Good times, great eats

My sister came up for a visit this weekend with one directive: “I want to eat well,” she said. I’d raved about all the great food I’d tried since moving to Seattle nearly three months ago, and she was eager for a change of pace from the likes of Applebees and Taco Bell. (I have no idea if she indulges in either establishment, but they seem to be culinary totem poles for a sizable segment of Clark County diners.)

So we ate. And we ate well. We also found time for fun elsewhere. Here’s how it all went down.

First things first: We saw Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on Friday. I already reviewed the show, so I’ll move on.

Following the show, I introduced Katie to the wonders of the Seattle dog at a nearby hot dog stand. I myself am new to the decadent dog, which mixes a Polish dog, cream cheese, onions, and something spicy — generally, jalapenos or sriracha hot sauce. Seattle Weekly ran an oral history of the gastric behemoth earlier this summer, first piquing my interest.

A better “drunk food” has yet to be invented, as I found out earlier this month. Katie and I were stone-cold sober on Friday, but the Seattle dog hit the spot.

(Groups of small, purple glass squares are embedded in sidewalks throughout the Pioneer Square neighborhood. The squares are actually skylights, which illuminated Seattle’s underground more than a century ago. This photo shows the skylights from below ground.)

The first order of business on Saturday was to take Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour. For those not in the know, the section of Seattle directly south of downtown is where the city got its start more than 150 years ago. A fire razed the business district in 1889, leading Seattle to essentially start over. Long story short: Developers and city planners basically raised the streets by 12-35 feet, leading to an “underground” district. That district’s development provided the basis for our tour.

As a history buff, I was fascinated by Seattle’s earliest days, how it responded to the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, and how it grew into the metropolis it is today. The guide was great about offering that information and was engaging throughout the tour, which took us both above ground and through the underground tunnels that remain. Part-museum, part-theme park, the tunnels are wholly fascinating.

Lunch was at Pike Place Chowder, which I’d been eyeing for a few weeks. What I miss most about living in Vancouver is its proximity to the Oregon/Southwest Washington coast — and the mouthwatering clam chowder that comes with that access.

The chowder at Pike Place might make me forget about that. It’s that good.

The small chowder shop is tucked in an alley at Pike Place Market; there are a handful of seats inside, with a few more under an awning outside. After a 15-minute wait, we had our lunch and ate at one of the outdoor tables. It was creamy and rich, packing a strong clam flavor into every spoonful. And, with the rain falling around us and an undeniable fall chill in the air, it was the perfect dish at the perfect time.

I’m not into ranking things, so I won’t say that Pike Place Chowder is the best I’ve ever had. But I will say it’s among the best. How soon can I go back?

From there, we walked around the Pike Place Market for a bit. We walked off the chowder by walking through the shops and stumbling upon the Market Theater Gum Wall. Seriously, I’m pretty sure I caught a cold-infused, chicken pox-laden strain of the flu from just standing near that wall. I’m pretty sure the world-ending zombie outbreak will start from the unidentifiable  mutant germs on that wall. How does anyone turn a wall of chewed gum into a tourist attraction? It makes no sense to me. None whatsoever. But that doesn’t make it any less awesome.

We headed back to my place, regrouped for a bit and drove out to Paseo for dinner. (I’ve already talked up Paseo on this blog, so I’ll try not to get too sappy this time.)

Before we’d made any other weekend plans, I told my sister, “We have to go to Paseo for dinner on Saturday. It’s a half-hour drive, but it’s worth every minute. If we do nothing else this weekend, we must go to Paseo.”

I ordered the Paseo Press, featuring (per Paseo’s website) “succulent morsels of roasted pork nestled atop sweet banana peppers, draped with sheer slices of smoked ham, Swiss cheese, and caramelized onions; all melted together between a hot press.”

It was heavenly. Shakespeare wrote sonnets about less. The brains behind Paseo could stop the European debt crisis, bring peace to Afghanistan, and stop global warming if they put their minds to it. You think I’m kidding.

Even my sister was impressed with her sandwich. It earned three exclamations of “Oh my God” and one “Fuckin’ A!” Seriously, anyone who comes to Seattle without stopping by Paseo is missing out. I actually feel sorry for those poor, uneducated souls.

We followed up dinner by watching “Argo.” The movie was great, with uniformly strong acting, a thrilling story, snappy dialogue, and well-timed humor. It’s the rare thriller that doesn’t rely on car chases or explosive set pieces to tell a strong story.

We walked out of the theater and into the lobby, where I saw two posters promoting a University of Washington-sponsored lecture series. I wrote the copy and was eager to boast a bit. I leaned down to Katie and said quietly, “I wrote those!”

Without skipping a beat, she turned to the two people in front of us — who happened to be reading the posters — and said, “He wrote those! Isn’t that awesome?”

I turned a shade of red that would make a tomato envious. The confused couple was nice enough, complimenting me and acknowledging the coolness of the moment. I could feel the blood rushing to my face and joked wryly, “I’m never going out in public with her again.”

I guess you had to be there.

We had time to kill on Sunday morning, so we ate breakfast at Bakery Nouveau in West Seattle. It’s another one of those “must-do” Seattle items, in my humble opinion, even if its location is less than convenient. I’ve already gushed at length about the bakery, so I’ll spare you another paean. But Katie was wide-eyed and impressed with her twice-baked almond croissant. It was the perfect way to end a weekend of fun adventures and good eating.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going for a run around South Lake Union. I have to stay healthy, you know.

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