The musical On The Town features three sailors on a 24-hour shore-leave in New York City. Sometimes it feels like Peg and I are those sailors trying to cram everything we can into a one or two day vacation. For this trip we had an agenda, but ended up relaxing and making changes. We'll catch up . . . some other time.
We pulled into Seattle later than usuall, which means we checked into the Warwick Hotel, unpacked and headed out immediately to the Palace Kitchen for dinner before cabbing to the 5th Avenue for On The Town. Well, perhaps not immediately. We first had to unwrap the plate of dark chocolate covered pretzels and strawberries that awaited us in our room. The Warwick is great about recognizing returning guests.
We walked the short block to the Palace Kitchen arriving too late to pick a good seat at the bar. The hostess tried to sit us in a crowded half-bar area. I voiced my displeasure. Perhaps, I growled. We were then seated at a booth, but still given the happy hour bar menu. We were disappointed for a second and third time, when we learned that blood oranges were out of season and hoped for items on the menu were gone. We asked for regular menus.
Disappointment did not enter our lives again during our trip except for the drive back to Tacoma in a spring downpour, which differs from a winter downpour in that it . . . well, okay there is no difference. Both are dark and heavy.
The Palace Kitchen, Dahlia Lounge, and Lola are three of the Tom Douglas restaurants. Tom Douglas is THE chef in Seattle. He's nationally known and does a great job of capturing local flavors. On this trip we only missed Etta's Place and Serious Pie. Maybe next trip? We'll see.
Peg and I chose our dining selections carefully. We elected to share the six onion soup. While we waited I looked back into the kitchen and saw a chef pull out a medium scallion with long green shoots. It was beautiful. So was the soup. Instead of one bowl and two spoons, we were presented with small bowls. A bowl with bread supplied by the Dahlia Bakery would be filling enough, but of course we like to sample more than one dish. The soup contained: different onions, scallions, leeks, and ramps, which are sometimes called wild leeks. Normally, onion soup means "French Onion" soup delivered with a piece of crusty bread covered in cheese and broiled to melt the cheese. There was no cheese. It wasn't needed. The flavors of the soup spoke for themselves.
Our server, Emily arrived with the entrees. Peg ordered the goat cheese dumplings and I ordered the Palace Porchetta. Emily was a great server. She referred to her little hand-written notebook when we asked questions about our selections. I think she knew all the answers, but she double-checked for us because we seemed so inquisitive. Emily had a great smile and a great attitude. Although she was extremely busy, she was not hurried. She took care of her customers and made them feel comfortable. My lemon-lime soda was refilled automatically without my asking. She aswered questions and made suggestions. She was perfect.
I think friendly customer service must be a pre-requesite for hiring at the Tom Douglas restaurants. During this trip we dined at three TD restaurants and each time, the service was outstanding and delivered by people who obviously enjoy what they do.
Porchetta /por'ket:a/ is a savory, fatty, and moist boneless pork roast of Italian culinary tradition. The body of the pig is gutted, deboned, arranged carefully with layers of stuffing, meat, fat, and skin, then rolled, spitted, and roasted, traditionally over wood. Porchetta is usually heavily salted in addition to being stuffed with garlic, rosemary, fennel, or other herbs, often wild. Porchetta has been selected by the Italian Ministero delle Politiche Agricole, Alimentari e Forestali as a "prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale" ("traditional agricultural-alimentary product", one of a list of traditional Italian foods held to have cultural relevance).
Peg's goat-cheese dumplings were excellent, but a little too rich for our taste (that night, anyway). My Palace Porchetta was absolutely, positively, out-of-this-world yummy. It was served atop creamy grits (grits and sour cream) with a green salsa. The broccolini was perfectly cooked. Each bite snapped, or would have if I hadn't forked eat bite with a sampling of grits. I ate different pieces of the pork and then cut into the layer of fat that surrounded the porchetta portion. My steak knife crunched through the crispy fat. When I bit into it there was a crackle. The taste and texture is what I always expect when I eat fried porkrinds, but never get. I cut a flawless piece for Peggy and delivered it on my fork. The crunch as she bit into it nearly matched the sparkle in her eye.
We finished off the meal with rhubard sorbetto and then hurried back to the Warwick to drop off my camera and then caught a cab to the 5th Avenue for On The Town. Peg bought an almost original cast recording of the musical and we settled down for a helluva show. We found out that the musical we loved so much from video, was Bowlderized (meaning that it was heavily censored). The play was not. We were surprised to find out that our two favorite Broadway writers, Betty Comden and Adolph Green not only wrote the book and the lyrics, but also played two of our favorite characters in the original production. We enjoyed the show. Although one reviewer complained about the hambone acting and mugging, we appreciated it. There is no accounting for taste. The dancing, while excellent, seemed to last a bit too long for me (see my taste comment).
