked the zest and spice of the Gojuchang Sauce.

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Grilled Volcano Roll

Have you ever had vegan sushi that made you not miss regular sushi?  We ordered the Grilled Volcano Roll and it was quite remarkable.  It was a grilled sushi roll filled with white beans, nori, carrots, scallions, and red peppers drizzled with crispy wasabi peas, sesame seeds, and a sweet soy glaze with a wasabi aioli served on the side.  I am a big sushi lover and seriously did not miss the seafood.  It was an incredibly creative and innovative take on vegan sushi with crunchy textures and a combination of complementary flavors.  We left incredibly satisfied and full with plenty of leftovers.

Little Tin Apothecary: Craft Cocktails at their Finest

Neighborhood: Ballard

Affordability: ★★★

Ambience: ★★★★

Service: ★★★★

Cocktail Quality: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★

 

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At this point we had done some pretty typical touristy things like see the lush and beautiful Chihuly Gardens and the picturesque Space Needle under construction.  We saved our drinking for later at night and returned to Ballard to visit what I think are some of the best cocktails in the U.S.  They were certainly the best cocktails in Seattle.  Little Tin Apothecary closes pretty early on (at 11pm) so it’s not a place where you can do a late night but it’s worth squeezing in for the earlier part of the night.  It has  beautiful, unique decor that reminds me of a secret garden and is a perfect spot for an intimate date with a romantic interest or friends.  They have an incredibly innovative and rich cocktail menu.

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Spring Formal

I started with the Grand Central, which was pretty boozy with vodka, gin, vermouth, and melon bitters.  It came with strawberries, smoked gouda cheese, and olives to bring out the flavors of the cocktail more.  The idea behind it was that with each pairing of food, you will taste a different element of the cocktail.  The cocktail itself was good and who doesn’t love eating smoked gouda and olives with a strong cocktail?  But what really blew me away was their Spring Formal, which had this incredibly delicate and rich lavender flavor.  It came with lavender liqueur, gin, coconut cream, absinthe, and grenadine with catnip!  Who would think of putting lavender and catnip in a drink?  Whoever did was a genius because all of the flavors went really well together.  By far these were the best cocktails I had in Seattle and I can’t wait to go back!  I have had plenty of good cocktails in Chicago and was blown away by this place.

Hotel Albatross: Late Night Tiki Dream

Neighborhood: Ballard

Affordability: ★★★★

Ambience: ★★★★

Service: ★★★★★

Cocktail Quality: ★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★

We were liquored up from the incredibly rich and flavorful drinks at Little Tin and weren’t ready to call it a night so we went to another dynamic bar, Hotel Albatross.  Hotel Albatross is a quaint and relaxing tiki bar.  It’s colorful and hip with many options for tiki and non-tiki cocktails.  So many cocktails looked intriguing on the menu but since there were 4 of us, we decided to share one of their large drinks, the Volcano Bowl!  It was dramatic and glamorous with flaming rum and blended fruit.  It tasted great and I loved the theatrics with the fire.  It was quite boozy though so prepare to feel tipsy.  I always had wanted to try one of those large drinks for 4 people and finally experienced one of my dreams that night.

– Hungry for more Seattle experiences through a pescatarian lens?  Stay tuned for my Part 2 Seattle post!

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