Last week I had the opportunity to visit Seattle for the first time since I moved back east almost three years ago. Ostensibly this was a business trip, but that didn’t stop me from visiting with a lot of friends I hadn’t seen in ages.
First, I have to say that staying at the Washington Athletic Club made the trip quite a bit more enjoyable. I was a member of the WAC for almost four years, during which I played a lot of pool, but hardly ever used any of the athletic facilities. I also frequented their Wine Maker’s Dinners. The wine, fantastic dinners and shunning of athletic equipment no doubt explains my somewhat rounded appearance during my Seattle years.
I started every morning last week with a visit to The Crumpet Shop – just like I started nearly every morning for the four years I lived in the Pike Place Market. Seeing Gary & Nancy again was a real pleasure. In fact, Nancy looked right at me twice before she recognised me – I guess losing 50+ pounds has made me look a little different.
I was delighted to see that Nancy has hung up some of her paintings in the shop. She was just getting back into painting around the time I left, and this was the first time I’d been able to see her work. Otherwise, not much had changed at the Crumpet Shop, although the tea is now available in thermal juggy-things where the patrons can get at it without pestering the poor overworked crumpet slingers.
Way up north, on the edge of Seattle’s Gasworks Park, is Elemental @ Gasworks. Even if this weren’t the masterpiece of my friends Phred & Laurie, Elemental would be a really excellent restaurant. Laurie slaves away behind two portable gas burners while Phred entertains the guests.
I was fortunate enough to visit Elemental twice during my visit to Seattle. On the first visit, I enjoyed the Penn Cove Mussels prepared with honey, beer and jalapeños. The Semolina Crab Cake was also really tasty – even if Laurie was encountering some difficulty getting it to stay together. As my main course, I selected a moist filet of Halibut served with an incredibly rich risotto. Of course, Phred matched each course with a superb wine.
I started my second visit to Elemental with the Penn Cove Mussels again, however, this time Laurie prepared them with white wine, chorizo, sweet red peppers, jalapeños, and onions. I have to admit to liking this second preparation a bit better than the first, but both were really great. When Laurie told me about the main course, I expected the wing-nuts from PETA to storm the restaurant. Imagine a thick slice of meat loaf. Now imagine that same meat loaf made from foie gras, lamb and veal. Served on a slice of fresh rosemary bread with steamed green beans, it was simply heavenly. Once again, Phred selected excellent wines which complemented both the mussels and meat loaf, including a slightly spicy red with lots of flavour.
I disagree somewhat with Phred & Laurie’s stance that at Elemental, service is inclusive. That means you can’t leave a tip. If you pay with a credit card, they write in the total amount and write “Service Inclusive” in the tip box. And they don’t even look at the receipts to add in tips if you write one in. Of course, if you’re paying cash, you could always leave a bit extra and then race out of the restaurant. But then I’d expect Phred to come running out after you with your “change”.
Thursday evening, after work was complete, I headed down to southern Seattle for dinner at my buddy Robert “Bo” Bonina’s home. In addition to Bo’s long-term partner, Adriana, I also got to see my friend Dana who now owns her own restaurant out in West Seattle, where I hear she serves up tasty Italian fare. In addition to an extremely tasty Bordeaux, Bo shared with us two incredible Italian reds (and my inability to remember names means they’ll have to remain anonymous) that went very nicely with the pasta and steaks from one of the largest cows known to man. These steaks were huge. I asked Bo to only serve me half of one steak, and I still almost couldn’t finish.
I was also able to grab lunch at Matt’s in the Market – perhaps the best lunch counter you’ll ever encounter. Matt was just as busy as I’d remembered, and more importantly, the food was every bit as good as I recall. Although I passed on the wine (I’d been in oenologist’s heaven the night before at Bo’s and again that evening at Elemental), the chef, Eric, prepared a very tasty spicy pork soup followed by snapper served with a red mole sauce over red beans and rice. Of course, one of the best (or worst if you’re not into it) features of the counter at Matt’s is meeting new (and often weird) people. I happened to sit next to the chattiest woman who told me almost her entire life story when all I wanted to do was catch up with Matt, Eric and the rest of the gang.
Finally, the moment of reckoning: I stepped on the scale when I returned home to discover I’d acquired 4 lbs somewhere in my travels. Must have been that junk food I had in the Chicago airport…