Most travelers to Seattle have a checklist. Space Needle: check. Pike Place Market: check. Shopping: Check. Mariner's game: check.
But Alaskans have an ongoing love affair with the Emerald City. Our lists are different, and may include off-the-beaten-path activities in some of the city's unique neighborhoods: Belltown, Lower Queen Anne or Fremont.
If you ask Michael Rogers of Seattle Food Tours about a neighborhood, chances are he has three or four favorite restaurants in the area. Instead of dining at just one each evening, his tours feature one course at four or five eateries. Although I've tagged along on his restaurant-crawl in Belltown, we caught up with him the other day while doing some "research" on Capitol Hill. Located just east of the downtown core, the district is not short on restaurants. But lately, some new eateries have raised the bar in the neighborhood -- making it a culinary destination all its own.
Rogers picked out a few restaurants that were close together so, even in the driving rain, we could stroll around between courses.
Our first stop: Artusi. On the corner of 14th Avenue and East Pine Street, Artusi is all Italian, all the time. In addition to an eclectic menu featuring items like "Braised pork cheek and garlic beet greens", Chef Jason Stratton offers a long list of inspired cocktails. Tablemate Gary Blakely opted for the "Knife to a Gun Fight:" Monopolowa Vodka, Strega, lemon, Ardbeg scotch wash and aromatic bitters.
We got there just as Happy Hour started (5-7pm): Escarole salad, salumi della sera and a shaved white mushroom salad. Each dish was $5 -- a nice start.
Our next stop was just a couple of rain-soaked blocks away, at 1522 12th Ave. But the cuisine was from a different continent altogether. Momiji offers traditional Japanese dishes prepared wtih Northwest ingredients.
"Momiji is all about the roll," said Rogers as we walked past the kitchen and a beautiful interior courtyard to find our table. I would counter that it's all about the fish. We tried a couple of their tasty rolls: the "Three Amigos" roll, featuring New York Steak, as well as the Butterfly Roll ($12) with crab, yellowtail tuna and cilantro. We also had a stand-alone dish of beautifully-prepared Jalapeno Hamachi (yellowtail).
Momiji also features an extensive sake menu. That's perfect if you want to have more sushi, sashimi or another taste of Northwest seafood (crab, oysters, clams, salmon or ahi) -- but we were on a mission. This was research, after all!
Next stop: Tavern Law at 1406 12th Ave. The atmosphere of this bar evokes the era of Prohibition, although there's no shortage of adult beverages! The chefs are Brian McCracken and Dana Tough, who also run "Spur Gastropub" in Belltown. Honestly, I've never heard of half of the cocktails on the list. That includes the "Rosita", featuring Sauza Blue blanco tequila, Dolin dry and rosso vermouths, Campari and angostura bitters. The specials are written in chalk above the bar. I opted for the hamburger, topped with pork belly. Filling, to be sure.
Were we still hungry? Not really, but we had to push on and discover at least one more delicious Capitol Hill restaurant: Marjorie. Actually, the restaurant originally was located in Belltown, but recently moved up the hill to 1412 E. Union St. If we had started the evening here, we could have picked on some of the roast chicken with grits and braised greens. Or perhaps the swordfish or oysters. But cheese, apparently, is the new dessert. So the staff brought out an artfully-prepared selection of four local cheeses for us to munch on.
I suppose it's possible to visit more than four restaurants on a grazing expedition like this, but we were busting at the seams after four. The specialty rolls at Momiji were deceptively filling, and everything was delicious.
Rogers said many guests on his Belltown restaurant tour or walking/tasting tour of Pike Place Market return for a meal later in their visit. Since we took the Belltown tour, we've been back to Spur Gastropub, as well as to Shiro's Sushi restaurant.
Almost every neighborhood in Seattle has some great restaurants. Over in Wallingford, I like "Smash" because they specialize in interesting flights of wine. Owner Dana Hannon convinced me to try a flight of Greek wines last time. Wonderful. I love her slogan, "Where wine and food collide."
So next time you're in Seattle, add a couple of items to your list. A raincoat: check. And a healthy appetite: check.
Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based travel marketing consultant who has lived in Alaska for three decades, spending much of that time traveling the far-flung corners of the state. Visit his website at www.alaskatravelgram.com