This past wednesday, cruising up I-5 to Seattle in my friend’s dad’s Oldsmobile Aurora, we laughed about how we were making a 24 hour trip to Seattle, and all we had on our agenda was a list of places to eat (far more than the mere 4 meals that our stomachs would have room for). This trip was completely typical for us, with our shared interest in enjoying food, but still, a little strange and we chuckled over our gluttonous tendencies. Our giggling was cut short by the car’s engine, which started to learch, as, we later found out, the transmission began to self-destruct. So, more than an hour outside of Seattle, we crept our way up the shoulder of the freeway to Ampco transmission specialists, on the outskirts of Olympia.
Upon our arrival, we entered the office and filled out a questionaire, with verbal questions by a technician, transcribed by the woman behind the counter—and they both nodded and concurred with recognition, like a doctor and nurse meeting with a patient. While waiting for the poor car’s diagnosis, we figured, we might as well try to find a snack, since our gourmet pilgrimage would have to be postponed. The mechanics suggested the bowling alley across the street, whose sign looked like it had last been painted in 1972. We decided to walk toward the shell station up ahead, which, we hoped, would be an oasis of truck stop food, and not a mirage. Walking up the highway amid the autobody shops in the mid-day heat, I began to crave a root-beer float, and that’s what we found.
We walked into the Rib Eye, a little diner packed with regulars and pull-tab machines. We sad amongst senior citizens (who got a special discount on the food there) and tradesmen on their lunch break. On the menu were things I hadn’t seen in a long time—pork cutlets, salisbury steak, and endless cups of coffee (at lunch). We split a BLT and each had a big root beer float. The waitress was sweet enough to bring our sandwich split on two plates with fries, without us even asking. And it was a great one too, with whole grain bread!
We returned to Ampco to find out that the entire transmission would need to be replaced, and that we were basically stranded. Fortunately, the friend that we were headed up to stay with was nice enough to drive the hour down to pick us up. And we were on our way again, to Seattle—land of many gastronomic memories...
That afternooon, we walked straight to Pike Place Market (of course), picked up a bag of hot, fresh mini-donuts (you just cannot go there without eating a few of those), watched the ferries take off for the islands, wandered past the screaming fish throwers, and around the stalls and shops. It was the end of the day, but the flower sellers were still out, with buckets full of tulips, lilacs and peonies. We sampled some Washington wines at the Tasting Room before a sushi dinner at Chinoise. Chinoise on Queen Anne was always our favorite sushi spot, a neighborhood place with fresh fish and delicious wok dishes. They make a seattle roll with smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese (somehow a little cube of cream cheese is so good in sushi). And you can’t get good sushi in Portland. The fish isn’t fresh—the Ahi is light pink, when it should be red. At Chinoise, it was red. I got my fix.
The next day, before our 1:45 train, we had 3 distinct things on our agenda: 1. revisit our college campus 2. have coffee at Vivace Espresso off of Broadway (where their cappuccinos are amazing and so are the roasted beans. the foam on their drinks are always graced with a little design, like a fern leaf) 3. eat lunch at Salumi. Since we had our friend’s enormous SUV, we could accomplish these things within a couple of hours [and have time to drive to Alki beach to take in the view of Seattle’s rabidly (yes rabidly, and rapidly) growing skyline]. We swung by Coastal Kitchen (the best breakfast in Seattle, I’ll expound on that later) for two pieces of their daily changing coffee cake. That day it was peach-pecan, held together with enough butter to clog a sink. But delicious, of course, and we ate it at Vivace with our coffee.
With some time to spare between breakfast and lunch, we zipped in to Uwajimaya asian supermarketplace, a bustling, fluorescent flagship of far-eastern delights. We had to hold ourselves back from eating there since we were determined to reach Salumi, so we settled on a couple of bubble teas instead (black tea with milk & tapioca is my favorite).
Salumi, located on 2nd avenue, just (conveniently) one block north of the train station, is a tiny salumeria and lunch counter owned by Mario Batali’s (“Molto Mario” foodnetwork personality/ famous chef of Babbo in New York) father. There were cured pork legs hanging behind glass and a line out the door. They have hot and cold sandwiches, but we were there for the salami. Our choices were the classic “salumi” (infused with garlic), finnochiona (with fennel, peppercorns, and white wine), or oregano. I got the latter, piled thick on a fresh baked roll, and slathered with two spreads, the first a parsley-caper-garlic pesto, and the second, some sort of garlic-olive oil white spread. Garlic city. We enjoyed our intensely potent sandwiches in the dining car of the train, accompanied by Chateau St. Michelle chardonnay, and watched the trees and the puget sound pass into our past. Mission Accomplished.