The songs that we loved on video, were fantastic in person as well. We loved the pairing of Grace (Billie Wildrick) and Hildy (Sarah Rudinoff). We last saw them together in Wonderful Town, which was the musical version of My Sister Eileen. Our idols Comden and Green wrote the lyrics for Bernstein's music on that show as well as On the Town.
In the original production Nancy Walker (later a great comic-character actor on film and TV) played Hildy and I am willing to bet that her numbers (Come Up to My Place and I Can Cook, Too) were showstoppers on Broadway just like they were for Sarah at the 5th Avenue.
The next morning I was up early working on two scripts before I took time out for breakfast by myself. Peg appreciates extra shut-eye time in the morning. The Warwick is on the same block as Lola, which means that three must see dining experiences (Palace Kitchen, Lola, and Dahlia Lounge) are within no more than two hundred yards of hour hotel. Lola is open for breakfast, so it was my destination. The Dahlia Lounge was our choice for lunch. With these choices it's hard to go wrong.
There was no waiting at Lola. I was seated in a two person booth. Soon I was drinking Starbucks Coffee and reading the menu. Back to choices. I settled on the Lola Breakfast, which featured two eggs, fried potatoes, pork-maple sausage and toast with jam.
Brian, the waiter explained how the potatoes are prepared, "They're baked and then flattened and fried in oil with garlic." Three medium potatoes was more than I wanted to eat. The next morning the people next to my table shared the potatoes and there were still some left on their plates as they finished. I ate one potato as it came. It seemed a little too dry. For the second I added a pat of butter on top, which was good, but . . . Next time I will share and perhaps ask for a dollop of sour cream.
I would have gladly traded away my potatoes for more of the pork-maple sausage. I could have eaten several more. I might have slept the rest of the day, but I would have made the sacrifice. The toast and jam was excellent. The bread for all three restaurants comes from the Dahlia Bakery, which just happens to be located at the northend of the Dahlia Lounge, making it even closer to the hotel than any of the three restauants.
Back at the hotel I checked my emails and then I began to stupify. Or rather, slip into vacation mode. Peg and I had no definite plans other than seeing On the Town a second time. We did think that a visit to the Dahlia was a good idea. And we had scheduled to pick up granddaughter Vanessa at Seattle Pacific University on Saturday. As the day slipped by our plans both solidified and changed. For example, Peg wanted to hit the University of Washington Bookstore, but after lunch opted for a nap and a in-room movie instead.
Earlier in the week I flipped through the cable channels and stopped on the Food Network's Best Thing I Ever Ate. Giada De Laurentiis was sharing a story about the scallion crabcakes at the Dahlia Lounge. Peg and I hadn't eaten there in years, but the description of the Dungeness filled crabcakes stuck in my head.
Peg was born in Dungeness and loves crab and good food, so the leap to lunch was made. Peg ordered tomato/basil soup and the one crabcake lunch. I ordered the two crabcake lunch and shared Peg's soup.
The soup was wonderful, especially with the toothsome and rustic bread. The crabcakes were just like Giada had promised. I ate the shoestring potatoes first and then the asparagus. I should have asked for a lemon wedge, but was already through with my crabcakes before I even thought about it. I even gave Peg an extra bite of a crabcake.
Peg asked our wonderful server, Lauren about the shoestrings. "How are they made," she enquired, "Mandoline or handcut?" Lauren hurried off to find out. She returned with the news that the prepping was done with a mandoline. "But," she replied they wanted you to know they could have done them by hand if they had a smaller volume."
Having turned down dessert, we left the Dahlia Lounge and wandered the few feet down the street to the Dahlia Bakery. The storefront is small and the offerings limited, but there is usually a crowd waiting to order.
Peg looked over the selections while I suggested some goodies I wanted to try (fig bar, dark chocolate and buttercream sandwich cookie, and a sour cherry shortbread cookie) and then I left her and walked back down the street to get a photograph of Lola across the street. Her choice was a dark chocolate eclair. All were excellent, but out overwhelming favorite was the chocolate sandwich. When I bought bread the next morning I carefully looked away from their tray. They were soooooooooooooo good.
As I was shooting images I heard someone say, "Hey, take my picture." I looked around and saw a man on the corner so I shot him and then as I got closer I took another photo as well. Calvin Turner was selling the publication Real Change. He also had nice photographs from the Dahlia Bakery of him made out of dough. It was kinda cool. I should have asked for an autographed picture. I love Seattle. Calvin is one of about 400 Real Change newspaper vendors and hopes the people who pass by him every day will come to see "Real Change" the way he does, as a positive part of the community. The publication is an advocate for the homeless. The Seattle City Council last year put homelessness among race, gender, and sexual orientation in its laws upping the penalty for so-called “malicious harassment”—in other words, hate crimes. An attack on Calvin was the catalyst.
