The Great Seattle Food Hurricane of 2011 {Savor Seattle}

Fair warning… This is a long one.

Our guide, Brett, and his pink umbrella

B’s brother, J, and his wife, R, pick out great gifts. I know, that’s a strange statement, but it’s true. They just have a real knack for it. For Christmas they bought B and me a Savor Seattle Gourmet food tour. A few days ago, I’d started to regret the day we chose. While it’s been fairly sunny and mild this week, the weather was supposed to turn more rainy and cold this weekend. The tickets weren’t eligible for a reschedule, though, so yesterday was the day.

We were directed to report to the Mayflower Park Hotel by 1:45pm for set-up of audio equipment in time for a 2:00pm departure. Audio equipment, really? Now I was nervous. I had visions of a group of 50-something cruise ship tourists with massive headsets following a self-led route through downtown Seattle. I shouldn’t make it sound like I wasn’t excited to go on the tour because I was. I was just a little worried that B and I chose badly when J asked us when we wanted to go. Maybe we really should have saved it for late spring or early summer. By summer, I mean early Seattle summer, so sometime after July 5th.

Just before leaving, B looked out the window and noticed the American flag across from our building waving wildly in the wind. Then he noticed the trees swinging dramatically from side to side. Ok, fine. It would be a little breezy. At least it wasn’t raining, right? There were a few slightly ominous clouds, but I was hopeful they presented an empty threat. Off we went to the Mayflower.

Instantly we realized the wind was a tad more serious than we first thought. It quickly became a full-fledged, bodies marching at a 45 degree angle, sheer willpower against the wind, battle down the street kind of walk. We laughed. It’s Seattle, afterall. The weather changes every five minutes and we aren’t exactly a windy city. Surely it would relent soon. We continued our battle toward downtown during which I was forced to keep my coat zipped despite being absurdly overheated. When I unzipped, it opened up and turned into a sail of sorts, making my walk twice as difficult. Theatrics and wind gusts aside, we arrived about ten minutes early.

The Mayflower Park Hotel itself is lovely. It’s one of the oldest hotels in Seattle and its style hasn’t changed much over the years. It has the feeling many old hotels have. Despite being rather large and ornate, everything feels much smaller than more modern hotels. We had no trouble finding the upper lobby and a seat near the faux fireplace. Not long after, other tour members began to arrive. They were fairly obvious, mostly couples (not surprising given Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching) carrying water bottles as directed by the pre-tour email.

A short while later our tour guide, Brett (2 t’s, no n), arrived with his bag of audio equipment. This turned out much better than I expected. Rather than playing pre-recorded audio forcing a self-led feeling to the tour, the headsets are connected to a microphone worn by Brett to help us hear him on the busy city streets and in the crowded Pike Place Market. They were also subtle enough to hide under my hair. After brief introductions, we were off to our first restaurant.

A long and treacherous thirty seconds after leaving the upper lobby of the Mayflower, we arrived at our first destination, Andaluca. It is actually the Mayflower Park Hotel restaurant. We tried two Andaluca specialties- a glass of their Sangria and the Crispy Duck Cake with apricot chutney and cucumber riata.

I have a great love for (good) Sangria. I don’t usually drink it during Winter since it’s such a distinctly summer drink, but I always mourn its loss at the end of the (very short) season. This Sangria might make me break my Winter hiatus. The bonus is that they put their recipe online! The Crispy Duck Cake was also very good. B and I rarely have duck, but this is the second time this week. The tour was off to a fantastic start.

From there we ventured out into the cold and made the short walk to Serious Pie. This is the only one of the Tom Douglas restaurants B and I hadn’t tried. After our visit today, I still wouldn’t say we’ve eaten there, but we liked what we tasted. The space is tiny. I know this from the couple of times we’ve stuck our heads in the door hoping to get a seat. They’ve been busy since they first opened, but since they were featured by Tyler Florence on the Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate, it’s gotten a bit ridiculous. Though it was already almost 3:00pm by then, there were still a few people waiting outside to get in, so there was no way we’d succeed. It was going to be a brief stop, so no one minded the idea of tasting our pizza outside. We tried two. The first was the Margherita (which I ate before I even thought about the camera). The second was the pizza now made famous by Tyler Florence – the Yellowfoot Chanterelles with Truffle cheese. So, so, so good!

I wish I could say we’ll be back to Serious Pie soon, but we learned something on the tour that will deter us. While it was presented as a feature of the pizza, learning that they use a special high gluten flour makes it not an ideal meal for me. It’s sad. The pizza was amazing. B loved it even without a scrap of meat in sight.

Sometime midway through our visit at Serious Pie, it started to rain. At first it was just the usual annoying Seattle rain, but soon it started to rain harder and the wind began to blow with a whole new gusto. The rather brief walk from Serious Pie into the Pike Place Market was misearble to say the least. The audio kept cutting in and out in our ear pieces since it was strongly affected by the wind. Then the rain started to hurt. It stung like hail, but I think it was just the feeling of the very strong wind forcefully blowing the rain drops into our faces and into our eyes. All we could really do was laugh. Brett handled it very well. I know he’s well practiced at these tours, but honestly, we don’t get this kind of weather often, so I can’t imagine he’s been through that particular experience on many occasions in the past.

