Tag Archives: Seattle

ON BOARD THE COAST STARLIGHT

It seemed like the natural thing to do. We still hadn’t seen enough scenery, and a leisurely ride in a sleeper between Seattle and Los Angeles with a break in the Bay Area sounded like a lot of fun and a good way to relax. (Do you need to relax when you’re retired?)

We left our hotel before rush hour for a short taxi ride to the carefully restored Amtrak station. Our train from Vancouver, BC, pulled up to the gates, a good-sized crowd loaded up, and at exactly the designated hour we departed downtown Seattle.

There is always the mystique that trains take you to scenic places – and often that is true – but in big cities, you frequently see things that have been carefully hidden: truck terminals, rows of box cars and tank cars, and hobo camps filled with crumpled sleeping bags, cardboard boxes, and plastic crates.

At the same time, it is interesting to look out at the panoramas of the city and scenes that you would miss from the freeway. Soon enough, the messiness of the city gives way to the countryside, with lush trees, hillsides of yellow-flowered shrubs, and fields in every imaginable shade of green.

We missed breakfast at the hotel, so we were looking forward to lunch in the dining car. The steward came by and gave us a slip of paper with our time to show up in the dining car.  Then, at the appointed time, we heard an announcement that we should make our way to the dining car.

If you have never eaten in a dining car, there is a very fixed ritual, which the server will describe with a certain fatigue and indignation that must come from having done the same thing with thousands of past passengers. You sign your name and fill in the blanks for your car number and room. The server fills in everything else after you have chosen your meal.

Unlike Agatha Christie’s Orient Express, you should not anticipate fine dining. After all, the main reasons you take a train are the scenery and the leisurely pace. In fairness, though, the experience beats the current state of airline food (Is there such a thing any more?)

As is customary, we were seated with two strangers: one was a very pleasant middle-aged man who was on his way to help his niece celebrate her college graduation; the other was a college-aged young man who had absolutely no interest in engaging in conversation with old galoots. He wolfed down his sandwich as soon as it was delivered, mumbled something about how nice it was to meet us, and hastily beat an exit out the door.

We selected the sautéed chicken special. It came with a salad composed of the white ends of iceberg lettuce leaves (How did they manage to buy nothing but white ends?) and two cherry tomatoes that rolled around on the thin plastic plate with every lurch of the car, defying my best efforts to spear them with the little salad fork. The main dish was a breaded chicken breast that looked suspiciously like a chicken tender and had a similar taste. It was accompanied by a mound of mashed potatoes decorated with yet another cherry tomato. Dessert was a choice of cheesecake, cheesecake with strawberries, chocolate mousse, or ice cream. They all came in little plastic cups.

The food highlight of the day was a wine tasting in the parlour car mid-afternoon. It was very pleasant and cost only $7.50 per person. The steward gave everyone good pours of actually not-too-bad wine. Our experience was so good that we decided to change our dinner reservations from the dining car to the parlour car. That was a good choice because we got a table by ourselves, and the pepper steak was not too bad. Dessert choices were the same, but this time they were removed from the plastic cups and served on little plastic plates with the Amtrak logo.

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Never mind. The scenery, especially in the Cascade Mountains was spectacular, and we stayed up, looking out the window until dark.

Then the car attendant made up our beds, and we settled in for the night. Sleeping was not too bad. We woke up with the train in the station at Sacramento. We dressed, went to breakfast in the parlour car, and sat in the comfortable chairs next to the tables, watching the scenery until it was time to get off th train in Emeryville.

The best food of the trip was a hamburger that our daughter prepared for lunch when we got to her apartment  – mushrooms, Swiss cheese, bacon, arugula, shallots, and dill pickles. Good food at the end of an interesting trip.

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SEATTLE AND THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA

We have been spending the last several days in downtown Seattle and in Olympic National Park on the Peninsula.

Of course, we enjoyed Seattle. It is one of the most beautiful and vibrant of American cities. The water, huge trees, mountains in every direction, and rhododendrons in bloom are gorgeous. But the people and the activity make it very exciting. When one realizes that Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, REI outdoor supplier, Costco, and – yes – Starbucks all call this home or have a major presence, it becomes clear that this is one of the major engines of our current American economy.

