Seattle has its share of trendy restaurants and creative chefs, and like Portland, its fellow food-centric city to the south, Seattle’s culinarians are committed to using locally-sourced, fresh ingredients. But what really sets Seattle apart is its seafood. Situated on the Puget sound and with the Cascade and Olympic Mountain watersheds nearby, Seattle chefs have an incredible variety of fish and seafood to work with. While a meal of iconic Seattle ingredients such as Dungeness crab or fresh salmon, beginning with varieties of local oysters, is about as good as life gets, the most distinctive sea serpent gracing Seattle tables is the geoduck. Pronounced “gooeyduck” it is neither gooey nor a duck. It is better known as a razor claim but that sounds too ordinary for this strange looking beast.
One of the largest clams, and able to live in the wild for 100 years, it is rare to find it outside of the Seattle area, although occasionally Chinese restaurants elsewhere will offer it. It is served two ways: the skin is removed from the trunk, the trunk meat is then sliced thinly and served raw as a sashimi with soy sauce and wasabi; or the body is shucked from the shell, and gently cooked as part of a main dish. It is sweeter than, for instance, cherrystone clams and slightly more tender when properly prepared. It can also be used in clam chowder although at $30 per pound it is pricy for chowder.
In Seattle, you can eat geoduck freshly harvested from the tank at Taylor’s Shellfish, where it is served as sashimi. For straightforward, simple, fresh seafood, it is hard to beat Taylor’s. If you’re looking for something more creative, Ethan Stowell’s Anchovies and Olives serves Geoduck and Fresno Chili which form the basis of a gentle sauce served over handmade squid ink pasta (Strozzapreti Neri). This was a wonderful dish that married the slightly chewy textures and subtle oceanic flavors of the clams and pasta.
If what you have in mind is to pick up some fresh seafood to cook at home, Seattle’s other strange icon, the famous Pike Place Market will have it, along with the fresh produce to serve with it, the dinnerware to serve it on, the flowers to decorate the table, the art to adorn your walls, the chocolate to serve after dinner—well you get the picture. Hundreds of storefronts, stalls, and vendors selling just about anything you could want, in a crowded warren of alleyways and mysterious corridors leading to—more shops and vendors, and not a chain store among them. Opened in 1907 and saved from demolition in the 1970’s, it is the oldest continually operating farmer’s market in the U.S. A mix of artisans, hustlers, buskers, bohemians, and tourists, Pike Place market is a colorful medley of noise, smells, and boisterous banter among vendors and customers that feels like it hasn’t changed in 50 years. There is really no place like it in the U.S.
Just across the street is the original Starbucks, in this location since 1976. If you are curious, it is worth a look but don’t get your coffee there unless you prefer to stand in line for an hour for ordinary coffee. I’m not sure why so many insist on drinking coffee at the original Starbucks. Maybe it is to view the topless mermaid in the original logo which still advertises this shop. (The mermaid has been “desexed” in the present incarnation of the corporate logo.) If you are downtown and want coffee, check out the logo but skip the coffee and go around the corner to Café Fonté Coffee Roasters and Wine Bar. A micro-roaster that hand roasts 10,000 lbs. per day, this might be the best cup of coffee I have had since that morning in—well never mind. Their shop across from the Seattle Art Museum serves a fine breakfast and lunch (with a small but interesting wine list) but it’s really all about the coffee. Seattle, by the way, although justly famous for their coffee, has countless run-of-the-mill coffee shops that sell an ordinary brew. For the good stuff, find the micro-roasters.
But what is the strangest Seattle icon that on a scale of weirdness puts even the geoduck to shame? They serve cream cheese on hot dogs! Go figure.