Since I started selling products manufactured out of a town called Temecula, situated between San Diego and Los Angeles, I’ve come across just one person who’s ever heard of the place, and so I had very limited expectations from a tourist perspective (pretty dreamy work jaunt though, so not complaining!). I was only there for a night and a half, so didn’t put too much pressure on that part of trip, expecting it to pass in an all too brief blur of sunshine and workshop. I was right. I have also never come across anything quite like it. In the midst of avocado farms, micro breweries and vineyards sits the peculiar Old Town; a miss mash of original buildings and mock-ups to resemble something straight from the wild west, complete except for horse drawn carriages, tumbleweed and the cowboys themselves. The impression I get is distinctly odd, it feels like a Disney resort town, populated with a mix of holiday makers and local youth boozing it up in awkward harmony. I wander in a daze past much merry making on sunday evening, but tiredness overcomes me on that first night, after the longest day I think I’ve endured, encompassing an early start, lengthy flight and a confusing six hour journey back in time. I settle for an easy option – a Denny’s diner take-out of philly cheese steak omelette served with hash brown, not the first time I’ll say this here – ‘looked gross but pretty much hit the spot’; it’s packed up for me, without question, like giant plane food that I just about manage to feed into my face whilst sat sloth-like in bed watching unfamiliar tellie before losing myself to zzzz’s.
The following day, I have my first, to my recollection, American sandwich shop experience, it’s one that induces a panic prickle of perspiration that pierces air con cool as I listen to the customer before me easily reel off his own complex order. My garbled attempt, whereby I’m sure I mismatch breads, fillings and dressings to much hilarity to those behind me, is delivered as an absolute beast of a plate. I congratulate myself on my half sandwich order as it’s still bigger than most UK equivalent wholes, whilst wondering how to squish it into my gob (I resort to weaponry); marbled rye with turkey, bacon, swiss, a proper plate full of salad and a bucket of diet coke.
Later, determined to experience at least one evening out in this strange town I venture out for an early dinner, taking recommendations and company, from local and owner of the business I’m here to visit. The Public House has a lively outdoor back yard which we head straight out to, bypassing whatever might be inside, headstrong in my desire to soak up as much sun before my transit to rainy Seattle as humanly possible, we perch on stools at a tall table underneath unnecessary, but cosy all the same, lamp heaters. I watch bemused as my giant plastic wine goblet is filled and then our waiter upturns the rest of the bottle rather than take it away; I must have nearly a pint of the red stuff, it lasts me all evening. We both choose a kobe beef burger, cooked correctly to order and smothered in a thick cloak of mushrooms, cheese and garlicky caramelised leeks. My only complaint is at the expense of an over large and dull bun and the slightly strangely seasoned fries. The US knows how to do a burger though huh?! A couple of hours of kip and frantic emailing session preludes a dazed flight across to Seattle.
Although I have a number of recommendations for Seattle, I’m in a similar state of lack of expectations, mainly because I haven’t had time to indulge in the sort of googling and planning I’d ordinarily prefer to bestow upon a trip, in order to whip myself into the necessary frenzied state of excitement. I do, however, have stowed tightly in my laptop bag, a printed article from Dinehard and the latest issue of Imbibe, grubby around the edges of my soon-to-be-destination section. No, my exuberance at visiting stems primarily from the simple association with that heady music of my youth and the birth of, now vilified, Starbucks; music and coffee; an evocative and soulful combo for this girl.
The most frequently and urgently proffered bar suggestion is for Canon , so with deft and cunning skill I keenly swing our party towards a visit on our first night out, reasoning that if it’s as good as I hope there’ll be time to return. An inconsequential front seems to ward off unworthy passers by, on what I’d learn is the hip part of town on Capitol Hill that’s populated by plenty more bars and restaurants sharing space as it does with University grounds. That diminutive front belies an interior that I immediately knew would win me over; an epic wall of bottles, reaching from floor to tin ceiling, shimmers and whispers behind a long bar, seeming to goad and tease the very Earth to quiver. A self proclaimed whisky and bitters emporium, I’m actually impressed with the range of other spirits, vermouths and liqueurs. Pure prohibition in style, the room is decked out in dark wood and antiques, there’s a gramophone in the bathroom that plays patchy radio stories on loop, though I can’t decipher, or forget, quite what.
The drinks menu is an impressive compilation of riffs on many of my favourites that truly challenges my powers of decision making, and in a highly unusual turn of events I’m not remotely tempted to order off menu. I start with a Fighattan that takes some beating, a mix of bourbon, cocchi torino, taverna, fig and boker’s bitters garnished with my now beloved double cherry. Move onto a silky martini; a dramatic version of the classic made with an old english gin, colin blanc, orange bitters, liquid nitrogen and a lemon twist that arrives in a flourish of ice cold smoke. I finish this session with a triplet of negroni’s (how could I not order a Negroni Experiment?!), a comparison of the drink made respectively with rum, rye and classic gin, they make me pretty happy indeed, every cocktail should come in multiples…! My friends are equally delighted with their aged old fashionds that come in dinky whisky bottles, but in retrospect would possibly have preferred a glass and ice.
Not only are the drinks here epic but the food appears to match in it’s appeal; propped up at the bar, front seats to the sometimes dramatic cocktail making action we sample a selection of those snacks. Pork belly buns with apple slaw are as good as any I’ve had; foie gras panna cotta is a playful dish that incorporates pineapple coulis, mint gel and peanut brittle; hanger tartare is a great example of it’s kind. I mourn baguette with truffle butter, marrow with smoked gremolata, carrot fritters with ginger and paprika aioli and that US menu stalwart of roasted brussel sprouts. It’s ok, I’m already engineering another trip in my head, it’s taking shape quite nicely.
