Dining – Casual

The Seattle Underground Tour

Our days in Seattle continue to count down and we still have many items on our bucket list!  On Monday of this week, we rode the trusty 255 bus into the city and experienced the legendary Seattle Underground Tour.

After learning more about the very beginnings of this city, I understand more the culture here that sometimes drives us crazy.  From the tour, we learned that the Denny family settled in Seattle and chose to build the town on a mud flat at the edge of the Puget Sound.  I suspect the local Native Americans got a big chuckle out of that. It apparently did not occur to them that the tides would cause the town to flood on a regular basis, and in the true spirit of Seattle once they learned this, they refused to change the decision.  The comedy of egos, mismanagement, and corruption that marked the early history of the city seem very similar to what we have observed in local Seattle politics since we arrived here a few years ago.  The 520 bridge project, the tunnel under Seattle, and lack of traffic planning are just some of the current projects that make us shake our heads as hundred of millions of taxpayer dollars are wasted.

Anyhoo, we learned on the tour that the entire commercial district burned down in 1889 and rather than take the opportunity to move the commercial district off the mudflat, someone came up with the great idea to fill it in with dirt from the hill that led up to the residential area on the hill.  But the shop keepers didn’t want to wait for the fill, so the rebuilt their businesses on the original mud flat.  The city proceeded to bring in the fill and essentially created city streets that were 15-40 feet above all the buildings!  So, the front of the building and the sidewalks were well below the streets behind giant stone retaining walls.  To cross the street you had to climb a ladder, scurry across the street, and then climb down another ladder.  It is ironic that nobody died in the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, but nearly 20 people died years later falling off the ladders as they tried to cross the streets.

The next step in this weird evolution was the creation new sidewalks at the level of the roads, which essentially created a two-tier sidewalk system.  Unfortunately the lower sidewalk system became overrun with rats and was condemned when bubonic plague started to break out.  So, the tour takes you around a few blocks of Pioneer square, through the old sidewalks and lower levels of the buildings.  Claire and I were glad we did this before leaving town, and as I said it gave us new insights into the Seattle psyche.

After the tour, we walked up 1st Avenue and stopped at Von’s Gustobistro for drinks and some people watching on the sidewalk.  From there we made our way to the Pike Place Market where we had dinner reservations at the Steelhead Diner.  The Steelhead Diner was on our original list of restaurants to try.  Ironically the entire motif of the restaurant is trout and trout fishing, and they did not have a single trout on the menu!

Claire had the black cod.  I had the morels and pasta.  Both were good.  Neither was great.  Check one more restaurant off our list…

Right across the street from the Underground Tour is the oldest restaurant in Seattle.

The tour starts with a very entertaining talk/comedy routine before you go subterranean.

Heading below ground.

A lot of gross and entertaining stories about how the crappers didn’t work because the town was below sea level. When the tide came in, a geyser of sewage could blow you off the throne!

A lot of old junk below ground.

Parts from an old pumping station

A lot of old signs in the Underground.

A photo of Chief Seattle. I’ll bet he laughed his ass off at the stupid settlers …

Quick stop at Von’s

The Steelhead Diner.

Claire’s after dinner ice-cream as we walk back to the bus stop.

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Juanita, meet Lola …

More than half of our “Seattle Bucket List” is a list of restaurants we want to visit before we leave the area.  In the last two evenings we have visited two top establishments.  Wednesday night (after our Seattle bus adventure) we headed to Café Juanita, which is only 6 miles from our home in Kirkland.

Like many of the best restaurants we have ever visited, Café Juanita doesn’t have a lot of curb appeal.  We had an early reservation (5:45) so when we arrived the place was mostly empty.  The interior is clean and contemporary with white table clothes.  Sitting at the table right next to us was a woman just beginning her meal.  She told us she has been eating here every week since the place opened in 2000, and highly recommended we try the lamb.

Grilled octopus with fennel, smoked bone marrow, green sauce and chickpea puree

The wait staff was friendly and helpful.  We started with a couple of appetizers; the “local pheasant egg and white sturgeon caviar with crisp pumpernickel” was outstanding!  The “grilled octopus with fennel, smoked bone marrow, green sauce and chickpea puree” was also unique and tasty.

