Gluten-Free Travel - Seattle, WA
Seattle has and may always forever be the place of grunge music and plaid in my mind. Almost every band I loved growing up had roots in Seattle at one point or another. I've never really associated the city with anything else, even years after Nirvana came and went and Starbucks took over the world.
During our trip through the Pacific Northwest we decided to stop by Seattle for a few days. I'm past the point in life where I felt it necessary to visit Kurt Cobain's former home and light a candle, but I can't say I wasn't tempted.
I actually had no idea what else to do in Seattle aside from drink coffee, be introspective and watch the rain fall. That's actually a lot like my everyday life as is, so it didn't seem so bad to me even if that's all my two day stay ended up as.
Fortunately our stop in Seattle was during the start of the "sunny season" and it was beyond gorgeous. The weather in Seattle during our stay was actually better than East coast weather at the time, according to my brief consultations with my Weather Channel app.
When we rolled up into the city in our ridiculously oversized American sedan; food and booze were first and foremost on the agenda. The first stop on the food train? Pike Place Market. I wasn't sure what to expect, perhaps a bloated version of Chelsea Market? Maybe a foodie Shangri-La? Once I got there, it was all of that and more. I couldn't stop admiring the assortment of fresh fruit, veg and meat that puts Chelsea Market to shame. I was surprised to see that even some of the more random stalls had gluten-free options, including a tiny bakery where we got a cookie for the munchkin and a small sign touted their macaroons were gluten-free. Craziness!
Of course all that wandering worked up even more of a hunger, so we decided to quench our thirst and fill our bellies at Umi Sake House for dinner, which came highly recommended from a friend of mine. We were lucky to get a last minute reservation and arrived at the restaurant ready to devour our weight in raw fish.
After explaining my gluten restriction to the server, I was pointed in the direction of a few rolls that would be ok for me to eat. Unfortunately all of the rolls I really wanted to try were off limits, or so my server thought. It was later confirmed that some of the "fancier" rolls could have been modified to be gluten-free, but he just wasn't aware of it when I placed my order. C'est la vie! If you go, be sure to grill your server to actually find out if the rolls can or cannot be modified to be gluten-free.
The first thing I would note about Umi is the rolls are HUGE. I'm used to the dainty 6-piece sushi rolls in NYC - at Umi they are anything but dainty. One roll is eight pieces and each piece is almost a meal unto itself. Thinking the rolls would be the size of what we were used to, we ordered a ton. Our server cautioned us that the amount of food would likely be too much for a couple to consume so we pared back and I'm glad we did.
Every roll we ate was delicious. The fish was beyond fresh with no fishy taste or smell to be discerned at all - only fatty, fatty goodness. I had a few variations of spicy rolls that were all so freaking good, including a salmon roll. I am not a fan of salmon in general because it can be assertively fishy, but the salmon at Umi was unctuous and delectable with zero trace of fishy flavor.
We waddled out of Umi full and slightly buzzed - a good combination in my opinion. I would most definitely go there again, except next time I want to try some of their cooler rolls including a King Crab option that caught my eye. Their menu is extensive and everything sounded absolutely incredible. You could visit Umi multiple times in a week and have something different every time; a win in my book.
seattle sure has some stunning sunsets
If there was one thing I simply had to have in Seattle, it was coffee. I didn't want to phone it in and visit Starbucks, so I did a quick look online and found Espresso Vivace Cafe, which is a super tiny street side coffee shop carved into an alleyway.
We packed up our whale of a sedan and headed there early on a Sunday morning to grab some cappuccino’s to go. The baristas, while friendly, had a little bit of an attitude. I would expect nothing else from a coffee place in Seattle. I always judge a good cup of coffee by the first sip. Is it a "moment" for me where my eyes close and an audible "ahh" escapes my lips or is it more of just a regular sip? For me, Espresso Vivace was more of the "regular sip" variety. Don't get me wrong, it was good, but I still found myself pining after Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco. Whatever, at least it wasn't burnt Starbucks espresso right?!
For brunch I wanted to check out Portage Bay Cafe, which was another suggestion from a friend. They have some gluten-free options on their menu so I figured it was worth a visit. What I didn't realize was everyone and their mother also goes to Portage Bay for Sunday brunch. The line was INSANE, but the hostess told us we would only have to wait 20 minutes which was doable for us. However, 40 minutes later, we were still waiting and our little one was over hungry by that point which is not exactly the situation I wanted to be in. We were finally seated after 45 minutes of waiting and thought we would at least be served quickly, but that was wrong too. We ended up waiting another 30 minutes before receiving our food which was absolutely unacceptable to me. I completely understand when it comes to a busy restaurant, but I am very much in the camp that restaurants need to manage customers' expectations. If it's going to be a REALLY LONG WAIT, say so! We could have found another place to eat, or found a place to get a snack for our little one. Anyway, after almost an hour and half of waiting for food, we finally received our breakfast.
