If there’s one thing I notice returning to Seattle after many years, is that its dining scene has become phenomenal. Not only is the city abundant in fresh fish and seafood, but its long growing season means a great availability of produce. Add to this the international population that has moved here, and you get a cuisine that combines influences from various countries but remains rooted in farm-fresh food. This combination is a winning one, and new spots seem to be opening every day. Of special note are the number of great dining spots in hotels, as well as a large variety of brunch spots (perhaps not surprising in a city so devoted to coffee). Let’s explore some of the culinary riches awaiting visitors to the Emerald City.
AQUA BY EL GAUCHO
First and foremost, culinary Seattle is a seafood destination, and no one does it better than this wonderful restaurant set on Pier 70, a wide-open space with walls of glass showcasing the perfect Elliott Bay views. Here the bounty is mainly from the sea, though meat lovers and vegetarians will do fine. You must try the “wicked shrimp,” served in a marinade of cayenne, chile powder, and a little beer. It’s mouthwateringly spicy and delicious. Grilled lettuce and crab salad is also a winner, the cherry tomatoes, olives, radishes, and capers giving it quite a complexity of flavors. Seared ahi rests insouciantly on a sea of smoked leek puree, while black cod is perfect and tender, with vadouvan curry and carrot/ginger sauce. Do leave room for their Bailey’s Chocolate Caramel Bread Pudding, which redefines the familiar and takes it to new realms of awesomeness; think smooth, delicate, and delectable. Here’s something great: they offer shuttle service to take you to and from downtown Seattle, just minutes (but many traffic headaches) away. 2801 Alaskan Way. Tel: 206-956-9171. www.elgaucho.com/dine/aqua
This winning spot at Hotel Theodore offers a selection that’s best described by their tag line, “Ocean – Forest.” Take a seat in this comfy spot that combines Seattle clean-lined design with a French bistro style: white “fishscale” tile floors, pillars, and large windows overlooking Pine Street. After sampling their enviable selection of oysters or perhaps a crab toast with fennel and pickled peppers, dig into Duck Three Ways (seared breast, confit leg, and wild rice hash), or
head to the ocean with a perfectly done rockfish, complete with Dungeness crab mashed potatoes. Even breakfast is great here, I stop in one day for a chicken mole verde with eggs and polenta that is an ideal combination of richness and spiciness. Service is gracious, friendly, and helpful, and the atmosphere is just the right combination of lively and relaxed. 619 Pine St. Tel: 206-859-4242. www.riderseattle.com
One of the most exciting recent openings, Sawyer, which debuted in mid-2018, takes comforting dishes and gives them a little twist, so what you end up with is even better than what you expected—both soothing and original. Butter-soft gnocchi are perked up by charred castelfranco and taken to new dimensions by tiny pieces of fig, dots of chevre, and a scattering of pine nuts. Lemon ricotta is so light it’s like a citrus- tinged cloud, but grounded by citrus and stone fruits and surrounded by pistachios. Carnivores love the porchetta, while those more into fish know they can’t go wrong with wood-grilled black cod, livened with green curry, peanuts, and mint. My choice for dessert: sticky toffee cake, tinged with pumpkin and topped with pepitas and just the right level of sweet. My server Lauren is one of the nicest I’ve ever encountered, and the space itself just reinforces the good feelings, as the high ceilings with open beams and pipes, the white/gray booths, and the many windows create a space that’s buzzy but relaxing, familiar but somehow different, chic but still friendly—like the cuisine itself. Don’t miss it. 5309 22nd Ave. NW. Tel: 206-420-7225. www.sawyerseattle.com