Seattle's Access to Fresh Seafood Makes City a Dream Destination for Foodies
By Corinne Whiting
Seattle Local Expert
Seattle gets a well-deserved rap for its bountiful ration of gloomy weather. This is, of course, strictly due to geography, topography and weather patterns. However, what strong storm tracks bring to this Pacific Northwest locale off the Pacific Ocean in the way of weather brings a happy tradeoff for the bounty of fresh seafood made available by those same factors. The region’s topography of protected bays and mountain-fed rivers equals excellent homegrown seafood, including the iconic Northwest salmon and world-renowned shellfish, such as Penn Cove mussels.
As if local fisheries didn’t provide enough for chefs here to work with, Seattle’s Pacific Rim location—the same geography that brings sullen skies and downpours—also makes it close regional neighbors with Alaska and Japan, equally known for their abundance of quality seafood. Once all of this briny goodness arrives at port and gets distributed to local restaurants and fish markets, some of the best seafood chefs in the world get down to the business of filleting, slicing, grilling and sautéing.
In a city brimming with sushi joints, though, a healthy portion of the fish consumed in Seattle makes it to the table raw, at places such as Shiro’s. But whether delivered in the form of uncooked protein, as a humble but delicious grilled salmon sandwich handed over a counter in Pike Place Market (Matt’s in the Market) or a stunning lobster presentation set on white linen (Aqua or Canlis), Seattle seafood is as varied as the city itself.
Dining at the Herb Farm is an event. In fact, just getting in is a process, since this culinary jewel is booked months in advance for its legendary prix fixe feast of Pacific Northwest fare. The nine-course meal plays out over four or five hours, with perfect regional wine pairings poured along with each dining selection. According to travel guides, this is diamond-level dining. With a strictly regional focus, each meal is seasonally themed, whether Copper River salmon in spring or root vegetables in winter. The greens and herbs that augment main dishes are from the restaurant's own garden, picked by one of your servers. Along with each course comes dialogue from the chef, who informs diners about the specifics of what's on their plates. Finish off with Douglas Fir sorbet, a standby standout at the Herb Farm. (425-485-5300)
Elliott's Oyster House
True to its handle, this waterfront establishment serves views of bustling Elliott Bay along with its oysters; more than 30 varieties. From the outside, Elliott's looks like little more than a shack, but the interior is cozy enough to accommodate lots of folks, especially if a laid-back, casual meal is on the slate. If you're on your own, sidle up to the 21-foot oyster bar for convivial dining. Menu highlights include the aforementioned oysters (prepared just about any way imaginable), crab, lobster and more. The venue also boasts an excellent wine list, local brews and a highly desirable happy hour menu. (206-623-4340)
No Seattle food guide would be complete without a mention of Canlis, for generations a stalwart standby for special occasions and wowing visitors. The traditional, white-tablecloth dining room lets visitors take in serene views of beautiful and busy Lake Union below. Such stunning surroundings only enhance the phenomenal gustatory experience, which includes offerings of stuffed chicken, lamb shank with pur� mint and garlic, and delectable cuts of beef and fresh seafood. For diners that can't decide, a great option is the fixed price menu: Each of the five courses is paired with the appropriate glass of wine from the spectacular Canlis cellar. In fact, Canlis is one of only 85 restaurants worldwide to have received the "Grand Award" for its wine collection. (206-283-3313)
A quintessential Seattle experience consists of having a meal at Ray's. Views of the mountains and the water, especially in sunset's glow, thrill diners almost as much as the cuisine. Located close to Golden Gardens, this venue makes the perfect dining spot after a wind-swept or sun-tinged day at the beach. While many dishes have Asian flair (like pan-seared scallops in green curry or kasu-marinated black cod), others revel in simple preparations, like oysters on the half-shell, crab cakes, and grilled wild salmon. The downstairs venue offers upscale dining; the cafe upstairs is a bit more casual. A wonderful wine list ensures that you'll have a terrific vintage to complement the food. (206-789-3770)