Not surprisingly, all of that wealth and activity also mean that Seattle is a place for food. The first night, we ate at the restaurant in our hotel. The name is Tulio, and it definitely does not disappoint. We had drinks at the bar. We ordered the Bees Knees because they donated some of the proceeds to the Save the Bees Foundation fund-raiser. (is that Seattle or what?) The bar tender was very pleasant and clearly an expert mixologist. He said that his particular area of interest and focus was on Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, and their variants. So, of course, we had to try one of each. They were delicious.

Then it was on to the dining room where there were many choices. I selected the gnocchi. I always choose gnocchi when they are on the menu. Sometimes I am pleased. Sometimes I am disappointed. This time I was not disappointed. The little morsels were made of sweet potato, browned to be crispy, and bathed in brown butter. Smoked salmon ravioli were very Northwest, a little too heavy on the smoke, but delicious.

The next day we had a late lunch after strolling around the Pike Place Market, a must-do touristy thing if you are in downtown Seattle. The Sazerac, as you might guess, features food from New Orleans, but we had hamburgers because of the lateness of the lunch.

We saved our big meal for RockCreek in the Fremont neighborhood. Even though you think of Seattle as the epicenter of salmon and halibut, RockCreek makes a point of bringing in fish from all over the country/world. The menu changes daily, so you just have to wait and see what the offerings might be. The chef has been nominated for a James Beard award.

Oysters are local, but there is a good selection by micro-region. Three of us each got two from three different places, and they were outstanding served with a refreshing shallot mignonette.

Rhode Island Dory came with local morels. The Florida Amberjack came with a coulis made of fresh local green peas. Local Neah Bay Black Cod was done in the Provencal style. All were excellent.

The desserts were original and delicious – re-imagined Key lime pie and de-constructed s’mores. They were too sweet for my humble sweet tooth, but not for the dessert junky.

Then it was on to the real purpose of our trip: the Olympic Peninsula. The ferry ride was spectacular with the snow-covered Olympic Mountains looming over the waterway.

Our first stop was Port Townsend. This fascinating little town is filled with four- and five-story granite buildings, a giant courthouse, and many Victorian mansions built when the town was thought to be the impending “New York of the West Coast.” That was not to be; Seattle had other plans.

We made a real find. The Alchemy Bistro and Wine Bar on a side street away from the touristy main street was serving their Sunday brunch. “Bottomless mimosas” attracted a good crowd, but the fairly extensive wine list held our interest. The menu included one whole page of egg dishes and another page of soups, salads, and sandwiches.

Susan got a big bowl of oyster stew along with a plate of freshly baked scones and fresh fruit. I ordered the wild crab hash with poached eggs and Hollandaise. Neither of us went away disappointed or hungry. My hash was filled with huge chunks of fresh crab, so unlike crab dishes in lots of restaurants.

Finally we made it to the lodge where we have stayed for several days, the Lake Quinault Lodge (not to be confused with the Lake Quinault Resort on the other side of the lake where we first went.

The lodge is a classic National Park lodge, built in 1926. It has been modernized but still retains much of the rusticity of ninety years ago.

The big surprise was the Roosevelt Dining Room, named after Franklin D. Roosevelt who visited in 1937 and is credited by many for his support of the conversion of what was then a National Monument into a National Park.

Food in the dining room, whether it is breakfast, lunch, or dinner, is remarkably sophisticated, well-prepared, and beautifully presented. The wait staff is a bit uneven. Some are real professionals; some are high school students who are struggling – or maybe not – to learn the skills of good wait staff.

When we have not been eating, we have been sight-seeing. The rock formations in the surf of the Pacific Ocean are breathtaking. With modest hikes you can see the world’s largest Douglas Fir, Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, etc. Though I confess that once I saw one of the world’s largest [fill in the blank] I had had enough. The temperate rain forests were far more interesting. It is amazing to hear rain but for it not to make it to your level yet still have damp ground all around you. The ferns, mosses, and other plants fill the entire landscape. It is totally different from our dry Santa Fe.

This has been a wonderful escape. Now back to Seattle by way of the Bainbridge Island ferry, a good night’s sleep, seafood at the Athenian, made famous in “Sleepless in Seattle”, and then on to the next part of this adventure. The Athenian is a must although the seafood turned out to be a disappointment. Still, the perfect end to the day was a trip back to the wine tasting at our hotel.

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