I just got back from a glorious vacation in the Pacific Northwest. The nature was breathtaking, yes, but so was the food.
First Stop: Seattle
My friend Samara was going to be working the first half of what was going to be a beautiful Friday, so I had some time to adventure by myself. Where did I go? That, my friends, was an easy choice: Pike Place Market.
The produce workers are so passionate about their fruits and vegetables. The man working at the Alberg Cherry Farm stand told me that he had just picked his cherries (red, black, and Rainier) off the tree the day before. I immediately bought a pound and ate them happily as I walked around. One worker at the corner produce stand asked me if I wanted an entire pint of rambutans for free since they were a tad overripe (a prickly fruit from the Philippines, next to the dragonfruit, center). I have never eaten a rambutan before, and I told him so. His face lit up, and he said “Ohhh, well you must have one! Here, I’ll peel it for you.” He proceeded to peel the berry for me to reveal an opaque, lychee-like fruit inside. The texture is also similar to lychee, with a refreshing sweetness.
Pike Place Market is also known for its amazing selection of fish since the Pacific Northwest is a mecca for fresh, plentiful seafood. Be sure to check out the stand where the workers throw whole fish to each other from one side of the counter to the other.
Across the street you’ll find Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, where you can watch them make cheese, sample fresh and aged cheeses, and purchase cheese to your heart’s content. A few doors down from them is a gem of a bakery called Le Panier. You can smell the butter and the laminated dough from outside. The scent calls your name, puts you in a trance, and takes control of your legs so that you walk into the bakery. Once you are inside, you cannot leave without having one of their croissants.
I needed to find a place for lunch in the neighborhood that was a little quieter and not as crowded so that I could relax and read my book while I ate. My friend Ben recommended I go to Dahlia Bakery, which happens to be a few blocks away from Pike Place Market. Their chocolate chip cookie was divine—crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, buttery, yet not overly rich. Then I ordered their Veggie Egg Sammy (zesty marinated lacinato kale, a fried egg, roasted garlic aioli, gruyere cheese, flax seed, sunflower seeds, and pine nuts, all sandwiched between a toasted brioche bun). All I have to say is…holy crap. This is the best breakfast sandwich I’ve ever had in my whole life.
One of my other days in Seattle included a brunch date at Samara’s favorite place: Portage Bay Cafe. Their motto is “Eat Like You Give a Damn,” and all of their ingredients are locally sourced.
Oh, my sweet restaurant. We are kindred spirits.
The menu includes pancakes and french toast that come with a trip to the “breakfast bar.” The breakfast bar includes bowls piled high with seasonal fruits (in this case, summer berries), nuts, and homemade whipped cream. I, naturally, went for the Rancher’s Breakfast, which includes both sweet and savory items. Ask for the eggs “scrambled soft,” and the salad has a delightful tomato vinaigrette. The pancakes are made from organic Bluebird Grain Farms heirloom wheat, so they were naturally the most beautiful pancakes I’ve had in a very long time.
Next Stop: Victoria, British Columbia
Vancouver Island is a gorgeous fairy land, and I want to go back as much as possible.
We needed a place to eat brunch and give us fuel for the day before our high tea, so our host recommended My Chosen Café in a neighboring town called Metchosin. The café is just as cute as its name. There’s a café, bakery, and gift shop in the main part of the house. Then, in the back, they make pizza, which you can pleasantly smell a mile away. Oh, did I mention they have a petting zoo in the backyard, too?
I ordered the regular breakfast with scrambled eggs, hash browns, local sausage, and grilled tomato. Simple, yet everything I ever wanted. It’s also super affordable at only $10.99 (Canadian dollars).
Now, being in Vancouver Island, I just had to find a Nanaimo bar. A Nanaimo bar comes from the town of Nanaimo, which is located northwest of Victoria. The bar has three layers: a coconut/chocolate/almond crumb base, a custard layer, and a melted chocolate top layer. Sounds heavenly, right? Well, in the My Chosen Cafe bakery, I spotted something called a “Metchosin bar” (pictured above). I went up to the counter and asked if it was similar to a Nanaimo bar. The woman confirmed that, yes, it is like a Nanaimo bar in every way except that they make the custard layer a coconut cream, and the top layer is more ganache-like rather than a snappy, tempered chocolate. YUM!
After a day frolicking in the fairy land that is Butchart Gardens, we went back to Victoria’s city center and had high tea at The Empress. Their warm, fluffy scones filled with golden raisins were the most similar I’ve seen to the ones I ate in Oxford, England. The tea sandwiches were made with local smoked salmon, and their shrimp salad was served in a seaweed cone. The pastries were so special, including a white chocolate cup filled with pistachio pastry cream and topped with fresh berries. Such a relaxing way to end the day before hopping on the ferry home!
Final Stop: Portland, Oregon
My friend Maia is a gardener and wild plant expert extraordinaire. I got off the train, she and her friend Sam picked me up, and we drove to Columbia River Gorge for a hike. As we walked along the trail, she saw a bush of berries, stopped, picked a few, and immediately commanded me to pop them in my mouth and squish them with my tongue. I learned that these wildberries are called thimbleberries, and they taste like a raspberry x1000.
Maia has her own garden, and so in the morning she picked mustard green blossoms and fresh cilantro to make this beautiful toast. We sautéed the mustard green blossoms in olive oil, and scrambled farm fresh eggs with them. Then, Maia made a garlic cilantro oil with her fresh herbs. She topped the toast with that oil and then the egg scramble.
We spent some time on July 4th in southeast Portland, where they have some lovely vintage shops and boutiques and DONUTS. No, I did not go to Voodoo Donuts. Maia instead recommended we go to Blue Star Donuts. They are made from scratch every day using local, seasonal ingredients. The donut below is blueberry bourbon basil. Again, something simple, yet made exceptionally well. A donut doesn’t need to be extravagant.
Maia and I took a day trip to Cape Falcon, OR for a hike. Have you ever heard of Cape Falcon? If not, here’s what I’m talking about:
After a wonderful day of hiking, we were ready for a hearty meal. Maia and her mom recommended we drive to Manzanita, a beach town just to the south of Cape Falcon. In that town there’s a restaurant called Left Coast Siesta. They make massive burritos.
That’s just half a burrito.
Maia and I split one. Those two halves together make one burrito. And it hit the spot, with tequila lime chicken, green chile sauce, and loads of cheese and rice.
For dessert, we went to the one ice cream shop still open, Schwietert’s Cones and Candy. They serve Tillamook ice cream, so I naturally went for their Mountain Huckleberry flavor. The perfect way to end a summer day is with a creamy, sweet, fruity treat, am I right?
If you ever travel to the Pacific Northwest, I highly recommend all of the above places. Let me know if you have any questions!