Oops, we dug in before we got a picture. It was SO good!

I followed our fellow diner’s suggestion and had the lamb while Claire had the “rabbit braised with ameis and chickpea gnocchi, English peas, porcini and house made pancetta.”  Every bite was an experience!

The meal was pricey even by Seattle standards, but it was such thoroughly enjoyable decadent experience, we didn’t mind treating ourselves to an expensive indulgence.  We would certainly rank this meal in the top five we have experienced during our time here in the Seattle area.

The following night, we rode our old friend, the 255, into Seattle to meet friends for dinner at Lola.


Tom Douglas is the restaurant King of Seattle with more than a dozen restaurants.  We have eaten at many, but still hadn’t gotten down to Lola, which is a contemporary Greek place. We arrived early and our friends arrived late, so we spent a little time at the bar enjoying happy hour libations.  Claire ordered her traditional mojito, while I had a martini.  Claire’s mojito was perfectly prepared, my martini was a bit weird, maybe because of the feta stuffed olive.  But, it wasn’t so weird that I didn’t drink it down.

Our friends arrived and we spent a couple of hours enjoying conversation and some very good food.  We started with the mezedakia sampler, which included smoked oysters, kopanisti, dolmades, marinated olives, and house made pickles.

For our main course Claire ordered the “whole grilled Idaho trout” and staying with my lamb theme, I had the “mushroom braised lamb shank.”  Both were excellent!

Small footprint, clean and contemporary

With our tummies full, we strolled back to the transit station, and our friend the 255 took us home.  Another successful Seattle Sixty day …

255, take us home …

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Roslyn: The Real Northern Exposure

Remember the 90’s TV show, Northern Exposure?  Young Jewish doctor fresh out of med school sent to a small town in Alaska for two years of service, quirky locals including a potential love interest for the young doctor; I loved that show! Even though the show was set in Cicely, Alaska, the town was actually shot in Roslyn, Washington.

On our first “official” day of retirement, we fired up the Harley and rode over the Cascades to visit Roslyn.  We are having an atypically great weather week here in Seattle.  Sunny with temperatures in the 70’s is pretty unusual for June so we are taking maximum advantage of it as we ease into retirement.

Roslyn is about 90 miles from Seattle.  Heading east on I-90, we rode over the still chilly Snoqualmie pass.  The further you get away from Seattle, the less weird the traffic patterns are.  By the time you get to the other side of the Cascades, people drive down right normal!  The weather is always different on the other side of the mountain.  Temperatures were in the 80’s as we rolled into the sleepy little town of Roslyn.  If you remember the opening sequence of the TV show, you have pretty much seen all of Roslyn.

We parked the bike in front of the Roslyn History Museum where we were immediately engaged by one of the local residents.  An older gentlemen (I wish I would have gotten his name) complimented us on the bike and invited us into the museum.  The “museum” is actually a small storefront filled with antiques, old photographs, old mining gear, and odds-and-ends from times gone by.

Now, I am still getting used to this retirement thing.  I generally have a difficult time strolling, chit-chatting, lingering, etc; think Chevy Chase viewing the Grand Canyon in the Vacation movie.  But I did my best to S-L-O-W down as this gentleman, who is a life long resident of Roslyn told us stories of his family, stories of World War II, and stories of the mining history of the town.

After our time in the museum, we strolled the town, visited The Brick, the bar where much of the Northern Exposure plots unfolded, and finally had lunch at the Roslyn Café.  Claire had a cob salad that included a breaded and deep-fried hard-boiled egg.  I had the turkey club sandwich, which was much more than I could eat.

With temperatures in the mid eighties, we stowed the leathers and enjoyed the sunny ride back over the pass.  All-in-all it was a great first day of retirement!

The Brick

The Brick

Lunch at the Roslyn Cafe

Downtown Roslyn

Randy replaces the Moose

Randy replaces the Moose

Opening scene of Northern Exposure

Opening scene of Northern Exposure

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Melrose Market


Well, this was a fun new find! Today, we decided to explore Capitol Hill and check out Melrose Market. A thanks go to the Alexes, for suggesting we watch Anthony Bourdain’s Layover Seattle episode, in which he eats his way around the city and highly recommended a stopover at Melrose Market.