Instead, we decide to move on and take our barman’s advise to lope around the corner to Quinns, a rowdy bar/restaurant with distinctly less genteel vibes and large goldfish bowl effect windows through which to observe. From either side. Taking a seat again at the bar we three order unhealthily as you like; fish and chips, wild boar sloppy joe and foie gras frites respectively. My mess of chips (not the best frankly but so obliterated with topping it’s almost irrelevant) is piled high with shaved foie gras and foie sauce, clearly not decadent enough, I request a duck egg. Oooof. No, it’s not remotely an attractive dish but, oh my, is it tasty. I can’t resist ordering us a comparatively dainty plate of cauliflower florets with capers, endive and mint, doused in meyer lemon, it’s a dish that I expect will find it’s way onto my own dinner table soon. Cocktails here are not really worth writing home about.
Of course I manage to swing a second visit to Canon on our penultimate evening, whereby we share an excellent little pizza topped with maroccan spiced lamb sausage, roasted red pepper, feta, mint and yoghurt. I go off piste with a longer and sweeter drink than I’d normally pick but am rewarded with the cutest delivery and an unusual take on the Last Word, here a Sparkling version of gin, maraschino, green chartreuse and lime. We’re accidentally brought a Swagger, or was it Hanky Panky? In any case it doesn’t last long.
Canon doesn’t feel a million miles from one of my London favourites, wine bar Sager & Wilde, with it’s lazy bedroom slatted lighting, bar seating and attentive, tailored service; I imagine this is what a cocktail bar from the pair might be like. Regardless, it’s right up my street and if we had one in London, I’d be a regular. It would be sure to vie for my attention, jostling with the likes of The Talented Mr Fox, Happiness Forgets, Satan’s Whiskers, Ruby’s, Nola and the new Pearl’s at The Cat and Mutton.
On a local recommendation for good sea food, we hit Steelhead Diner, overlooking Pike Place Market and adorned with fly fishing motifs, it seems a good choice. Whilst my companions tuck into chowder and mussels and everything I abhor, I embarrass them by ordering a very good chicken sandwich indeed, with some of the best chips I’ve ever tasted. I’m not so keen on the local gin I’ve chosen for my martini, but no worries, I’ll try again at the next joint. Following the stairs down towards the market, we chase an early dinner with drinks at Il Bistro . Although we don’t eat anything, I can highly recommend for cocktails if the guy pictured below is working. I start with a martini made with another local gin, this time a highly successful version made with Voyager, after which we decide we fancy something a bit different. Not sure quite what, this fabulous character (sorry – I’ve forgotten his name) comes to sit with us until he’s picked our brains and then delivers three well thought out, individually paired and balanced drinks.
Zig Zag bar is another I’ve been hankering after and so I’m pig headed enough to shoe horn in a trip here too on this final night in Seattle, scooting across the road, further towards the harbour and down more steps. A stern warning of a wait is in fact just 10 minutes or so before we’re ensconced in our own booth and again awaiting a new triplet of individually designed and successful drinks. I could get used to this….
Oh, and if you’re into rum then a visit to Rumba ought really to be on the cards, not ordinarily my thing but we were there for one of the many coffee parties about town that week and I can honestly say I’ve never seen a rum list remotely as extensive as the one here. I indulged in my first ever daiquiri (I know!) and a very sexy take on a rum old fashioned.
I didn’t visit nearly as many coffee or lunch spots as I’d hoped to, mainly because I was at the SCAA Symposium followed by the show for the duration of my stay. That’s not to say I didn’t try lots of coffee anyway, including many US roasts I’d never come across before, so nothing to complain about there! I did make it up to Stumptown on Capitol Hill one morning for coffee and doughnut and I was again reminded, from back to my last trip to the states, how much more slick in general coffee operations are out here. Maybe that’s unfair and it’s largely down to the grander scale? Each cafe seems geared up to cater to a far vaster audience, each one spaced out further than the tight network London has, and what I’m used to…
Dunno, but anyway, service was faultless, and delivered with what appeared to be a genuine smile, and when they mix up my filter brew, they insist my espresso is on them. Filter is served your choice; as a pour over, aeropress or self service batch. No biggie. No drama. No song and dance. My french toast doughnut is the best I have on this trip, I don’t know who makes them, but it’s a cake style, moist, spicy with a sugary glaze that is everything I want for breakfast/brunch with my coffee. They have a fancy cold brew beer tap style dispenser and also roast on site. Atmosphere is laid back and I’m joined by a mix of clientele, all the way from those taking meetings to runners gagging for a caffeinated pit stop to students from the nearby uni.
I attempt to stop by Victrola on Pike Street, but after some stern arguments with Google maps and consequently a later than planned arrival, I manage a short 5 minutes in the queue before deciding it’s time to head off to the show. Shame as I’m told it’s a great spot, I can vouch for the space, large and lofty, but sadly can’t comment on the coffee.
During my brief stay I also manage to scarf a couple of cuban sangers, a french dip sarnie at the sandwich shop underneath the Washington State Convention Centre, eat chicken potstickers, beef bulgari bowls, martini’s and tempura bacon(!) at Dragonfish across the road (great happy hour menus), some highly dodgy negronis and a cherry blossom doughnut from Top Pot that was sadly not as tasty as it was pretty looking and sounding.
My resounding impression of Seattle, after five short days, is just incredibly welcoming; nearly every person I meet, from passers-by on the street to those doing their job in the service industry, genuinely seem like couldn’t have gone out of their way to be more helpful. It feels small enough that I’d love to return to explore further, get more of a feeling as to what it’s like as a local, as though that might actually be possible.
Oh, and I fully indulged in a good old wallow through old memories watching Pearl Jam Twenty on the plane out of there.