I’ve always enjoyed The New York Times’ “36 hours” travel series — even if it hasn’t always been entirely original. I’ve referred to it as a guide for planning weekend itineraries both very close to home and very far away. It’s not that I believe that 36 hours is sufficient to explore most places — I expect I’ll still be discovering things about New York after 36 years — but I appreciate how the day-and-a-half constraint compels prioritizing and efficient use of time. For my visit to Seattle, though, the difficulty of that challenge was increased sixfold.
We rolled into downtown, past the Rem Koolhaas-designed central branch of the Seattle Public Library — next time, I’ll take a tour — to CF and MT’s swanky hotel. I hung back in the lobby as they checked in, sipping the hotel’s lovely lavender lemonade, and put the question to the friendly desk clerk: six hours in Seattle — how should I spend it?
Out came the handy tourist map: it turns out that many of the city’s major sights are within walking distance of downtown, which gave me just enough time to take a brief tour before heading to the airport.
Our first stop: Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market, which claims to be the nation’s oldest continuously operating farmers market, having celebrated its centennial in August 2007. I’m skeptical, by the way, that the oldest market in America would be located in northwest Washington State; Reading Terminal Market in downtown Philadelphia claims the same distinction, and more believably.
We did a quick walk-through of the seafood stands where feisty fishmongers tossed and waved their wares before crowds of gawping tourists and locals. I was just as impressed with the flower stands with their kaleidoscopic array of fresh-cut blooms… and at prices far lower that any I’d ever encountered in New York. Local and exotic produce stands, pasta makers, specialty food purveyors with a few craft vendors rounded out the rest of the stalls.
Lunch was a quick and serendipitous stop at The Market Grill — an unassuming U-shaped lunch counter inside the market where I had one of my best fish sandwiches in recent memory. Nothing fancy: just impeccably seasoned and grilled halibut on a baguette, with grilled onions and homemade tartar sauce, served with a side of homemade slaw. At $12, the sandwich had seemed pricy initially — this coming from one accustomed to pricy sandwiches — but after that first bite, I felt it was worth every penny. Good find!
On the way out, we passed by the original Starbucks; that first cafe opened in April 1971 with an initial investment of about $10,000. (Note the original brown siren logo.) Running a cafe can be a tough business, but things seemed to have worked out for this chain with 171 stores in Manhattan alone, and a two story store set to open inside the Empire State Building next week. If only they made more of an effort to serve Fair Trade coffee…
Is this a sculpture of a badminton birdie? Upon closer examination, we recognized the inverted umbrella, no doubt a whimsical reference to Seattle’s reputation for rainfall. (Despite the near-constant cover of clouds, we lucked out, weatherwise, this afternoon.) “Angie’s Umbrella” (Jim Pridgeon and Benson Shaw) is located on a corner in Belltown, an artificially flattened 63-square-block neighborhood, dubbed “Seattle’s Soho” for its bohemian feel and newly trendy shops and restaurants.
One of our favorite sights was the Olympic Sculpture Park, a 9-acre waterfront, former industrial site that was converted into a green space for art by the Seattle Art Museum. (I do so appreciate this movement of transforming urban waterfronts into public spaces.) The $85 million park opened with a two-day celebration back in February.
From the quirkily leaning “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X” (Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen) to the monumental sculptures by artists such as Alexander Calder (whose orange “Eagle” is the centerpiece), the park offers stunning views of art and nature.
Here, on the lower level, are the five swooping, asymmetrical COR-TEN monoliths that comprise “Wake” by Richard Serra, whose work we recognized from the MoMA exhibition last summer. Elsewhere, the 6’ by 19’ fan-shaped steel cut-out of New Yorker Ellsworth Kelly’s “Curve XXIV” looked like it could have been fashioned from Serra’s studio surplus.
And in front of the Bill and Melinda Gates Amphitheater, framing a view of the Seattle waterfront, Sir Anthony Caro’s “Riviera.”
Check out the full Seattle photo set — all six hours worth — on flickr.
