It’s getting to be one of the best times of the year to visit Seattle and I have a handful of friends coming in the next six weeks or so, all asking for food recommendations. My mom just visited last week and my dad comes this weekend, so restaurants have been on my mind lately. I thought that I’d long ago put together a list like this of places I like to eat in Seattle but in searching through the archives it looks like that was in a distant dream, so I thought now was the perfect time. I decided to organize this list in categories — Lunch, Dinner, Sweets and Cocktails — as that’s often how I kind of mentally categorize places. Maybe it will be helpful to you at some point if you find yourself in our city, and when you do, may there be no shortage of chocolate layer cakes, flaky croissants, excellent french fries, wood-fired vegetables and oysters. Not necessarily in that order.
Din Tai Fung: Dumplings! Soup dumplings! Bok Choy and Green Beans with Garlic! This kid-friendly spot in the University Village shopping center is always a favorite; we love coming here for an early weekend lunch, and it’s become a new must for out of town guests.
Le Pichet: A great day date spot, we usually come to this French cafe for a light lunch although they do a really nice dinner as well. The simple Salade Verte is a favorite as are the Broiled Eggs with Ham and Cheese, and the French Onion Soup.
Cafe Presse: Owned by the same folks behind Le Pichet, this tiny-bit-more-casual French spot makes my favorite french fries in the city. The simple baguette sandwich always tastes just right, and they’re very pro-lingering if you need a good spot to catch up with an old friend or tuck into a good book.
The London Plane: This is one of the more beautiful spaces in Seattle and a great place to meet for a light bite. I never find their food incredibly substantial, so I’d go in more of a light lunch or snack frame of mind … or just to gawk at the stunning pantry or floral counter bursting with local blooms. Avocado toast and the beet hummus are my go-to’s. Also a little-known fact: their cookies are only $1, and they’re the perfect size (not too huge) and quite tasty.
The Fat Hen: I come to The Fat Hen for casual lunch meetings. It is a sweet neighborhood spot with pretty perfect baked eggs (I always order the In Camicia – simple tomato, mozzarella, basil) and benedicts. Because it’s such a small space, it gets pretty crowded on the weekends, so if you’re able to come on a weekday, you’ll be happier for it.
The Wandering Goose: Owner Heather Earnhardt was born in South Carolina and makes a mean Southern biscuit. And Southern layer cakes. And mac and cheese. We love what she does so much, we had her do our wedding cakes, and people raved about them for days after (we chose the Southern Coconut Cake, Lemon, and Brownstone Front). For brunch, I usually order the Bubble and Squeek (beef brisket hash situation) or the Veggie Plate (pimento mac & cheese, collard greens, Sea Island peas, buttermilk biscuit) and we usually get a slice of cake to go. This is one of my favorite spots in the city to eat when I reallllly feel like eating.
Cafe Besalu: This Ballard bakery makes a killer croissant and slice of quiche. I’m not usually one to get excited about quiche, but it’s light and delicate and perfect here. The constant line out the door attests to that.
Honore: Also a strong contender for best croissant in Seattle, Honore makes wonderful macarons and canelé as well.
Coyle’s Bakeshop: New to the Greenwood neighborhood, Rachael Coyle’s bakery has become a favorite of ours. She makes great buttery scones and savory croissants (Sam loves the Ham and Cheese). I think Rachael’s chocolate cake is also really special: both the cake and the frosting are light and airy — very different from many American-style layer cakes. Her housemade caramels are also delicious; she made a bunch for us that we served at our wedding.
Hotcakes: I would’ve never thought I’d fall for Autumn Martin’s virtually towering homemade s’more, but I have: homemade graham cracker and marshmallow and house-smoked chocolate. Plan to split it with a friend as it’s large. The peanut butter cookies are also always perfect.
Spinasse: This romantic Italian spot (lace curtains! dark wood! Lillet and Aperol!) is our go-to date or celebration restaurant. While you won’t often read about it on “best of” lists, it’s a not-to-miss if you have time for a few meals in Seattle and like Italian food. They’re well known for their pasta with butter and sage which is so simple and delicate. They often have a tagliatelle special, a trout I really love, and always feature an Antipasto Misto Della Casa, which is a great way to sample a number of the antipasti.
Delancey: Even if Molly and Brandon were not close friends, I’d say the same thing: this is the best pizza in town. They often have a wait, so conveniently Essex, their craft cocktail bar next door, will likely have a stool for you. My favorite pizza is the white pie (add preserved meyer lemon and kale if you’re feeling fancy) or the housemade sausage. Sam’s favorite is the cremini.
The Whale Wins: Boasting a beautiful pantry and overflowing rustic platters of baked goods, chef Renee Erickson’s wood-fired chicken and vegetables are the stars here. The sardines on toast, and any of the salads are also always two thumbs up. Really light, airy space that’s perfect for a long, lingering lunch or cozy dinner.
Bar Sajor: I’ve long loved Matt Dillon’s approach to food: simple, vegetable-heavy, innovative flavors yet very unfussy in approach. This Pioneer Square restaurant is no exception; it’s a beautiful space to meet for early drinks and snacks, or to come and share heaping plates of wood-fired vegetables and seafood.
Manmoon: This Middle Eastern restaurant on Capitol Hill is one of those places I often bring out of town guests. The food is always interesting and delicious and the cocktails are creative and strong. Not to miss: the hummus is excellent (and Sam is very, very picky about hummus) as is the bateresh (charred eggplant and lebneh) and lamb meatballs. I also love cocktail #5.
Poppy: How to describe Poppy? I think it’s just a great deal of fun to eat here. They specialize in “thalis” or platters that I generally associate with Indian food but here they have a distinctive Pacific Northwest influence. Each thali comes with a main dish (such as lamb osso bucco or yogurt and poppy seed chicken with fried onions and raisins) and is accompanied by a small little soup, salad, a few interesting seasonal side dishes, naan, and often some sort of a local pickle. Dessert here is innovative, too — I have yet to try the Nutter Butter square but have heard it’s delicious (and Tim just blogged about it).
Cafe Lago: If you’re looking for an incredibly classic, tasteful, no frills Italian restaurant Cafe Lago is it. They make great meatballs and the lasagna is something to marvel over: paper thin noodles, seemingly weightless ricotta cheese — I often order a half order of the lasagna and meatballs on the side. Their chicory ceaser salad is also a must, and we always share an order of Carla’s biscotti at the end of the meal.
La Carta de Oaxaca: If you like authentic, no frills Mexican food, this is your spot. Generous portions, relatively inexpensive, lively space in downtown Ballard. Chicken mole tamales or mole enchiladas are my go-to’s here (note: it’s a stone’s throw from Hotcakes –above– if you’ve saved room for dessert).
Cafe Munir: This is a real neighborhood spot close to our house, so it’s perfect for a healthy walk followed by reasonably-priced, authentic Lebanese food. I love the beets and lebneh and the hummus with sizzling lamb. The savory pastries are also great (love the little cigar shapes!) and they have a nice whiskey selection, too.
Damn the Weather: Tucked away little spot in Pioneer square with creative cocktails and good french fries. The bartenders are always open to creating something special for you based on what liquor (s) you’re most excited about, too. Mellow, romantic atmosphere; they serve a proper dinner too although we’ve only come for drinks and snacks.
Barnacle: If you’ve ever been on the wait list at The Walrus and the Carpenter, chances are you are well acquainted with Barncale, the adjoining bar. They have a really nice wine list and make a great negroni along with a wealth of other well constructed cocktails.
Essex: Americanos on tap. Gracious bartenders who will make you just what you have in mind. Olives and toasts for snacks. What more do you need?
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.