Sweetness in Seattle

One of my favorite travel situations: a new city to explore.
My first time in the Pac Northwest and I had 8 whole days. I had to play Business Barbie for a few days and then REALLY got to dig into the city when my bf came to town for the long weekend. While we’re still not sure how humans can survive in perpetual cloudiness, we enjoyed our time in the city. And the food .. there was a lot of food.
We played tourist and took a cruise around Elliott Bay with Argosy Cruises. We took in views of the skyline at Kerry Park both day and night – note: not sure this is possible without a rental car as the park is tucked into a residential area. Maybe a friendly Uber driver would add it in!
We swapped the Space Needle for Smith Tower in Pioneer Square and were pleased with the choice. The Observatory at the top of the Tower doubles as bar, observation deck, and social hour hot spot. “In 1914, Smith Tower became the first skyscraper in Seattle and the tallest building west of the Mississippi River,” and now they’re serving up cocktails and views.
Yes, I did see The First Starbucks @ Pike Place Market – Established 1971, I gave into the hype with a good friend who survived the Midwest with me, in a place without a Starbucks. When we would meet up at conferences we would get ourselves “big city coffee,” so this was naturally a must do.
We also kept our eye on the cherry blossoms at the University of Washington. Since we were on the opposite coast from our own DC blooms, we opted for a trip to the UW campus. Holy HYPE. There were so many people taking photos with such intensity that it was a bit overwhelming. Ok, a LOT.

Breakfast highlights:

Piroshky Piroshky @ Pike Place Market – if you’re headed to the first Starbucks, follow your nose and that beautiful yeasty smell will lead you right in.
Lola – 2000 4th Avenue – Spring scramble full of vegetables and beignet-style donuts featured on the Food Network

Let’s have a snack:

Dahlia Bakery – 2001 4th Avenue – for a breakfast picnic at Volunteer Park, and later their famed triple coconut custard cake. In truth: the breakfast sammie trumped the cake.
The Confectional @ Pike Place Market – Confess your love for cheesecake, they say. Shut up and take my money, I say. We were over the moon with chocolate & pb.
Top Pot Donuts – More locations that I can count – I opted for the cherry blossom donut, tis the season after all.
The Crumpet Shop – 1503 1st Avenue – Have you ever had a crumpet? Me either. A cross between a scone and an English muffin, these little gems are made on site. Choose your topping, and take my advice: Ricotta and lemon curd.
Molly Moon’s homemade ice cream – 8 locations – I could live here. Dark chocolate hot fudge, a Girl Scouts collaboration, Earl Grey & honey lavender scoops with lemon curd topping.. you get the idea. Sample everything!

Lunch & Dinner highlights:

TanakaSan – We wandered into it while starving and tired, and it was a tremendously pleasant surprise. The veggie crunch balls were peculiar enough to be delicious but the dumplings were out of this world.
Pike Brewing Co -1415 1st Ave – Fun for lunch with friends, near Pike Place Market. A riot of color and a legit salmon BLT, and DIY flights of beer.
Dick’s Drive-In – Six locations – Cheap, greasy, late night love affair. Simple menu and a pretty decent chocolate shake.
Pacific Inn Pub -3501 Stone Way N – Ah yes, local pub grub. We needed a place to watch the NCAA MBB game and really wanted fish & chips. Hate to blow up a local spot that clearly intends to stay local and quiet but damn, that was some good fish & chips.
Chinook’s at Salmon Bay – An Anthony’s Restaurant with a view on the water. Perfect casual stop after some wandering in Golden Gardens park.

Other notables:

– The Ballard Farmers Market in Old Ballard. Well stocked, and delightful.
– Nearby store Venue @ 5408 22nd Ave NW is devoted to Seattle artists and has been curated with a keen eye. Unique souvenirs (my personal favorite, jewelry.)
– Consider an Air B&B for your time in Seattle. I was at the Westin downtown (loved it) for the work week but we moved north into Ballard for the weekend and it was a totally different experience.
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Cheesesteaks & Dinosaurs

One of the things I love most about living on the East Coast is the proximity to big cities. From our cozy home in the suburbs of northern Maryland we are 30 minutes from Baltimore and 90 minutes from Washington, DC to the south, and 60 minutes to Philadelphia and another 2.5 hours to New York in the north. This is ideal, decadent, and positively laden with food and cultural options.

