I grew up in a foodie family of three. My mom, my dad and me; three peas, one pod. At breakfast , we’d discuss what to have for lunch, and while eating lunch it was always … “Hmmm, did you see that little Mexican place near our hotel? The concierge said it’s a great, hidden locals spot. Maybe we should go there.” On vacations, our days were planned around finding the best food the city had to offer be it a five star restaurant or a tiny fish hut on the beach.
Even went we weren’t on vaca we ate out a lot. I grew up in Lake Tahoe and the night life in a mountain town with one stop light is not quite crackalackin’ so restaurants are one of the only social places open past 6pm. Also, my parents, who owned a business together, worked so hard during tourist season that the last thing my mom wanted to do after a 12 hour day was cook!
Now that I’m an adult (so I’m told), I usually travel without M&D, but I always spend the time to find the perfect place for BLD … breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In the fall of last year, I flew to Seattle to attend the International Food Blogger Conference (IFBC) on behalf of POM Wonderful. It was an enlightening, inspiring weekend that definitely deserves a post unto itself and I hope to write sooner than later.
But first, a review of my most memorable meal in Seattle at Etta’s Seafood. It was the last day of the conference and I was back at my hotel (The Grand Hyatt, excellent room, value and location) by 5pm. This was the first chance I had to take a stroll through the city then high-tail it down to Pike’s Place Market . But, in true Jones family fashion, I took 20 minutes to get online and google “best seafood restaurants in Seattle.” Now, you have to sift through the touristy spots that pay for play on google search. And PLEASE almost never ask the concierge at a big brand hotel where to eat because while they may be nice, the chances of them dishing on the best local eateries around is none to none.
The best way to find great places to eat while traveling is to read reviews written by foodies who pay to eat and write about it for free. I use Fodor’s and Tripadvisor and I also google local food blogs. I’ll use Yelp on occasion, but I find the reviews to be a little unreliable.
When I walked in to Etta’s I asked for a table for one. Ah, the awkward table for one. I’ve never found it awkward actually. I learned to be comfortable dining alone at age 12 at figure skating camp in Lake Arrowhead. I didn’t find the cafeteria food very satiating after many hours of hurling myself through the air on a sheet of ice, so, I took the local bus into town and after one basket of warm, salty tortilla chips, I didn’t care a smidgen that no one else was eating them with me.
Anyway, the hostess at Etta’s asked if I’d wanted to sit at the bar, clearly since I was solo. “Nope, that table right by the window please,” I told her. It was a table for four. I’ve been a waitress so I know restaurants don’t love seating singles at the best tables, but it was early and I wanted to use the magic hour light to take pictures. Inspiration was bubbling inside me after experiencing Penny de los Santos, an award winning documentary photographer who shared her time with us over the weekend at IFBC.
Photo By Penny De Los Santos at IFBC
Another one of the most memorable and poignant takeaways from the conference was presented by Kathleen Flinn, author of The Sharper the Knife the Less You Cry . “Write with all five senses,” she said. Taste, touch, sight, sound and smell. We FORGET this. There is so much more to an eating experience than just tasting the food, seeing the food and smelling the food. Texture (touch) and sound are also important when describing a foodie experience in words. Think of the way peanut brittle snaps or how rubbery boba balls bounce, slip and slide in your mouth. All of our senses come into play when we eat and that’s what makes food and cooking the only art that uses all five senses.
To celebrate POM’s successful weekend at the conference I ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Oh let’s be honest, I normally order wine with dinner to celebrate … life?! I love the way a freshly poured glass looks almost as much as I enjoy drinking it. White wines especially really tug at my idyllic heart strings. By staring into a smooth, chilled goblet, I can easily transport my mind’s eye to a luxurious yacht, enjoying a fabulous cheese and fruit platter or relaxing in the warm sun on a vineyard in Santa Barbara. Ah yes, I love the good life and I love a slightly dry, slightly citrus forward glass of vino. When my pleasure vessel arrived, the stem of the glass was cool, slender and hard in my hand. I swirled to coat the glass with one paper-thin layer of liquid. Mmmmm, sip, “Crisp with a glance of apricot and honey,” I thought.