Our next stop was inside the main arcade of the Pike Place Market at the temporary home of La Buona Tavola. Rain soaked and wind swept, we were quite grateful to be inside. On our last trip to the Market a few weeks ago, B and I noticed a semi-permanent looking stand in the arcade we hadn’t seen before. They were very busy. A few people ordered soup, but the stall just looked like a food vendor, oils and small jars we couldn’t get close enough to identify. Well, as it turns out, this was La Buona Tavola. The reason we hadn’t seen them before was because they are temporarily relocated during the renovations currently being done on the Pike Place Market to bring it up to earthquake safety standards. They’ll be back in their newly renovated old space on March 4th.

Not only is their owner absolutely lovely, their selection of products was amazing. I wanted everything I set my eyes on. From truffle cream to truffle oil and truffle salt, I just wanted to pack it all up and take it home. For our tastes, we tried their potato leek soup (first without the truffle oil, then with it added) and a small crostini with tapenade and truffle oil. Wow. That’s all I really have to say. The soup was amazing. I understand why there was such a crowd the last time we walked by.

We also had a chance to try a variety of different balsamic vinegars and 10% truffle salt. I’ll be taking the discount card we got on the tour back very soon to do some shopping. We sampled the vinegars on the back of our hands.

B took this opportunity to tell me how pale I am. What does he expect? We live in Seattle!

From La Buona Tavola, Brett (2 t’s, no n) led us through the main arcade to stay under cover from the storm. In case you’re wondering what’s up with the pink umbrella in the first photo, that’s how we were able to keep track of Brett in the crowd. It seemed a little silly at first, but proved very helpful. Our next stop in the Market was Il Bistro (another reportedly haunted restaurant). Despite supposed ghost activity, Il Bistro is known as one of the most romantic restaurants in the city. I can see why. Even during daytime, the low pink lighting and cozy tables go a long way toward justifying this distinction. They’ve been in the Market for over 30 years and are definitely a Market staple. I wish I could remember their chef’s name as he spent a good amount of time chatting with us and talking to us about Il Bistro. Oddly, though his photo is on their website, his name is not. Our taste from Il Bistro was Seafood Polenta paired with a Sangiovese to drink. Both delicious.

Onward from Il Bistro, we next headed through the hurricane a very short walk to the Pike Brewing Company where we took a short tour of the Brewery before heading upstairs to the pub.

If B and I learned one thing more than any other on this tour, it’s how little we really know about food in Seattle. For all our dining adventures, all my blog and magazine reading, there is still so much to learn. With the exception of the last stop on the tour, we hadn’t visited any of the stops previously. The Pike Brewing Company pub is awesome. We can’t wait to return and enjoy some of what Brett called “high-end pub grub.” Sounds fantastic. While at the pub, we tasted two different beers, one of which just happens to be my favorite (next to Guinness) – The Pike Kilt Lifter. They also paired the beers with cheese. Perhaps the most interesting discovery was the complete opposite of our discovery at Serious Pie. I always knew I liked Kilt Lifter because, in addition to tasting great, it didn’t seem to bother my wheat sensitivity. One glance at the ingredient sheet they handed out at the start of our tour revealed no wheat. Mystery solved! As I narrow down the foods that bother me, it’s becoming increasingly clear that my issue is largely wheat specific. This is certainly not scientific, but great news all the same.

We had two more stops after the Pike Brewing Company. First, we headed around the corner (through a renewed torrential downpour) to Thoa Restaurant and Lounge. I’m not super familiar with Vietnamese food and B didn’t think he was a fan, but trying food you aren’t familiar with or even aren’t expecting to enjoy is half the fun of a tour like this. They sat us all along the bar (there was only one other occupied table in the restaurant as I think they’d just opened for the evening).  At Thoa, we tried a Mango Fizz (non-alcoholic fizzy drink as the name implies) and the Vietnamese Pad Thai. I’m not usually a huge fan of Pad Thai, but this was really, really good! The Mango fizz was also a nice treat after all the walking we’d done so far.

From Thoa, there was just one last stop. Dessert! We left the Market and walked the few remaining blocks to Gelatiamo. B and I have been to Gelatiamo a couple of times before, but it had been quite awhile. Despite the freezing cold, pouring rain and crazy wind, gelato always sounds like a good idea. They only told us that we were trying one sorbetto and one gelato, but as far as I could tell, the flavors were raspberry (definitely not my favorite) and chocolate chip.

Had this been my first taste of Gelatiamo, it would have been good enough to convince me to come back. Having been on a couple of previous occasions, though, I know these were definitely not their best flavors and I’ll be back to try some of my true favorites.

By the end of the tour, we were cold, wet and tired, but very happy. Our group was friendly and lighthearted and Brett was wonderful. It was definitely three hours well spent. Instead of heading home (which was very tempting), we did a little shopping and finished our night at Hard Rock with another Pike Kilt Lifter. It seemed a fitting end.

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