That said, last Saturday we hopped in the car in the late afternoon and headed north to cash in on a Christmas present: Tickets to the Jurassic World exhibit at the Franklin Institute in Philly. One of my favorite museum perks is discounted tickets for a certain time of day. In this case, adult evening admission for the exhibit was $19.95 for entry after 5 p.m. and through 9 p.m. That said, you can’t access the rest of the FI’s permanent exhibits if you enter after hours. You may also run into hordes of Scouts lined up to camp-out, and families lining up for the IMAX theatre which closes at 7 p.m. So, choose your own adventure. Dinosaurs are on through April 23, so don’t miss it!

 

Say what you want about Philadelphia sports fans but be advised that some of the best food on this coast is in the city. One of our favorite all-time pitstops when in Philly is the Reading Terminal Market. It has grown over the years, and we’ve grown smarter in scheduling our shopping there, too. Never show up without a re-usable bag, and avoid Saturday like the plague.

Although we were mired in the Saturday crowd this time, we were ready to rock with a cooler, and bags. What the hell are we buying, you ask? Oh, everything. RTM has chocolate, coffee, seafood, burgers, produce, baked goods .. you get the point. Here are some of our personal favorites in the market:

  • Miller’s Twist – Hand-rolled pretzels. A must have sweet or savory snack while shopping.
  • Mueller Chocolates – Purchase your chocolates by the pound, and look for oddballs like the chocolate covered onion that was featured on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.
  • Martin’s – Our favorite sausage stop, although the butcher has many other options. From turkey chorizo to chicken feta spinach sausage, always look to see what’s on the board for the 3 lbs for $9 special. Go all out, and freeze it at home to enjoy later.
  • OK Produce – Absurdly cheap vegetables. Think 3 avocados (ready to use asap) for $1, three medium red peppers for $1, bundles of potatoes for the same. Your bags will be heavy if you stop here, make it your last stop.
  • Beiler’s – With two locations in the market: Beiler’s Bakery, Beiler’s Donuts & Salads. We aim for the Salads (surprising, I know) for the giant vats of pickles (less surprising now, right?)
  • Hatville Deli – New for us on this trip, and yielded thick cut pepper encrusted bacon that barely lasted a day at home.
  • The Head Nut – Tucked in the back corner of the market (by the restrooms) you will find a little haven of bulk nuts, seeds, flours, spices, and every other thing. Prices are right and the staff does a nice job of navigating the very tiny shop to serve their customers.

After intense shopping and running from dinosaurs we made our way to Sonny’s Cheesesteaks in Old City. This is the fourth stop on our recent Tour de Cheesesteaks, and the results were mixed. Sonny’s ranked highly in several food critic romps through the city, so our hopes were high. Sadly the steak was lukewarm (literally and figuratively) and the whiz was without. Sonny’s lands the third spot on our list while Pat’s remains strong at #1 with Geno’s at #2, and Campo’s dead last at #4.

All that, and home before midnight. Thank you, Philadelphia! #seeyousoon

Dining & Dunks in DC

It started with snow and sleet but ended in blue skies, as most winter days are prone to do in Maryland. We took a quick weekend in Washington, DC to celebrate our two year anniversary. An interesting time to be in town, just a few days before the inauguration of Donald Trump. Every souvenir shop stacked full of the face of the President Elect, and this morning found soldiers lined up in the street practicing for the Presidential parade.

But we weren’t there for the President, we were there to eat. We were also there for my first NBA game – Wizards vs. 76ers at the Verizon Center. Jahlil Okafor had a slow night and John Wall was ablaze in attitude and points – entertaining to say the least. Almost as entertaining as the college kids sharing our row who spilled beer on the people in front of us, and spent the next 3 quarters apologizing at top volume. While that didn’t make it on #SCTop10, two other ridiculous moves did.

Before the game we made our way to hot spot Founding Farmers in Foggy Bottom. True to form, the menu boasts a farm to table commitment and did not disappoint. So thanks to the farmer that raised the pig that made the bacon that wrapped this date stuffed with blue cheese, a highlight of the meal. Gold star to the FF take on Southern shrimp & grits with slices of spicy andouille sausage that stole the show.

Our love for the TV show Master Chef took us to Christina Tosi’s late night Milk bar for a post game snack where we tried the vanilla soft serve with Cereal Milk (Captain Crunch esque) crunch. The truth? I could have passed. If there’s a next time I’ll aim for the crack pie instead. Compost cookie gets an honorable mention.