Walking down the block from the Dahlia Bakery we spied a for rent sign at The Stratford apartments. Interesting to note is that a one bedroom apartment was only $765 a month. We continued down the street and stopped in at Ralph's Deli. They have fresh produce, a food bar, pop, wine, and coffee. By stopping by we were able to see a little park across the street, making this block a little piece of heaven.
Returning to the room, we relaxed even more by reading the Seattle Times and magazines we purchased at the deli. We began changing plans. We decided to give away our tickets for the evening performance of On The Town, cancel our reservations back in Tacoma for Saturday's matinee of HMS Pinafore at the Lakewood Playhouse and instead shifted our next day's breakfast with granddaughter Vanessa back a half an hour, so it became lunch and reserved three seats for the matinee performance of An Iliad at Seattle Rep. I left the On The Town tickets at the hotel desk. Peg and I slept and watched The Messengers on the hotel's Pay-Per-View and then thought about dinner. We checked out reservations at Jazz Alley, but there were none, so we walked half-way towards Lola and stopped at Asagio. We had eaten there years before on a warm beautiful evening. We dined outside. This time we sat at the bar. Peg had a blood orange (juice from a carton) Manhattan, while I had Sprite. I ordered a meatball sandwich and Peg ordered sauteed garlic shrimp. Both were worth ordering, again. We were entertained by the handiwork of the barmaid and returned to our room to read and relax even more. About two in the morning I saw an envelope on the floor by the door. It contained a $20 bill. We figured someone got to see an excellent musical, we got to relax, and even got a few dollars back as well. A representative from the Warwick (the staff is excellent and very accommodating) stood outside the theatre to sell the tickets. They made a few bucks and I got breakfast out of their efforts.
Saturday morning I slept in, checked my email and re-visited Lola. I had their Bavarian Bacon, toast, and fresh squeezed pink grapefruit juice. The bacon was just how I like it. It was thick and it bent in the middle when I picked it up with my fingers. The juice was nicely astringent. A bit later I had corned beef hash, poached eggs, and more fresh squeezed pink grapefuit juice at The Dish Cafe. The juice was just as good as the juice at Lola's but cost a third less. I also had two pieces of bacon from Peg's breakfast order at The Dish and it was cooked as well as Lola's Bavarian Bacon. Blindfolded it would have been impossible tell the two orders apart. Without the blindfold, The Dish does not compare with Lola's.
Vanessa chose The Dish. It's a favorite of the students at Seattle Pacific. It's located between Fremont and Ballard, just north of the Ballard Locks. There was a short wait. The place was crowded and loud. People chatted, laughed and enjoyed their meals. I had to circle the block twice to find a place to park, but it was worth it. The decor was fifty's kitchen. My scone was a little dry, but Vanessa finished it off. I left much of my corned beef, but not because it wasn't good. It was not from a can, but homemade. The flavor was exceptional. I can only eat so much, but I like to sample. The poached eggs were very nicely cooked. Vanessa ordered a Philly Cheese sandwich, which she enjoyed. She took half home along with almost all of Peg's fried potatoes.
With Vanessa in Seattle working and attending classes, we don't have many chances to see her. By visiting Seattle we are able to include her in our activities and catch up on her life and share family stories and news. It's nice to see family and friends wherever we go.
By changing our plans the day before we were able to spend more time with Vanessa and invite her to Seattle Rep's performance of An Iliad. This also gave us a chance to discuss the play itself after the performance before driving home in the rain. Peg and Vanessa went to their seats while I sat in the lobby and chatted with a mother and daughter about local plays. We shared our Seattle Rep favorites. There were many.
An Iliad is the retelling of the Trojan War and the fall of Troy. The one-man performance stars Seattle actor Hans Altwies. His character could be a hobo telling the tale. He could be an ancient storyteller who has shared the story time and time again. He could be anyone . . . but the effect is spellbinding. For an hour and a half we were treated to a performance few get to see, but most will remember long after the reviews are done. With a simple backstage set the storyteller climbed the topless towers of Ilium, swore against the gods, and dragged a body behind his chariot. With his boots stomping out a cadence, or his fist beating on his chest, he carried us back over three thousand years and, yet. It could just be yesterday or today. Endless armies of men and women still leave both large cities and small towns for the theater of destruction. We see and hear rage, hatred, jealousy, pettiness, fear . . . and all the other reasons for war.
After the play the three of us talked about the actor and the presentation as we drove Vanessa home in the rain. We then headed back to Tacoma. Peg and I talked about the weekend all the way back. We enjoyed every minute of our trip: the people in Seattle, the plays, the food, the Warwick . . . and even the rain, now that I think about it.