My gluten-free Swedish pancakes were quite good, but I can't say I'd want to wait over an hour for them again. They had an interesting texture to them, moist and slightly chewy, almost like a blintz. The lingonberries were a nice touch adding just the right amount of tart and sweet to the dish. I was starving by the time we were served so I devoured the pancakes within minutes.
Feeling a little frazzled after our not so relaxing, very long brunch outing. We kept it low key and went to the Seattle Aquarium. What I REALLY wanted to do was ride that super cool Seattle Great Wheel they just opened on the pier, but the lines were out of control and it was too hot to stand outside with our little one. So we went to the aquarium instead, which seemed decent enough. Overall, the aquarium was just OK. I don't know that I'd plunk down my precious cash dollars to relive it again, what with their over-touted "octopus" exhibit and all. The octopus, which my little one was SO excited about initially, turned out to be a rather small octopus tucked away in the corner of a tank that seemed a tad too small for it. No long tentacles squishing against the glass or glimpse of a beak. Just a blob of Octopus meat tucked into a far corner with a museum curator trying to hype it up. No bueno. I was more impressed by the giant halibut at my local aquarium in Norwalk.
After wandering around the aquarium and pier for a while, we decided it was time for booze. Unfortunately, it being Sunday and all, not many places were open at 3 PM when we needed booze most. Enter Purple Cafe and Wine Bar for the win!
We walked past this place the day before and it looked pretty cool so I figured why not? We stopped in for a very late lunch/early booze session with the tot. I wasn't too concerned about the menu since we were mostly there for drinks, but noticed that much of it was very wheat-centric. At least they were able to accommodate my request to make my chicken salad gluten-free, which I was happy about. What I was even happier about was the "milk flight" for my little one. GENIUS. Seriously I don't know why every establishment on the face of this planet doesn't offer a milk flight for kids, it's absolutely awesome. The milk flight contained regular milk, strawberry milk, caramel milk and chocolate milk - all served in wine glasses. My toddler was SO excited to be one of the grownups and have her own special drinks. Amaze.
After a few glasses of wine, the stress of our brunch debacle washed away.
We went back to the hotel to contemplate our full bellies and decide whether or not to have dinner considering it was pretty late in the day already. The one thing I'll note about Seattle is most, if not all places have gluten-free options on their menus. It almost goes without saying that you'll be able to find something, but even so, it's still pretty hard to find restaurants that actively tout it, which is why when I stumbled upon Bizzarro Italian Cafe, I was pretty excited. I was craving spaghetti and meatballs something fierce and found out Bizzaro's offers gluten-free pasta and makes Spaghetti & Meatballs on certain days (Sunday to be exact). I was initially deterred by the fact that Guy Fierri profiled the restaurant on Diners, Drive-Ins and Drives, but my craving won out in the end.
We rolled up at Bizzarro's with no reservation, thinking if we arrived early enough it wouldn't be a problem. I guess people like to eat early in Seattle because it was completely packed by 6 PM. Luckily they were able to squeeze us in and we only had to wait about 10 minutes. The first thing you'll notice about Bizzarro's is no two tables, or chairs for that matter, are the same. The entire restaurant is furnished with found objects and curiosities that will have you craning your neck to see everything. The tables have glass tops with personal photos underneath that entertained us for quite some time. The biggest thing I noticed was their "no phone" policy. They are not cool with tweeting, Facebooking, or photos during your meal. Not wanting to raise their ire after they were so kind as to accommodate us, I kept my phone away, but managed to grab one picture of my food anyway.
I wasn't able to get the meatballs because they couldn't be made gluten-free, but I ordered their margherita pasta dish instead, which was just as yummy. I was super glad I brought Lactaid pills with me when my dish arrived. The entire top layer was coated with ooey, gooey mozzarella cheese, but it was so worth it. The sauce was tangy, the cheese was creamy and I didn't even care that their homemade gluten-free pasta was a bit too soft. I gorged myself silly and we left feeling quite content.
We packed up and headed back to the East coast the next day and I have to say I was glad to go home. I had an awesome time in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, but there is nothing like coming home to a hot shower and crawling under the covers of your own bed.
Do you live in the Seattle-area or have you visited? Tell me what your favorite places are to get gluten-free eats!