We enjoyed two prime museum galleries this weekend. First, George Washington University’s Textile museum that boasted brightly colored kimonos from Okinawa, campaign kerchiefs from elections past and an onslaught of Washingtonian stuff. Next, Ford’s Theatre, known for the Lincoln assassination. The theatre itself was our favorite part of the four-part tour, complete with brief talk from a National Park Service ranger. Word to the wise: the theater can only be viewed at certain times when a play is running, so choose your timed ticket online and watch for which of the four inclusions is highlighted.

Before we left the city we wound our way to B Too to satisfy J’s craving for waffles. The donut waffle was curious, the cornbread & pulled pork waffle was wet, and the egg in a hole waffle was a thin French toast. Our fault for not keeping the waffle in its pure form? You decide.

Washington Marriott Metro Center gets a shout out for a centrally located, inexpensive, comfortable stay.

Dining in the Dark

* Spoiler Alert: If you’ve considered dining in the dark but don’t want the details – stop reading! *

Last fall we had the opportunity to eat at the restaurant ONoir while in Toronto. The premise is that diners will enjoy an entire meal in absolute darkness, served by a wait staff that is legally blind. I admit that is a foodie my primary motivation was to see if I could truly taste better, or differently, if I wasn’t able to see my food. I am a big believer in presentation so this is particularly intriguing for me. The experience ended up being much more than simply turning off one of my senses to embolden another. I won’t give away too many details in case you decide to see (?) for yourself, but here are my general impressions.

The setup is such that you begin your dining experience in an anteroom of the restaurant with a hostess that is not blind. You review the menu, and make your choices. You are able to choose a surprise for any of your dishes or you can choose something that you recognize. We decided to choose a surprise appetizer, and both decided on filet for the entree. I think we figured that the experience alone would be a surprise, and since we are constantly experimenting with food, we also wanted something familiar so we could see if it’s really taste a difference when we couldn’t see it.

Once the order was complete, we were taken down the hall where the hostess knocked on a heavy door. One of the blind wait staff came out and introduced himself. What followed was series of instructions to get us into the room and seated at our table. When they say that you will eat a meal in complete darkness, they’re not kidding.

With my hand on the shoulder of the waiter in front of us, we walked into a completely dark room. I could hear other diners around us, nervous chatter filling the air at the 6:30 p.m. seating, one of two for the evening. The hostess told us that the restaurant could seat up to 120 people in four separate rooms. While walking into the dark room to find our seats, this is one of the first things I tried to reconcile. Where is everyone? How close is the next table to me? John and I spend some time waving our arms about trying to figure out the makeup of our immediate area. I was particularly glad there was a wall to our left, I continually used it when placing my wine glass back on the table after taking a sip: down, left to touch the wall, place it on the table.

Throughout the meal we received cues from our waiter on how to receive the food that was brought to us. A raised hand here, a reach to a bread basket there, or both hands out to receive an entree dish. Our waiter did not stay with us the whole time, but filtered around the room serving other guests.

I noticed that when I was concentrating particularly hard on doing something like buttering my bread, I would shut my eyes. Odd reflex in a pitch black room, to be sure. When the surprise appetizer came, the first thing I did was put my face close to the dish to smell what was on the plate. Not something you would normally do in a restaurant, put your face directly in your food. The next thing we both did was reach for the plate with their hands to feel what was there. It mad me feel a bit like a kid, when’s the last time that you played with your food?

What our nose and our hands told us was that we had a salad in front of us with a spicy piece of breaded chicken. It was delicious. We alternated between using our fork which was particularly hysterical when trying to spear arugula and get it to your mouth successfully. Let’s be honest, that’s difficult when you’re in broad daylight. When the steak arrived, one of the first things we asked ourselves is whether or not it has already been cut for us. It had, thankfully. I tried to navigate my plate and eat in the way I normally do, a bite of this, a bite of that. I kept taking bites of steak and wanted something else. John described his own plate like a clock, “my steak is at 3 o’clock. My potatoes are at 6 o’clock. Have you found yours yet?” I did eventually locate all of my food and shamelessly used my hand to confirm that I had eaten every last bite from the plate.

When it was time to go, our waiter had told us that all we had to do was say his name. This is another part of the experience that we found interesting. Normally when you’re looking for the check you put your hand up, or you catch your waiters attention. I had been listening to his footsteps around the room, and thought I knew where he was in relation to our table. I said his name at regular volume and he heard me right away coming over to our table to help us back out of the room.