More Chinese New Year feasting. A few suggestions had been bandied about for tonight’s dinner — Flushing’s Ocean Jewels, or perhaps Imperial Palace — but with Dad setting the agenda, it came as no surprise when we ended up at East Manor in Elmhurst. (Oh, he loves his buffet!) Well, at least I knew then that there would be plenty of pescetarian options.
We arrived early to beat the Chinese New Year’s weekend dinner rush — a strategy which worked in our favor: an hour later, and it was an entirely different scene at the restaurant.
Below, seafood for the huoguo, literally: “fire pot” — a popular cold weather dish sometimes referred to as “Chinese fondue,” though the similarity to traditional Swiss fondue is only tangential. Instead of melted cheese and wine, the pot is filled with simmering, savory broth; instead of chunks of bread for dipping, there is an array of raw meats, seafood, vegetables, tofu… pretty much an endless variety of items to be cooked in the hot soup, fished out with wire ladles, and dipped into sauces afterwards. At the end of the meal, the delicious soup base makes for a wonderful finish — usually accompanied, inevitably, by the errant piece of rubbery shrimp, which you’ve neglected to fish out before it’s been boiled beyond recognition.
I’ve always known this mollusk as a “razor clam,” but it’s more properly called the Atlantic jackknife clam:
Flickr preview: The Harlem Globetrotters at Izod Center (February 16, 2008).
J and J drove in to pick me up just as the sun was rising over Central Park this dreary, chilly morning. As we made our way north, we stopped just once, somewhere in Connecticut — all the excuse I needed to pick up an Egg McMuffin on the road. No matter how I feel about the rest of McDonald’s menu, the McMuffin retains a soft spot in my heart. Something about the synergy of warm, chewy English muffin, salty Canadian bacon, day-glo melted cheese and unnaturally round griddled egg. It’s a classic breakfast combination I’ve come to associate with traveling, since I rarely indulge in these mini-sandwiches outside of rest stops and airports. Now if the fast food chain would just bring back the deep-fried apple pie…
Over the Sagamore Bridge and onto the cloudy Cape:
At the Cove, we attended to the business of our weekend. Strange to think with how little fanfare two decades of tradition is dispatched. (Hawaii, here we come!)
I was struck by how different Cape Cod is in the quiet season. The usually bustling Route 28 was half deserted. The seafood shacks, ice cream parlors, salt water taffy stands and mini-golf courses regularly teeming with families in the summer, were all closed for the season, leaving behind an eerie landscape of empty parking lots. Happily, our old standby Seafood Sam’s was still open for business.
We couldn’t bid adieu to the Cape without at least one more visit. Locals and visitors have been flocking to this place for some of the best fried seafood in the area since 1974, when the first Seafood Sam’s opened in a tiny, former laundromat with just six employees. Three decades later, three of those original six now own and operate the mini-chain of Sam’s restaurants. In the years since we’ve been going, we’ve seen the Yarmouth location evolve from a glorified shack with several open-air benches to a full casual-dining restaurant. There’s still no table service, but the airy main seating area is now enclosed within solid walls (vs. the former combination of sturdy canvas and clear plastic) and the bathroom was moved from outside and around the corner, to just down the hall from the dining room. What hasn’t changed: food orders are still placed with the cashier, and arrive piping hot on disposable plates; the faux-wooden trays are scattered with clear plastic cups of tartar sauce and wedges of lemon.
Another advantage of visiting off-peak: no lines, no waiting. Well, no waiting to place your order, anyway; the seafood is still fried fresh — sure they have broiled items on the menu, but why? — but now instead of hovering by the formica-topped counter as you wait for your food, the cashier hands you a red plastic lobster that flashes when the order is ready for pick-up. Like this:
No lobsters were harmed in the making of these lollipops:
Fried clam strips. These decidedly aren’t the fancy, succulent whole bellies version, but more the shack-on-the-beach variety, best suited for serving in a paper boat (or here, on a paper plate, over fries). I still love them. J conjectured that it may be that perfect proportion of hot, crispy fried batter to chewy clam center that I find so appealing. She may be right.
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