Thursday, May 21, 2009


Seattle is most definitely a food (and coffee!) city. It's also a gateway city: to Alaska, to the Pacific, and Asia further off. Large numbers of people come and go from it. Several flights a day arrive and depart to and from Asia and Alaska; cruise ships embark heading north up along British Columbia through the Inside Passage to Alaska, or out into the Pacific to far off destinations; Canada is just over the border a few hours north. The city is diverse culturally, and cosmopolitan in feel, yet still has a Northwestern charm all its own.

The Emerald City

I spent this past weekend in Seattle attending the International Food Blogger Conference, sponsored by Foodista, a cooking encylopedia everyone can edit -- the Wikipedia of food. The last time I was in, or near, Seattle was when I was about fourteen years old. My mother took my sister and I on a three-month long driving tour around the Northwest. I have dim memories of the city itself but do remember stopping at the beautiful Olympic Rain Forest on our way north. In any case I was anxious to visit this city again. Especially considering that since the early 7os when I was last there it has become a food mecca. I found it to be quite wonderful. It reminded me a lot of San Francisco, the damp weather, the hills, all the water, and the food. When I was in the Capitol Hill and West Seattle neighborhoods, I was reminded of Hillcrest in San Diego. Quiet, friendly neighborhoods, like small towns set amongst a thriving city. Yes, there is quite a lot of rain, wet and cold to reckon with if one lives in Seattle, but the beauty and quiet pace of life seemed like a nice balance. The amazing, sunny, mid-70s weather we had all weekend probably helped weave an emerald spell but even on the one damp day I was still smitten.

Food & Eating

Now let's get to the food. My first night I ate alone at Spring Hill restaurant in West Seattle and I could not have been happier. The kitchen is open and I had a table at the very back facing forward into the dining room with the kitchen to my left. I sat, ate, observed, listened, ate more. I was quite impressed with the way the kitchen and dining room staff operated; with a quiet precision. Very few uneeded movements. Almost like watching restaurant choreography. Not something I experience often. The restaurant is owned by the very capable husband and wife team, Chef Mark Fuller and Marjorie Chang Fuller who handles the front of the house. I spoke to Marjorie and learned that they'd be serving us lunch at the IFBC on Sunday so I got to see them again which was a treat. I ate the Chicken/Shrimp Paté, Green Garlic Mayonnaise, Turnips, Asparagus as a first course, and the Handmade Tagliatelle, Spicy Pork Belly, Hen of the Woods, Grilled Green Garlic, Parmesan as a main and I was, sadly, too full to squeeze in dessert. It was as delicious and as perfectly prepared as it sounds. Both dishes.

Earlier in the day I went to Pike's Place Market -- something I'd wanted to see for quite a long time. It didn't disappoint. A lively, bustling and touristy place but it was all good. It was fun to see the original Starbucks and the not-quite-original Sur La Table store (it had moved from the original market location to where it is now). I had a very good lunch in a French place called Café Campagne. I sat in a window seat looking down the hill over the market to the water below and ate a delicious Burger d'agneau -- Lamb burger with balsamic grilled onions, roasted peppers, aïoli and pommes frites. A perfect late lunch.

Food Bloggers

The IFBC was a lot of fun, I met some amazing people, ate great food prepared by local purveyors and learned a hell of a lot about food blogging. I now have two new Los Angeles-based food blogger freinds, Jo Stougaard of My Last Bite and Afaf Serrato of Simply Heaven. The three of us had such a great time together. We all went to dinner at a great Italian restaurant, Spinasse, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, on Saturday night after attending a Q&A with Ruth Reichl who is out promoting her new book, "Not Becoming My Mother". It was a hoot to see her, we all got a copy of the book which she signed for us. At Spinasse we shared several dishes two of which were Tajarin al ragu (fine hand cut egg pasta with ragu), and Ravioli di tapinambur al burro e salvia con pignoli (ravioli of Jerusalem artichokes with sage butter and toasted pine nutes). Jo and I had another amazing meal at Le Pichet on Sunday night, a Molly Wizenberg of Orangette fame recommendation. We ate L'Assiette de charcuterie and a salad of greens with confit of duck gizzards, Jo had the Boudin blanc et sa salade tiede aux chou-fleur et pommes de terre (Chicken-pork sausage, roasted, on a warm salad of cauliflower, potato, cornichon and spring onions) and I had Onglet frites (Grilled Oregon Natural beef hangat steak, on escarole, sauteed with olives and garlic, rosemary-red wine sauce). Old-fashioned, wonderful French food. We both were quite happy with our meals.