So is this experience really about dining in the dark? It certainly included two hours of thinking about what it would be like to live a life without sight. In the room, everyone was in the dark. So if you spilled your wine or got sauce on your shirt or used your hands to find your food, no one could judge you because they couldn’t see you. Something to think about.


ONoir – 620 Church Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
http://www.onoirtoronto.com/

Walking Around Williamsburg

Sometimes conferences keep you cooped up indoors and you don’t get to run around and see everything you want to see in a new city. That said, I usually try to take a day or two to myself before or after a long academic conference. Back in 2010 when I was in Istanbul for a conference, one of my professors said to me, “Kelly, you don’t have to go to everything.” I was shocked by this revelation. I don’t? Several years down the path, I’ve found a great balance between work and play in the conference zone.

Williamsburg, Viriginia is truly lovely. This was my first visit and the weather rolled out a fine red carpet of stunning fall foliage and sunshine on the drive down from Baltimore.

The conference was located at the Williamsburg Lodge, which was incredible. I like to work out while I’m on the road, and the fitness center easily ranked as one of the most immaculate and well-appointed gyms ever. Grounds, rooms, dining and common areas were also warm and inviting. Location can’t be beat as you can walk right out into the colonial area of town and be transported back in time with a few steps. I’d stay here again in a minute.

You know I ate well. Here are some favorites:
Aroma’s Coffehouse & Cafe – 431 Prince George Street – A divine southern breakfast and a location suited for a casual business meeting. Grits with a poached egg and a “Honey Do” latte .. and yes, I stuck a scone in my bag for later.

DoG Street Pub – 401 W Duke of Gloucester, Merchants Square – Excellent atmosphere in this pub where our early bird group gathered before the conference kicked off. I grabbed dinner to go (burgr for me, salad for Katie) and had a delicious cocktail while waiting. Long community tables and high ceilings inside, patio (with heat lamps) outside and a spot right on the busy thoroughfare.

The Cheese Shop – 410 W Duke of Gloucester, Merchants Square – My cousin James pointed me to this place before I arrived, although after seeing the layout of the town it would be hard to miss! I stopped one day for lunch with colleagues and another night for a glamorous cheese plate all to myself. You can buy wine by the glass, pick a number of cheeses, olives or meats and grab a hunk of bread to eat in or dine out. You pay by weight and my plate included three cheeses, olives, a glass of Merlot and a hunk of French bread for $19. Heaven. The sandwich process is efficient, but crowded. Be prepared to wait.

Blue Talon Bistro – 420 Prince George Street – This place boasts “serious comfort food,” and they are not joking. I waited 20-30 minutes for a table for one during Saturday lunch, detouring to Mermaid Books and the Spice & Tea Exchange across the street to count down the minutes. Once I made it to my table, I wanted everything on the menu. The winter vegetable soup came in a perfectly cute tureen and warmed me up immediately. The pressed French dip sandwich was decadent, which sounds crazy for a sandwich but trust me. I finished up with a berry cobbler and a very satisfied smile. Lunch prices were manageable, dinner looked a bit higher.

I tried to get a seat at two places where I was sadly unsuccessful, Old Chickahominy and Food for Thought. Those mishaps did lead me to both the mediocre (Red Hot and Blue BBQ) and the fabulous (Duck Donuts). Duck Donuts was a great find for a breakfast on the road. They apparently have locations all over the beaches of Virginia and are making their way to North Carolina and up into New Jersey. They remind me of Fractured Prune donuts but I also scored handmade hot chocolate and a delicious breakfast sandwich on a bagel.

I also enjoyed a tour and tasting at the Williamsburg Winery. After winning a bottle of Two Shilling Red during the conference (see, they are fun) I wasn’t sure I needed to head to the property. I’m so glad I did. I drove up after 4 p.m. on a Saturday that had proved both warm and sunny, and the lot was full. I thought tours would be over per the website (ending at 4:30 p.m.) but the workers were still selling tickets. The $10 ticket included a short video, a walk through the many rooms and processes, and a tasting of six or so wines. Our guide was a hoot and I was pleasantly surprised by the wines. The Williamsburg Winery is the largest in Virginia, and I also learned that Virginia wines are making their way up to their competitors in the Finger Lakes (NY), and Pacific Northwest (OR, WA). It was dark when I left so I didn’t get to wander through the vineyard but the long and winding drive was beautiful on the way in.

You can see my Hotel Confidential video reviews of the Williamsburg Lodge and the Historic Powhatan Resort.