At the Bookstore Bar, grab a snack and settle in with a book off the shelves.
At the Bookstore Bar, grab a snack and settle in with a book off the shelves.
For The Washington Post
SMART MOUTH

In Seattle, Noshing Your Way Around Town

Pizzas at La Medusa Restaurant in Seattle
Sample the pizzas at La Medusa Restaurant in Seattle. (Rebekah Schmidt - For The Washington Post)

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Mention Seattle in a word-association game and most travelers would likely respond with the Space Needle, salmon and Starbucks. (Maybe rain, too, but that's another story.) During a typical harried visit to the Emerald City, who has time for much more than anything else?

But stay for three weeks, as I did recently, and you can eat and drink your way through its smorgasbord of neighborhoods. A typical day of noshing began after noon with a proper snack, followed by dinner and culminating with a cocktail by my side.

I'm a nibbler who likes to share, so Seattle seems custom-made for me. Unlike other food-centric destinations, I found stellar eats and drinks with little pretense: You don't need reservations at the latest, greatest dining room, nor do you need a jacket and tie to eat well.

For a midafternoon snack, head to the tippytoe of Broadway -- a neighborhood that could use a bit of brushing up, to be honest -- and seek out Joe Bar (810 E. Roy, 206-324-0407). Sure, the coffee is good and strong, but the real reason to venture inside this miniature doll house is to have a crepe ($3.50-$6.75). After having my way with a Jamon Serrano, gruyere and egg filling, I smiled, acknowledging that rare moment when a snack really hits the spot.

A blood-sugar low can be remedied quickly at Cupcake Royale (2052 NW Market St., 206-782-9557), a bakery-coffee house that does cupcakes justice. Chocolate and yellow cupcakes only ($2 per cake, $22 for a dozen), but wait until you get some buttercream frosting on your nose. At this store in the anything-goes Ballard neighborhood, the staff was grooving behind the counter to Michael Jackson's "Rock With Me."

As you push your way through the crowds at Pike Place Market, take a break and head across the street for a little peace -- and sustenance. It's time for a grilled cheese, panini-style, made from Beecher's Handmade Cheese (1600 Pike Pl., 206-956-1964), an artisanal cheese shop and cheese-making operation. Other calorie-worthy options include homemade soup or a gooey take-out box of mac and cheese.

One of the most compelling characteristics of the Seattle restaurant community is its fervent commitment to the use of seasonal and local ingredients. Farmers-market shopping is part of life here, and you'll notice many restaurant menus mentioning where the peas came from or who raised the tenderloin.

One of my favorites is the Sicily-inspired La Medusa (4857 Rainier Ave. S, 206-723-2192), an intimate storefront dining room in Columbia City driven by the passionate palates of Julie and Evan Andres. During growing season, Julie cooks up a three-course tasting menu ($25) based on what she finds that day at her neighborhood market.

Go with a group so you can maximize the tasting options. Many plates are shareable, including a plate of artisanal cheeses, locally cured meats from a joint owned by Armandino Batali (father of Food Network chef Mario Batali), chickpea fritters with aioli and rice croquettes filled with Taleggio cheese. My friends and I fought over the last bite of a roasted cauliflower dish seasoned with raisins and pine nuts. I was tempted to lick the plate. Starters average $5, entrees $15.

Although it's at tourist-packed Pike Place Market, Matt's in the Market (94 Pike St. No. 32, 206-467-7909) is hard to find, and its scant signage doesn't make it any easier. You may wonder if the treasure hunt is intentional. With only 23 seats, including an old-school tiled counter, Matt's is the most fun you'll ever have dining in a shoebox. It features a limited menu with emphasis on seasonal seafood; you might find mussels and clams one day, roasted cod or halibut the next. Pay attention to the daily specials; a plate of seared scallops, black beans and whipped sweet potatoes remains firmly embedded in my memory bank. Small plates average $7, entrees $19.

Upon entering Italian-seasoned Serafina (2043 Eastlake Ave. E, 206-323-0807) in the Eastlake neighborhood, you'll feel the love. Everyone says hello, and the staff will remember your name -- even after one visit. Nooks and crannies among dark wood make this a great date spot. The menu is a lesson in seasonal cooking. I enjoyed homemade ravioli filled with chioggia beets in late summer; now those little pillows are filled with pumpkin. Larger plates at this time of year include braised rabbit, grilled quail and faro, and fennel sausage with lentils. Entrees average $22.

Visitors to Seattle will find myriad spots for postprandial cocktails, but I'm partial to places where the scenery matches the libations, and being able to snack on the side doesn't hurt.

At the Lounge at Six Seven in the Edgewater Hotel (2411 Alaskan Way, Pier 67, 206-728-7000), there's nothing between you, your cocktail and the Puget Sound. Sit among the tree trunks in a cushy leather chair, or if the weather permits, get even closer to the elements out on the veranda. It's a sunset must.

An early happy hour (Sunday-Thursday from 3 to 5 p.m.) allows an opportunity to test drive the 10-martini menu or one of the many creative cocktails, including a Drunken Elephant (Amarula South African cream liqueur with Stoli vanilla). Lounge menu includes predictable fare such as burgers and salads, but you can also order from the main menu, which features regional fish (salmon, marlin, black cod, sea scallops) and Pacific Northwest seasonal ingredients, including wild mushrooms, fingerling potatoes and Dungeness crab. Entrees $23-$60, lounge menu $6-$12, drinks from $7.

Nurse a scotch, people watch or take shelter from the mist and fog of a Seattle winter day at the cozy Bookstore Bar, downtown at the Alexis Hotel (92 E. Madison St., 206-624-3646). Overflowing bookcases line the walls, and yes, perusing is welcome. Food includes ample salads (grilled steak and smoked salmon), sandwiches (burger and fries, pulled pork with a Dr Pepper barbecue sauce, grilled veggies) and a halibut 'n' chips ($5-$12). Drink options include several Seattle microbrews, Washington state wines and an impressive 50-plus single malt scotch selection.

For a margarita moment, make your way to the six-seat bar in the middle of the funky-colored dining room at Cactus (4220 E. Madison St., 206-324-4140). Since you're there anyway, order something from the tapas menu, including gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) and a heaping pile of "ten dollar nachos." Small dishes average $8, entrees $13.

-- Kim O'Donnel

For general information on travel to Seattle: Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau, 206-461-5840, http://www.seeseattle.org.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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