My palate is forever ruined. Seattle did nothing but dance with my taste buds, while heightening my sense of quality and making it difficult to settle for just anything. To give you a taste, I want to highlight 3 particular stars that took center-stage in this foodie dream that the -5 degree weather and the box of stale crackers just woke up from.
On my last day in Seattle, I could not leave without having a ferry ride and, more importantly, a last pear. It was news to me that Washington and Oregon contain the optimal growing conditions for these beauties. Biting into my first one after a food-run to Central Market sent me in a daze. I've always liked pears because they are so complex, striking a balance of both masculine and feminine characteristics. Their grain can be gritty and rugged, and as they ripen they become masculine in their gruff spots, like an old weathered leather glove or the cheeks of a mountain man. At the same time, they are feminine in their curvaceous contours, elegant posture, and delicate juiciness. These characteristics of my first Washington pear were twice as intense as their shipped-in Minnesota counterparts. I felt as if I was lied to in Minnesota, as to what a good pear is. The pear isn't the only thing: dark chocolate, espresso, salmon, artichokes, croissants, bread - these all tasted like new things to me and forced me to swallow an ugly truth: Minnesota has second-rate food.
Besides turning my back on my opinion of Minnesota food, I have another confession: I've never eaten a real artichoke before this trip, only ones from the can. As a foodie, I should be completely shameful. But my inexperience with artichokes gave me one of my top Seattle food experiences. This was made possible by a loud, boisterous vendor at Pike Place Market. , promising they were the best in the market. Sure, I’ve heard similar claims. A Minnesota summer road-trip isn’t complete without seeing roadside vendors selling sweet corn out of the back of their truck, all claiming to be the best. But, who are we kidding, if you’ve had one cob here, you’ve had them all. I couldn’t tell you how the choke fared compared to others, but I can attest that it’s been one of the most unusual, exciting experiences I’ve had consuming a vegetable. After a night of ecstatic dancing, Mi Ae and I were famished, so we assembled a random spread of leftovers: sautéed mustard greens, roasted beets, Ski Queen goat cheese and black currant jam with crackers, and SPAM (that’s another story). But the heart of this meal (or whatever you’d call it) was the artichoke. The process of peeling and sliding the flaps between your teeth, savoring the flesh, inching your way to the middle, is much like unwrapping a present. As we neared the heart, the earthy nut flavor softly intensified and the flesh became more substantial. And finally, the heart – the base of its existence, giving essence to its whole, was both velvety and robust. A very complex thing, the artichoke heart is. Its name accurately projects its qualities.
Most good things end (and begin, for that matter) with coffee. I don’t ever remember coffee not being in my life. My father measures out his coffee each night for the next morning, and my mother experiments with new beans and flavors like she does with fabric for her quilts. I was raised to adore the stuff and am surprised my body has managed to reach the height of 5’7". Coffee and I have had a complex history, whose progression includes: Folgers instant powdered cappuccinos (in my middle-school attempt to be posh), grinding my own beans in high school, a shameful stint at Starbucks, the French Press pot in college, a coffee-free summer at the farm, and now – Seattle coffee. There is a completely different coffee lexicon in Seattle. If you want just plain coffee, the barista will not understand you if you ask for a coffee; you’ve got to order a ‘drip.’ The espresso drinks not only come in 3 cup sizes, but you also have the option for a single, double, or triple (even a quad!) espresso in the drink. These coffee shops are absolutely no place for indecisive people. That’s the thing about Seattleites and their coffee – they all know exactly what they want. Over the years I’ve developed a loyalty to the americano and savored over 10 of them while visiting the Seattle at various places: Café Besalu, Café Presse, Vivace, Starbucks, Le Panier, Zeitgeist, Caffé Fiore, Pegasus Coffee House, Café Vita, and Elliot Bay Book Co. Another element that adds to the coffee experience is the espresso art floating atop of each drink.
I have many things to thank the Pacific Northwest for: the wall of gum at Post Alley, chocolate croissants, 40 degree January weather, in-season produce,pleasant morning walks, a breathtaking ferry ride, misty rains, forests that put you in your place with their gargantuan trees, the bounty of life evidenced by moss growing between the cracks of the sidewalk and on rooftops, and the excitement that surrounds those moments when the sun actually comes out. (Yes, it does!)There’s no one way to sum up all I experienced there, but I’ve learned that to truly visit a city is to taste it, which leads you to learn about the people who live and cook there, the land and what it produces, the tastes of those who consume it, and a picture at how the city sees itself. If Seattle were a coffee shop, it would be the one that rarely advertises, has minimal store signage on its façade, yet somehow manages to find a line of customers that extends its doors, where people wait ever-so-patiently for a simple croissant and drip, whose customers pride themselves in the quiet knowledge that they’ve found the best spot and wish to keep it a secret. Sorry Seattle, the secret’s out. (Here are some of my pictures.)