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March 05, 2014, United States

Sweet Surprise

Also known as the Emerald City, Seattle is like that quiet sibling who is a lot more interesting than she lets on

Jeremy Gopalan

Before visiting the northwestern American city this past autumn, I knew little about it, except that it was where Starbucks was born, the popular Grey’s Anatomy TV series is set and it reportedly rains all the time.

From Pike Place To Black Pepper Crabs

I experienced for myself the schizophrenic weather when I headed out one morning while the skies were blue. I was staying at the Alexis Hotel, which is a chic blend of traditional and modern design elements with its elegant corridors, soaring ceilings and sleek four-poster beds. Conveniently located in the downtown area, the historic brick building is just minutes away from the famous Pike Place Market, a year-round farmers market which has been in operation since 1907.

I decided to check out the compact city on foot. Not 10 minutes later, I barely managed to duck under the eaves of the market before it started drizzling. Making my way through the slow-moving crowds of camera-toting tourists who were zooming in on every stack of luscious green apples and bundle of rose blossoms they could see, I could understand why the market, which is home to more than 200 vendors, was a tourist’s delight. The stalls lining it were a visual riot of vegetables, seafood, cheese and flowers, and there was a buzzing atmosphere that made me forget the weather. Another distraction was the tasting samples that were offered. I ended up picking up a large cup of Ellenos homemade Greek yogurt along the way, which was so fresh and dense I couldn’t imagine eating the supermarket variety again.

In the vicinity of the market, too, is the very first Starbucks in the world, which has now gained legendary status. Strolling by it, I spotted a snaking queue of excited sightseers taking photos and humming along to the busker parked by the front door, which first opened in 1971.

At this point, the indecisive rain clouds had crept up again and I chose to head to Salty’s on Alki located on the west side of Seattle. The award-winning seafood and steak restaurant not only serves up a surprisingly good version of black pepper crabs (not quite like Singapore’s but just as tasty) but it also offers a stunning outlook of the Seattle skyline, including unrivalled views of the famous Space Needle. Even though locals tend to politely shrug off the tower as just another tourist trap, it must be said that the 184m-tall Needle does provide a fantastic 360-degree vantage point.

Java Jive

The next day, I decided to take an uphill hike up Pine Street to check out Capitol Hill. Fondly referred to by the locals as Cap Hill, the diverse and trendy neighbourhood with its tree-lined streets is chock-a-block with chic furniture shops, nifty bookstores, cosy cafes, snazzy bars and stylish eateries serving up all types of cuisine from Vietnamese to Mexican. Existing almost like its own self-contained town, Cap Hill is where all the cool, young people reside and hang out at, guaranteeing a lively energy. Cap Hill is also one of Seattle’s main entertainment districts and weekends see revellers milling about the streets in between club-hopping.

In the course of that morning, I probably passed 10 Starbucks outlets. And no wonder, as Seattle has the most coffee shops per capita in the United States (there is one coffee shop per 4,000 people). But, seeing that I was in search of a more local experience, I popped into Bauhaus Books & Coffee, which is a charming dark-wood panelled joint lined with ceiling-high bookcases and filled with an equal mix of tattooed hipsters and elderly academics.

It was a serendipitous discovery and I nursed an aromatic latte while getting lunch recommendations from the waitress, who pointed me in the direction of Li’l Woody’s, just a few steps away. An unassuming Seattlebased burger joint, it is the sort of no-fuss place where you just know you’d get a good burger — and that I did. The juicy Big Woody that came with a ½ pound patty cost a reasonable US$7 (S$8.70) and I washed it all down with a satisfying old-fashioned root beer float.

Having had my belly satiated, I hopped on the bus to Fremont, which is unofficially known as the quirky neighbourhood of Seattle with its multitude of thrift stores, vintage shops and unconventional boutiques. This was where I picked up some locally made chilli-fl avoured chocolates at Theo Chocolate.

Fremont is attractive for its laidback bohemian charm and pockets of greenery where you can sprawl on the riverbank with a bag of supermarket snacks and simply shoot the breeze.

Eat, Drink, Be Merry

Seattleites take their food seriously and the city’s chefs have sparked a dining trend which focuses on clean and bright fare made with produce from local farms. One such culinary artist is Tom Douglas, arguably the city’s most celebrated chef, who is responsible for its hot dining spots.

Any self-respecting foodie will make it a point to sample as much of the city’s delicious fare as possible in every waking moment. That being me, I made it a point to check out Portage Bay Café, which serves breakfast and lunch only, and focuses its menu on seasonal ingredients. Bright and airy, it is the type of place that is hard not to fall in love with. 

With this much sightseeing and eating accomplished, a little wine tasting would not be out of order. For this, I headed further inland past the Cascade Mountains where the climate is vastly different and much less wet. Not many people know this but Washington state, to which Seattle belongs, ranks second in the US in the production of wine, behind only California.

One of the larger establishments is Chateau St Michelle, which offers a sublime wine-tasting experience at its historic chateau. But if you are looking for a more casual affair, Novelty Hill and Januik are two independent wineries where you do not need to make an appointment to visit.

Back in the city, I arrived just in time to catch the breathtaking sunset, and realised that how much one enjoys Seattle depends on how much one immerses oneself in it; each neighborhood is good for different reasons and different people. And given that I like a city that has a diversity of offerings, Seattle certainly doesn’t fall short.

This story first appeared in ZBBZ

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