An old converted warehouse, (wonderful old brick walls, high beamed ceilings, large iron-paned windows) Melrose Market houses several fooderies: a full service butcher with quite an assortment of specialty meats; a gourmet cheese shop; a wine shop; local florist; fresh shellfish and a small gift shop.

Sitka Logo

At the back is Sitka and Spruce, a small inviting restaurant specializing in locally sourced fare and unusual ingredient combinations.  Again, thanks to the Alexes, for the gift certificate they gave us over a year ago. I’m embarrassed to admit it has taken us so long to get here, but we are so glad we did. We loved the open dining table adjacent to the chef’s prep table, making you feel like you were at home in their large country kitchen.  We ordered fresh olives, a local goat cheese with apricot spread, cured trout with roasted parsnips and honey cured ham with spicy mustard and  sauerkraut. Our favorite was the trout with parsnips – not enough trout on the plate but excellent flavor overall.

Would we go again? Probably not just to dine, as parking is unreliable, and location is off the beaten track for us…but we will definitely take out-of-town Foodies to Melrose Market simply for the novelty of the experience and the quality of the shops and the food.

Cured Trout & Parsnips Ham RB at Sotka & Spruce

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Our blog has been buried deep within the fog, the rain and the traffic craziness that consumes one in Seattle.  But after a been-there-done-that-don’t-need-to-go-again ferry ride over to Bainbridge Island, we have decided to embrace the lunacy. If nothing else, Seattle is filled with culinary treasures and stunning topography (on the rare sun-shiny day). With a resurrected optimistic attitude, we will attempt to revive both this blog and our epicurious spirits.

Elliotts Logo

Our immediate thanks go to Elliott’s Oyster House, a very pleasant surprise and finish to a gray, cold and clammy day. Why a surprise? Because Elliott’s sits smack in the middle of tourista-ville on the waterfront surrounded by ticky-tacky novelty shops, the newly popular Carousel and way too many tourists dressed in appropriate grunge for their visit to Seattle.  Who would truly expect good food in this environment?

But good it was. Friendly, prompt service.  Fresh, light and open atmosphere overlooking Puget Sound (and yes, a real sun break occurred just as we were being served).  And food that did not disappoint.  I had the ahi tuna appetizer, which I would highly recommend and readily order again. Sesame seared rare ahi, atop a nest of avocado, topped with a fresh mango salsa and surrounded by a unique soy and lime-ginger sauce.  Randy ordered the mussel appetizer in a light tequila-lime cream sauce.  I also had a clam and mussel combination, in a garlic, tomato broth.  Both the shellfish appetizers were excellent and sizeable – more than enough to satisfy. And the bread!  They do know how to do bread- fresh, warm, crusty on the outside and perfect for dipping in the broth.


Thank you, Elliot’s.  You’ve given us renewed hope and motivation for continuing to experience and share all that is good about Seattle! You go on our list of favorite places to dine, along with Palisades.

Despite our deep silence over the last few months, we have indeed experienced quite a few restaurants on our original list. What follows is a quick rundown of our favorites.

  • Palisades on the waterfront below Magnolia: since our first memorable evening there with brother Randy, we have returned multiple times. This is our #1 spot for bringing out of town guests. Easy parking, excellent service, consistently good food, great wine list, beautiful views of the bay, the city, the Needle and Mt. Rainier (when she’s out).
  • Cactus in Kirkland: bright and festive ambiance, southwest-with-a-nouveau-twist fare.  Great for lunch or dinner, Cactus combines unexpected ingredients into flavorful, well-prepared dishes – we love the butternut squash enchilada.
  • Purple Cafe and Wine Bar in Kirkland: one of our favorite wine-ins before taking in the local theatre. We’ve learned to stick with the small bites menu, tastier and more consistent than the full dinner courses.
  • Toulouse Petite: another favorite.  In lower Queen Anne, Toulouse Petite is a New Orleans Cajun style restaurant, with consistently good food, whether you are there for Sunday brunch, a weekday lunch or special dinner. The menu is extensive, offering unique combinations of ingredients that make eating a flavorful experience.  We always come away happily satisfied.  Was it the good food, the lively ambience or the bartender’s specials?!
  • Place Pigalle: a hidden gem tucked away on the waterfront in Pike Place Market. Want to escape the Market frenzy? This is the best place for a quiet, scenic and tasty dining experience. The small and cozy, french-accented bistro overlooks Puget Sound and offers a selection of yummy seafood and pasta specials. It is my favorite go-to dining destination for a break from the crowded and chaotic shopping at Pike Place.

