Seattle Is the Culinary Gem of the Pacific Northwest
As a girl who’s spent most of her adult life in Charleston, South Carolina, I feel pretty secure in the fact that I come from one of the best cities for food and culture in the country. I’m very loyal to the East Coast, because that’s what I’m most familiar with. I’ve previously only traveled to the West Coast once for a family vacation, when I was 19, so I’d say that my exposure to the western United States is pretty limited. So when I had the chance to visit Seattle for their Taste Washington event, I jumped at the opportunity.
I had very low expectations about Seattle food before I got there; I naively believed all the West Coast stereotypes I’ve learned from TV shows and movies (thanks, Grey’s Anatomy): basically that I was going to be eating a lot of salads and drinking Starbucks in the rain. But my actual experience completely blew me away.
Yes, it was raining when my plane landed, but by the time I grabbed my luggage and made it to my hotel, the clouds were gone and it was sunny and warm. It felt like a whole new day! I had a lot of meals and adventures to pack into a few days, so I was glad for the warm weather in order to make the most out of my adventure.
Taste Washington, for those who don’t know, is a four-day celebration of all things wine and food in Washington state. It’s very similar to other wine and food festivals held around the country, in that it gives attendees and opportunity to try many different restaurants, bars, wineries, and products under basically one roof.
The main attraction is the Grand Tasting, which is held on Saturday and Sunday in the CenturyLink Field Event Center and featured over 230 wineries and 66 restaurants, a dessert bar, live cooking demonstrations, giveaways, beer garden, and more. I also attended the Red & White party on Thursday, the “Taste Washington on the Farm” luncheon and the New Vintage events on Friday, and the first annual Sunday Brunch event.
The Red & White party was held at AQUA by El Gaucho and was the perfect way to kick off the event. The restaurant is right on the harbor, so the views were spectacular, and I had my first introduction into Washington’s lush wine scene in a picturesque environment.
Friday’s luncheon was one of the more unique events I’ve attended, as it was held at the greenhouse of the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture, a working farm in the University District of Seattle. We toured the farm and were treated to a four-course lunch from chef Kyle Peterson of Palace Kitchen, who utilized much of the produce grown on the farm in the menu he prepared.
The New Vintage was a great way to kick off the weekend, as it was essentially a giant party for wine lovers that featured 60 wineries and 18 or so chefs preparing gourmet bites to pair with said wine. It was lively and rambunctious and so much fun.
The Sunday Brunch was a more unique take on the typical brunch standard, with family-style plates and live music at Quality Athletics in the SoDo neighborhood. At one point, we were serenaded with an impromptu duet between musician Kris Orlowski and chef Josh Henderson, which was a cool thing to be able to experience.
But even if you’re not able to visit during Taste Washington, there are plenty of opportunities for you to enjoy an amazing meal (or five) during your visit. For those of you who don’t know, Seattle is having a bit of a culinary revolution of its own, with a huge emphasis on locally sourced and grown food and wine. Like, so much wine.
Here’s something I learned on my trip: Washington has over 900 wineries (no that’s not a typo) and is the second largest producer of wine in the United States. I learned more about wine in my four-day trip to Seattle than I’ve learned in my 28 years on this planet.
I had the opportunity to speak with a number of wine growers, makers, and producers, and they were all friendly and enthusiastic about the opportunity to help me learn more about wine so that I can start drinking smarter. Wine and food go very much hand in hand, and the Taste of Washington event was a showcase of the marriage of wine and food at its finest. But events like this are just the beginning. As millennials are growing up and becoming more interested in elevated food and wine, many restaurants, bars, and wineries are putting more emphasis on local wine and food programs that are approachable for every palate.
One such winery is the Matthews Family Winery, a fully sustainable winery in Woodinville. They’ve been growing grapes and producing wine since 1995, but in 2014 they decided to open a farm to focus on growing veggies, fruits, and flowers and serving food, in addition to wine tastings. “We’re a winery committed to food,” says co-owner Bryan Matthews. They host big family-style dinners, where all the food featured is grown on the farm, and paired with wine that they produce, so the idea of eating and drinking “local” is true in the most granular sense of the word.
“Local” is definitely the buzzword that best describes the Seattle culinary scene. Many of the restaurants throughout the city are placing a huge emphasis on featuring local purveyors and sourcing locally as much as possible. Each restaurant I went to seemed to include at least a few words from the server about the restaurant’s dedication to staying local. This is especially true at Tom Douglas’s suite of restaurants throughout the city. I had the pleasure of dining at Lola and Dahlia Lounge and was blown away by the food at both restaurants. Lola is a Greek and Mediterranean-inspired restaurant that I dined at for breakfast. I ate octopus for breakfast for what I can decidedly say was the first time in my life.
At Dahlia Lounge for dinner, chef Brock Johnson gave me a “taste of the market” with dishes like yellowfin tuna tartare with ginger mayo and fried quinoa, fried chicken avocado toast, and d'Anjou pears with prosciutto and Calabrian chiles. It wasn’t just one of the best meals I had in Seattle; it’s one of the best meals I’ve had anywhere.
If you’re an adventurous eater, there are also plenty of opportunities in Seattle to get a little out of your comfort zone. Nue in Capitol Hill is a hip small plates restaurant serving “freakishly awesome food” from all over the world. It’s where I crossed “steamed Thai water beetles” off my “eat before I die” list (an entry I added only moments after seeing it on the menu). They also offer delicacies like Vietnamese Balut (developed duck eggs… not for the faint of heart), Barbadian Pig Tails, Puerto Rican Mofongo, and South African Bunny Chow. It’s like traveling the world without ever leaving the city.
When you’re not eating, there are plenty of opportunities for entertainment in the city. Popular attractions like the Museum of Pop Culture (a definite must see), the Chihuly Sculpture Gardens, the Sky View observatory (which is taller than the Space Needle, btw), the Seattle Market (which feels a lot like Hogwarts, with all of its winding staircases and hidden shops and stalls). There’s also plenty of live music, art museums, theatre, an aquarium, a science center, and what feels like hundreds of public parks and opportunities for outdoor recreation. It seems like it’s literally impossible to be bored in Seattle.
Travel expenses were provided by Visit Seattle. Opinions are my own.