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?
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
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.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.