Where to next? With daughter Jessie coming to visit next weekend, I’m sure we’ll experience something wonderful and new!

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Lunch in Seattle – Paddy Coyne’s

An Irish Pub on the Seattle waterfront.

Ok, I will start with my disclaimer.  This was not a strategic foray into the Seattle dining scene.  Sometimes you are simply hungry and looking for someplace close that serves warm grub!  Yesterday we headed up to Seattle to do a walk through on our new home in Kirkland (19 days to move in.)  Then we ventured into Seattle to check on construction progress on our new offices.  The new office is in Belltown overlooking the sculpture park and the Puget Sound.  By the time we finished checking out the office it was nearly 3:30 and we hadn’t had time to get lunch.  So, we walked the two blocks down to the waterfront and went into the first place we found: Paddy Coyne’s Irish Pub.

I understand that this location on Pier 70 is their fourth restaurant.  Other locations are in Union Square, Bellevue, and Tacoma.  The decor is pretty much what you would expect inside; Irish pub meets American sports bar.  It does have a cozy little fireplace in the corner, which on a typical Seattle day can be a godsend. What is unique is that the restaurant sits on the pier and has outside seating with a water view.  Since it was nearly 4pm we were in that quandary of eating a full lunch or a quick snack to tide us over until dinner.  We opted for a middle of the road approach.

The menu includes Soups & Salads, Burgers & Sandwiches, Small Plates, and traditional Irish fare.  I was tempted to go with more Irish selections but thought they may be a bit heavy for this late in the day.  So, I opted for two sliders, some french fries, and a Guinness.  When you order sliders you have a number of options, and I went for the beef slider with white cheddar, lettuce, tomato, and honey mustard.  For my second tiny burger I picked the corned beef & cabbage slider with lettuce, swiss cheese, and a house sauce.  Claire ordered the chicken skewers which included glazed chicken with a teriyaki sauce, peppers, onions, and peanut sauce.  She didn’t realize that fries came with my sliders, so she ordered a side of the shoe-string fries with cheese and seasonings.  I should mention we ordered from the Happy Hour menu which is available from 3-6pm and 10pm-midnight each day.

The service was friendly and quick.  We received our drinks within a few minutes, and our food came just 10 minutes after our drinks.  The food was simply plated, but served hot from the kitchen.

A simple mid-afternoon lunch.

We clearly had more french fries than we needed, but it turned out ok since the fries that come with the sliders were not great.  On the other hand, the shoe-string fries were addictive.  They have just a hint of cheese on them, but are well seasoned and perfectly fried.

Claire’s chicken was nicely done, and the glaze and sauce were tasty.  The first slider I tried was the corned beef and cabbage selection. Wow, it was excellent!  The ever important bun-to-burger ratio was perfect.  The bun was moist but not mushy.  The burger was done medium and had amazing flavor.  I could have easily eaten a plate of these!

The beef slider had a good bun/patty ratio and was cooked medium rare (which I have found to be uncommon in sliders for obvious reasons,) but overall it was nothing special.  Wisely, we had the waitress take the basket of shoe-strings away before we put too much of a dent in it.  Did I mention how addicting they are?

We finished up our late afternoon lunch and promptly received the cheque.  How often have you had a good lunch, on the water front, in the middle of a tourist area, had drinks with your lunch, and had a bill less than $25?  Well, that’s what we got!

Overall we were very pleased with Paddy Coyne’s.  Good location on the water front, good service, good food, and darn good pricing (especially when you order from the Happy Hour menu.)

We will certainly being going back, and next time plan to take friends.  As I said, it is only a couple of blocks from our new office, so I can easily see this becoming a great after-work hangout.

– Randy & Claire

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