Switters was actually quite fond of Seattle’s weather, and not merely because of its ambivalence. He liked its subtle, muted qualities and the landscape that those qualities encouraged if not engendered: vistas that seemed to have been sketched with a sumi brush dipped in quicksilver and green tea. It was fresh, it was clean, it was gently primal, and mystically suggestive.
― Tom Robbins, Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates
Seattle – that queen of the Pacific Northwest with the quietly ominous mountains and sparkling Sound – does have a mystical air about it. The rain, the fog, the evergreen cloak it dons…all of these things fuse together in a gumbo of tastes and feelings that express themselves as pure effervescence.
I’ve been to Seattle a dozen or so times now and I never tire of its majestic landscape and “ambivalent weather.” There’s something about inhabiting this land, locked in an embrace with the Pacific Ocean, that has a way of re-energizing the soul and of course, awakening the palate. This June, I got the chance to stay there for a week with some family and absorb as much as I could of the culture, climate and of course, food. Afterwards, it occurred to me that the experiences I’d absorbed had directly inspired the meals my family and I prepared. I know, it sounds obvious, but it wasn’t something I’d planned! These experiences have now lodged themselves into my brain – and have altered my way of thinking about my meals now that I’m back in Nashville. I wanted to share these visions of the Queen City and perhaps, help us all bring a little piece of that effervescence into our daily lives, no matter where we live. So here are my Seattle experiences, and the snacks and meals they inspired, in no particular order…
1. A complex taste for a complex history…
On Seattle’s underground tour, we got to see firsthand the city that once was, and hear the tales of how this logging, outlaw-ish town grew to be a thriving metropolis. It truly has a “layered” history in every sense of the word.
Steps descending into Seattle’s historic underground near Pioneer Square.
What can match a complex history better than a complex cheese? We headed to Beecher’s Cheese for a sample. We came away with a local English-style cheddar and an herbed goat cheese and immediately paired them with fresh, west coast figs. Complex, dark, rich. Just like those logging barons.
Goat and cheddar cheese from Beecher’s with fresh figs and thyme.
And what’s better than a good cheese with a good brew? How about a beautiful view of the sun over the Sound? Luckily we found both.
This Hefeweizen from Whistling Pig is as clear and bright as the Summer sky.
2. Contemplative and cultured
Totem in Pioneer Square, Downtown Seattle.
There’s a solemn stillness that permeates the environment here in the Summer. Maybe it comes from the mouth of the Sound, which breaks and halts the wild ocean. It’s also present in the soft echoes of a cultured past made of native peoples and wild pioneers. Whatever it is, I wanted to try to capture that stillness.
A man fishes in the Sound near Seahurst Park, just south of Seattle.
My little lady walks on the docks of Pier 50, Downtown Seattle.
Figs seem somehow fitting with just such a contemplative mood, with their reputation as “forbidden” and a cultivation record reaching back to ancient times. They’re the perfect snack for long days lost in thought…
Fresh market figs, waiting to be devoured.
Grilled figs with drizzled honey and fresh mint leaves.
3. Farm fresh
Pike Place Market is the proverbial middle of your Seattle culinary Bingo card. Can you truly say you’ve been to the city if you haven’t visited it? Yes, it’s overcrowded and touristy. But, those willing to push past that surface will be rewarded with a truly delicious bounty. I’m talking the freshest choice seafood of scallops, salmon and crab and the ripe fruits of your dreams like Washington cherries, blackberries and of course, figs. Check this landmark off your list first, and then explore further. There are plenty of other local markets that may yield even greater riches.
Market cherries on the chopping block. They’ll make their way into a salad of fresh greens, goat cheese and walnuts.
Market figs, cherries and blooms form a charming pattern.
Local blackberries and fresh mint await their dinner treatment.
One such local treasure is B & E Meats & Seafood, which has been serving up the freshest local Copper River King salmon since 1958. We grabbed some fillets and grilled them in olive oil while a fresh blackberry compote bubbled on the stove. We topped off the salmon with the blackberry concoction, added in some local asparagus, and dinner was served.
Copper River King salmon with blackberry compote and a side of asparagus.
My little lady treads lightly toward the gently breaking waves of the Sound near Seahurst Park.
Ultimately, the Puget Sound inspires so much of the beauty and cuisine in Seattle. The food is so brim-full of freshness and light, like a bay-skimming breeze, that it often needs no additional adornment.
Fresh oysters at the Athenian, a downtown institution overlooking Puget Sound. The Athenian is as famous for its seafood as it is for its role in a little movie called Sleepless in Seattle. ;)
One final meal of inspiration based on this simplistic approach: scallops. Straight from the sea, purchased from Pike Place and prepared the same day…this might be what heaven tastes like. Fresh indeed.
Blackened, pan-seared scallops, served with simple avocado slices.
I hope I’ve carried home some of the sensibilities of my food finds in the Pacific Northwest. I’d like to incorporate even more freshness and depth into what I make here in Nashville. In the meantime, I raise a frosted glass of Whistling Pig and say, cheers to you, Seattle. You’ll always be a queen of a town to me.