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Seattle: Order The Salmon, Dummy
by S. Duda
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 5.3

Seattle Bites Update:

One thousand words. Boss already had the headline: Seattle Bites. Bites? Really? No. It's not that bad here. Seattle's a pretty cool place. We just use all that rain talk to keep ya'll ... well ... away. Now we don't mind you visitin' for a spell. Just don't get too attached. Remember: we have earthquakes - lots of 'em. And the traffic. Forget about the traffic. And then there's the constant rioting, a volcano ready to explode, and the whole city's lousy with all manner of new agers, grumpy artists, soccer moms and dot-com types. And don't forget about the rain. Rain, rain, rain...every day. As noted, it's a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live here. Trust me.

If you're smart enough to be just passing through, however, you'll find plenty of nourishment during your short but sweet stopover. And since Seatown offers virtually every variety of gully pack available on the planet, it helps to have a few very general guidelines to steer you in the right direction.

Order the Salmon, Dummy

No place does salmon like Seattle does salmon. Good quality Pacific salmon is ubiquitous here. It's in people's blood. Walk through any Seattle neighborhood and you won't smell burgers grillin'. Nope. That's salmon. A good-to-great salmon dish is on virtually every worthwhile restaurant menu as well. The best places for salmon? Etta's Seafood , in the Pike Place Market. Hotshot chef Tom Douglas pit-smokes his fish, and it comes out with a sweet dark glaze that'll wobble your knees. Flying Fish offers salmon with more Pacific Rim flavor. Executive Chef Christine Keff's nuance melding of Asian and Pacific Northwest flavors insures fish that's tender (remember: overcooked salmon is a felony here. Chefs have been prosecuted!), rich and lovingly placed amidst a bed of vegetable things. The Virginia Inn has been sitting on the corner of First Ave. and Virginia for more than a century. I have no idea how long they've been serving their smoked salmon plate. For around ten bucks, you get a nice-sized slab of sweet-smoked salmon, crusty bread, cream cheese and a couple ornamental capers. This joint's right above Pike Place Market, the patio has views of Elliott Bay, they play great music and always have cool art. Trust me here.

Don't Order the Crab

Nuh-uh. Not in a restaurant anyway. Here's the plan: leave your hotel, stroll to the market and buy a crab for lunch. I know that sounds...icky...but it's not that bad, honest. Just pick out your new friend, and the nice men will steam him, clean him and wrap him in the sports section for you. All you need to do is grab a crusty loaf, maybe a wee hunk of stinky cheese, some grapes, a bottle of wine and voila! You're eating like a king for about $10 per crustacean. Dungeness crab has a fresh, sweet flavor, so you won't need to dunk it in butter or cocktail sauce or any other gunk. Just crack it and...you know the rest.

You Don't Have to Spend it All in One Place

Yeah, Seattle is jammed with expensive joints. The grousing cheapskate in me would love to tell you these places are overpriced, pretentious and not worth your money. Well some of them are, but a good handful are pretty freakin' great. If you're feeling flush you certainly want to make a beeline to The Herbfarm Restaurant . After burning to cinders five years ago, this institution has finally reopened in the Woodinville winery district. Chef Jerry Traunfeld offers a multi-course-tasting menu that'll send your stomach into spastic, uncontrollable orgasmic fits. Expect to spend at least four hours and $150 per plate. Yikes! Cascadia is, like the Herbfarm, devoted to the religion of Northwest cuisine. Chef Kerry Sear's tasting menu is strongly recommended here. Even though the service can be a bit cloying, I truly love Cascadia. Fat wallet required.

Thankfully, some of Seattle's best restaurants don't require hitting the trifecta at Emerald Downs. Seattle's main restaurant district (1st and 2nd Aves., north of Virginia St.) is loaded with creative, high-quality eatin' spots where few dishes break the painful $20 barrier. Start with Marco's Supper Club . Comfortable, hip and friendly, Marco's offers imaginative Northwestern grub with a down-home vibe. While the room can get loud and a bit hot, it crackles with electricity. Great food, groovy wine list. This place (a personal fave, btw) is happenin'. Hipsters love Cyclops . The food isn't as good as Marco's, but the scene is pumpin'. A great bar, funky vibe and honest yet occasionally outrageous grub make this a good lunch choice. Also check out Matt's in the Market for a great wine list, killer grub and a romantic, almost-secret location.

I'm all for rockin' it raw, and for my money Mashiko is the hippest sushi joint in a city where you have to try hard to find a bad sushi joint. Eclectic, free-wheeling, generous sushi cutters led by chef Hajime whip up smart/sexy/gorgeous rolls, fat slabs of fish, plenty of exotics, a great fresh sheet and lots of creativity. Mashiko is a locals' secret and don't be too surprised if you happen to wander in on a DJ night. Check out the live webcam action at www.sushiwhore.com.

Booze, Etc.

Seattle is boozy, no doubt about it. We're a town built upon a solid foundation of taverns, gin joints, fancy-pants drink n' gabs and flops. Here are the essentials: The Latona by Greenlake is an alehouse with a stunning selection of near-legendary NW beers. With more than a dozen taps, you'll likely have the opportunity to sample brews from the likes of Maritime, Leavenworth, Rogue, Dick's, Big Time, Elysian and Deschuttes. The Elliott Bay Brewing Company may be the best microbrewery in Seattle. Award-winning brews, and everything on the menu rocks. Downtown, every visitor owes a visit to the Nitelite , a funky, funky little joint that seems caught in some very odd time warp. Everything here is cheap, strong and twisted. Also downtown, the Lava Lounge offers hipsters cold beer and even more Twilight Zone atmosphere. Le Pichet , located right next to the Virginia Inn, offers all manner of French wine, snacks and atmosphere.

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