A SEATTLE “GASTROCATION”

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SOON AFTER MY TRAVEL COMPANION AND I CLAIMED A SEAT at the bar in Scout PNW, the restaurant at Seattle’s Thompson Hotel (thompsonhotels.com), and ordered a Satan’s Circus and a Very Old Cow from the cocktail menu, we began mapping out our game plan.

We chose the Belltown (visitseattle.org/neighborhoods/belltown) and Pike Place Market (pikeplacemarket.org) districts as the locus of our weekend getaway. Our plan? To nosh our way through this vibrant part of this ever-morphing city, Seattle from market food stalls to fine dining. Of course, we knew we wouldn’t be able to cram in everything this district promises Thompson even if we had a month, but the weekend was all about tough choices―and culinary abandon. Calories be damned! We’d worry about those when we got home.

Thompson Hotel was our home-base pick. Its pulsating, heart-of-the-city location on downtown’s First and Stewart had everything for an abundant “gastrocation” (gastronomic vacation). Seattle seems to have many hearts these days, and this one bleeds rich history and amazing food.

Sipping our cocktails, we discussed our dinner options. Should we head across the street to Pike Place Market, with its plethora of restaurants? Or mosey deeper into Belltown, with… yes, its plethora of restaurants. We settled on a venerable establishment, Matt’s in the Market (mattsinthemarket.com), with its location above First and Pike Place and its view of the Market’s famed neon sign.

A restaurant in the Market is like having a farm with all Bar the best and freshest ingredients right out the front door. We started with a succulent, fresh grilled octopus with Middle Eastern-inspired accompaniments, washed down a few Champagne cocktails and continued with arctic char and prime New York strip, both solid recommendations from the server.

Upon our return to Thompson Hotel, the reception staff asked how our evening was. We’d enjoyed wine and a few after-dinner whiskies. My friend, Robert, a proven lightweight when it comes to imbibing, bemoaned his prediction of a nasty hangover. He also shared his belief that the cure was cucumbers and plenty of water before bed. A few minutes after we got to our room, the night manager surprised us with a plate of sliced cucumbers and two bottles of designer water, on the house.

Hangovers were indeed mild. We were famished and headed downstairs to scout out breakfast. Scout PNW (scoutpnw.comis a lighthearted play on the Great Northwest’s outdoors. The atmosphere, as soon as we were greeted by a giant plaid bear poised on its hind legs, put us in a playful mood. I decided on smoked trout with eggs and toast and Robert chose breakfast grain congee with arugula pesto and a poached egg. If that didn’t admonish what was left of our hangovers, nothing would.

The morning commenced with a chef-guided walking (and nibbling) tour of the Pike Place Market with Eat Seattle (eatseattletours.com). Unless one explores the back passageways of this historic market, it’s impossible to grasp the breadth and depth of food secrets it holds. Even if you think you know this market well, an expert-guided tour is the way to go.

A late lunch called for another market mainstay: Three Girls Bakery. This is the oldest continually operating business at the Pike Place Market, and the first in Seattle started by women. Eying the small space with its packed lunch counter, the meatloaf sandwich seemed to be a hit. The homemade multigrain bread piled high with succulent homemade meatloaf, cheddar, tomato, lettuce, mayo and mustard and topped with a savory meatloaf sauce tasted even better than it sounded.

That evening, we found a recently opened Belltown establishment that had already garnered James Beard accolades. No Anchor Bar (noanchorbar.com) offers fine dining with some twists: a very unstuffy atmosphere and a serious beer menu curated to pair with their food. Fried oyster mushrooms with herb aioli, an assortment of cured and smoked fishes with pickles and cultured cream and baby romaine heads served whole with hemp seeds and honey-buttermilk vinaigrette got the feast started. The server recommended beers that would pair well, and we settled on a refreshing saison to start. The glazed lamb sweetbreads with nettle pudding and black radish chips and seared duck breast adorned with kale and rhubarb curd confirmed why a new restaurant like No Anchor had already earned such critical praise.

We awoke to a sunny morning and a view of Elliott Bay reflecting a pale blue sky without a cloud. A rare sunny day in Seattle called for spontaneity. As we left the hotel, we asked the doorman to share his favorite brunch spot. Without hesitation, he said, “Tilikum Place Café” (tilikumplacecafe.com) and pointed us in the right direction. Several blocks away, on Fourth and Cedar, we found it tucked in a little square behind a statue of Chief Sealth. Dutch babies leaped off the menu. With a choice of “classic,” sweet or savory, classic would be closest to the purist version my mom used to make as a treat on weekends. I had to see if it was as good. Puffy and tender with crusty edges climbing up the sides of the skillet, it was even better (sorry mom). A squirt of lemon and dusting of powdered sugar and voilà! Robert chose the savory: duck confit, dried cherries, goat cheese and caramelized onion all resting in a cozy Dutch baby nest.

One more visit to the market was in order before our “gastrocation” could end. On our Eat Seattle tour of the market, we spied a fish market and seafood counter called Jack’s Fish Spot (jacksfishspot.com) that had a line waiting to order. It had to be good. We found it again, and, luckily, claimed two stools at the stainless-steel counter and ordered a dozen raw Quilcene oysters from the waters of Hood Canal and two crab cocktails heaped with chunky Dungeness. Now, our “gastrocation” was complete.