This restaurant, with its island accents and Polynesian-tinged menu, is a great place to applaud a promotion, celebrate an anniversary, or treat yourself. Views of the city and Puget Sound draw your attention, but the menu has a seductive appeal too. Its emphasis on Northwest cuisine is especially apparent in seafood. Large king crab legs are served on a cedar plank, as is salmon and a number of other entr�. Grilled prawns, Dungeness crab cakes, tuna, and mahi mahi are also among the options you'll agonize over. The creamy seafood chowder is an event in itself � make sure to try it. (206-285-1000)
Matt's in the Market
This once-tiny restaurant, greatly expanded in 2007, offers incredible views of the Market and the Puget Sound, courtesy of huge, semicircular windows. Flawless seafood is the name of the game, and it's collected fresh from vendors below. Oyster sandwiches, often eaten at the counter, are much-coveted at lunch, and dinner calls forth such delicacies as tortilla-crusted Alaskan halibut, pan-roasted wild salmon, and mussels steamed with chorizo, charmoula, and cava. In the evenings, the atmosphere is candlelit and romantic, although tables are at a premium. Don't leave without treating yourself to the chocolate pot de cr�, a signature dessert that's a perfect ending to the fantastic cuisine. (206-467-7909)
North of Pike Place Market, just a stone's throw from the action, Etta's is known for its take on superb, fresh-caught seafood. Tourists and locals alike pack the place, and although there's sometimes a wait, the food always compensates for the slight inconvenience. The innovative cuisine features Asian influences and a desire to move beyond traditional preparations. Signature dishes include deep-fried tilapia with scallions and black beans, seared halibut, tuna sashimi, oysters on the half-shell, spice rubbed salmon and Dungeness crab. When the weather's nice, enjoy a sidewalk seat that is reminiscent of a European cafe and keeps diners feeling in the midst of the downtown buzz. (206-443-6000)
The straightforward decor at this popular restaurant allows taste buds to focus on the culinary adventure. Among the loyal patrons are sports celebrities, business people and local sushi-lovers. They come for the terrific food and also for the special treats available at the sushi bar. The reputable chef, Shiro Kashiba, directs guests to the best choices of the day while offering samples that aren't on the menu. A two-time James Beard nominee, Master Chef Shiro Kashiba has been profiled in most major cuisine periodicals and newspapers (think Bon Appetit, The New York Times and USA Today). His restaurants also remain permanent fixtures in Zagat's restaurant guides. (206-443-9844)
Aqua by El Gaucho
At Aqua by El Gaucho, bright, open spaces with sculptural lighting and barrel-backed chairs invites guests to check out great views and a wonderful, seafood-based menu. Although options change depending on what's fresh, you may find oven-roasted Manila clams to start or Northwest oysters served with grapefruit tequila sorbet. Main courses include lobster risotto, Thai seafood stew, and sesame-seared sea bass. If you prefer meat, there's rack of lamb, pork tenderloin, and grilled steaks. Vegetarians are pleased by plank-roasted vegetables, and desserts are eminently rich and satisfying no matter what you choose. Live piano music is a treat nightly from 5 p.m.. (206-956-9171)
Westward & Little Gull
One of the city's newest "hot spots," Westward is a water-inspired, full-service restaurant and bar that first opened its sails in the fall of 2013 on the north shore of Lake Union. Chef Zoi Antonitsas sends out delectable, innovative dishes that balance contemporary Northwest and Mediterranean flavors with an approach called "natural and continually evolving, reflecting the simplicity of great products, fresh ingredients and the changing seasons. A wood-burning oven anchors the kitchen, and each seat in the restaurant boasts stunning views of the lake and cityscape. Outside, a large deck, fire pit and beach area provide the ideal vantage point for sipping cocktails in the warmer month or to snuggle under wool blankets (provided by the venue) in the winter. A 150-foot dock provides boat parking or a place to tie up kayaks while enjoying plates of oysters or creative cocktails. ((206) 552-8215)
About Corinne Whiting
Corinne hails from the other Washington, where she caught the travel bug early on. Corinne studied abroad in Strasbourg, France (undergrad) and in Edinburgh, Scotland (graduate school). She's backpacked around Australia, taught English in Argentina and explored (so far!) countries from Cambodia and Egypt to Turkey and China. Corinne served as associate editor at Where magazine for five years; as a freelancer, she now writes for publications like National Geographic Traveler and Amtrak's OnTrak. Here in the lovely Northwest, she's attempting to debunk the rain myths, up her coffee and live music quotient and find her Zen near/on the water.
Read more about Corinne Whiting here.