Behind me I heard a man order the halibut, the large portion, with a wedge. I crave a good, simple, wedge about once a month. When my Kumamoto Oysters on the half shell arrived, nestled in ice, I quit eavesdropping and began to focus all five senses on the gorgeous goodness from the sea. My fondness for the briney taste of oysters bloomed at an early age when my parents took me to San Francisco, home to many unforgettable oyster bars. Any time I spot Kumamotos on the menu, (and feel I am in an eatery where it’s safe to eat raw oysters, let’s be honest) I am lured in to ordering at least one round. At Etta’s, they were so fresh that I could feel the sea tickling my tongue so, I did what any oyster loving Food Flirt would do and ordered another three. It was as if each oyster had fallen through a cloud made of salty ocean air, lemon mist, and tiny droplets of sugared malt vinegar. Grin … happiness in a seashell.
The bread; always somewhat of an internal conflict for me. To eat it or not to eat it, that is the question. I L-O-V-E bread and can easily indulge myself in multiple pieces, therefore, ruining both my palate and appetite. Thus, I try to make an educated decision as to whether the bread basket is worth my mouths attention. Is is warm? How soft is it? House made? A unique flavor? A fun shape? All these details come into play before I take a bite. Etta’s bread wasn’t warm, but it was enticing. The small loaf of olive bread with a thick, sharp, crunchable crust and soft center was very satisfying. I smeared a bit of butter over top then sprinkled it with course sea salt and fresh-cracked black pepper. The acidity from the olives left a pleasant tart and metallic flavor on my tongue.
For the main event, I ordered smashed Yukon Gold potatoes, steamed Dungeness crab, and a cumber salad. The potatoes looked gorgeous but were a bit mealy and bland. The skin crackled and crunched however, which I liked very much. I believe they were just slightly over cooked and the dreaded starchiness phase was setting in.
Next, the crab. Cracking crab, for me at least, is like searching for one of the most subtly satisfying treasures on earth. From the succulent lumps and clumps to the tender strands of sweet, white meat, I relish every morsel. This crab was so flavorful and buttery that I forgave the pithy potato side dish completely. Sometimes a simple preparation really is best when you are working with fresh, high quality ingredients and I want to thank Etta’s keen chefs for knowing when a touch of seasoning and a grilled Meyer lemon are all you need to make a dish forever memorable. You see, the best crab has a graceful flavor, giving just a nod to it’s marine home, while an oyster, an oyster wears it’s oceanic abode on it’s sleeve.
Finally, I’ll tell you the tale of little multifaceted salad that was more beautiful on the outside (to look at), than it was in the inside (to taste). With a potpourri of textures, shapes, and ingredients, it appeared promising both on the menu and upon arrival. Slices of crisp, Persian cucumber and red radish, cubes of jicama and pineapple, strings of bamboo and carrots with a bit of chopped cilantro … definitely the makings for a salad to remember. Sadly, it was under-seasoned. Just a touch of honey, salt, and jalapeno and this my friends, would have lit my Food Flirt fire!
Unlike wine, I don’t always get dessert. I really just don’t enjoy it if I’m too full … however, being the looky-loo that I am, I spotted a heavenly slice of coconut cream pie on the table behind me while finishing my crab. I bow down to good coconut cream pie and rarely seem to dine with people who feel the same or even like it so … off I went, fork first, into a creamy cloud of custard, piled high with whipped cream and wide shreds of coconut that crunched quietly in my mouth.
The crust was almost cracker like, which did make for a good texture contrast with the creamy filling, but did not hit the flavor mark for me. My final constructive pie criticism: natural coconut is a gentle flavor that sometimes needs a bit of brightening in a dessert. Here, they sprinkled it with flakes of white chocolate which did add some sugar to the mildly sweet coconut custard but didn’t do enough to make it shine. I ground a pinch of course sea salt over the whipped cream and wow, did this pie pop to life! Salty + Sweet … you will forever have my heart. And Etta’s, you are now my favorite seafood restaurant in Seattle. Namaste.