One of the more interesting IFBC panels took place on Sunday: “Passionate Purveyors & Producers”. One of the passionate purveyors was Carrie Oliver of Oliver Ranch. Carrie and Oliver Ranch promote 'artisan beef', and knowing where your beef comes from. As they say on their website: 'Like fine wines, beef flavor & texture are influenced by breed, growing region, diet & the unique skills of those who raise it'. I'd never actually thought about it like that but it does make sense. I found all she had to say very interesting and wanted to know more. Jo, Afaf, Phil Nigash of My Life As A Foodie and I are hoping to do an artisan beef tasting this fall that Oliver Ranch organizes. It should be a lot of fun as well as informative.

Some of the amazing bloggers I met over the weekend: Chef Reinvented, Fork This, My Last Bite, Not Without Salt, Phoo-D, Plumpest Peach, Recipe Girl, Simply Heaven, The Well Tempered Chocolatier. A long list of local chefs, restauranteurs, and purveyors supplied the conference with wine, cheese, coffee, chocolate, breakfasts, lunches, drinks, snacks, hors d'oeuvres. All locally produced using local products when possible. We ate very well. There seems to be a nice community of food people who seem to support one another in Seattle.

There's so much more to tell and write about but this is long enough so I'll end it here leaving you with a little hodge-podge of things that happened during my frield trip to the Northwest. It was an amazing weekend and I am now a huge fan of Seattle, and all the food people who live and cook there.

My Status: Robert and I leave for Paris, the Languedoc, Barcelona and Madrid on Sunday, May 24, returning home on Saturday, June 6.

Upcoming Posts: France and Spain: if all goes well technologically, and time allows, I'll be posting blogs from Europe. The Wedge Salad: a recipe, the origins of the salad and of Iceberg lettuce when I return.

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  1. You hit almost all of our best restaurants in one weekend. Amazing! Great to meet you. Come back soon!

  2. Thanks Becky! I hope to. I had a great time up there. Get in touch if you are ever down this way.

  3. Wish I was there the first night so I could have eaten at Spring Hill, because your other two choices we went to (Spinasse & Le Pichet) were FANTASTIC. So glad you were there!

    Looking forward to many, many more fun times together.

    Have a great trip! x

  4. Thanks Jo! I wish you had been too. It was a great restaurant experience. Next year! Talk when I get back. Happy dining while I'm away.

  5. Beautifully said!!
    It was an honor to meet you Charles; I look forward to see you soon again.
    Have a wonderful trip!

  6. Thanks Afaf! So glad you and Jo were in Seattle with me. See you when I get back.

  7. Charles, This is one of the most informative pieces I've ever read about an event of this kind. Well done. Plus you captured Seattle's sexy charm, and reading your post made me want to return sooner rather than later! Thanks for sharing, and yes, I think we're all looking forward to your posts from across the pond! Safe travels! Steven

  8. Sounds like such a fun conference! Have a great trip to Europe, can't wait for your write-ups!

  9. Thanks Steven & 5 Star - always appreciate your very kind comments. More coming soon from Europe. Happy cooking & eating!

  10. So wish I could have made this, but I won't miss it for the world next year, should you all do it again.

    You picked all the right places to eat. The Pacific Northwest is, without question, a bastion of great food and eateries. No one does coffee like they do, very few do beer like they do, and it's the citadel of seafood as well.

    Pike's place is the hub for me. I love your pictures. Those crabs look stellar. And that Sur La Table store is making me dizzy. Roller skates, anyone?

    Have fun in Paris, and looking forward to your return. If you're able to blog from there, it will be a great treat for all of us.

  11. Thanks Phil! If we go next year, and I hope we all do again, you have to be there. It was a great weekend. As I said in the post I'm officially a fan of Seattle but I think I knew I would be before I went. A very civilized place! If I can't blog I'll try and tweet from Europe (did I really just type that?)

  12. What a wonderful trip and meals! It was delightful to meet you, and I look forward to following your travels in Europe. I've always wanted to visit the Languedoc region as we really enjoy the wines.

  13. Charles- it was wonderful to meet you at IFBC! What a fabulous time we all had, and I think we all learned so much. Great conference... great people... and great food!

  14. That was a great post. You put me to shame. I feel like re-writing my New Orleans posts. :)

    Now I can't wait to go to Seattle, I was waiting till August for fairer weather. Wherever there's good food, that's where I'll be.

  15. Annie & Lori - it was great to meet both of you as well. Thanks for your comments. I hope to see both of you at IFBC next year.

    Thanks Smokeydoke! You are most kind. Don't wait to go to Seattle - go now, it's a great city.

  16. The Ifbc rocked, nice meeting you...