An Austin Food Lover in Seattle: Light Rail, Green Hotel, and Southeast Asian Delights

View of the Seattle Space Needle at Dusk

The Space Needle at Dusk

As a food lover, any opportunity to travel is an opportunity to have new and fun food experiences. I usually spend as much time (okay more) planning what I’ll eat on a vacation as I do where I’ll stay or what I’ll see. I love exploring a city through a foodie’s eyes because it’s such a unique view. And it’s not just about prepared meals for me. I look beyond restaurants to specialty food shops, cookbook stores, markets, and more.

In years past I had to rely heavily on guide books and asking the locals about their favorite spots to guide my adventures, but now with the explosion of food blogging, I’m able to get help from local food lovers by simply asking. When people ask me where to eat in Austin, I wax rhapsodic about our many and varied options, and I’ve found the same to be true of bloggers in other locals.

Given how much time I spend chasing good food experiences when I travel, I thought it might be helpful to share not only my research but my actual experiences on the blog. My goal is to write my posts real-time, a virtual travelog if you will, and post at the end of each day. Hopefully my record of my adventures can be a jumping-off point for other food lovers visiting the same cities in the future.

First Stop: Seattle, WA

I love Seattle. While I never thought I’d want to live anywhere but Austin, any time I get near Seattle there’s a serious chance I simply won’t leave. I like rain. A lot. I’ll take it any day over the hot and sticky summers we have in Texas. I like trees and oceans as well. And, as you might imagine, the second I set foot in Pike’s Place Market, I was a goner. I’ve been amazed by the fresh and local foods all around California, but there’s just something about the market that stole my heart. The food culture here is incredible. The local respect for sustainable practices, the creative and progressive chefs, and the access to local ingredients make Seattle a foodie paradise.

If one day I just disappear from Austin, you know where to find me.

We’re only visiting Seattle for 3.5 days this trip, a quick but much-needed vacation after a hectic start to the year. Even so, I plan to make the most of every second I’m here, and it’s with that attitude that I began my food lover adventures when I stepped of the plan last night.

Transportation: Light Rail Rocks

When we visited Seattle last time we made the mistake of renting a car. It was just a bad experience all around. The car rental company was a national brand we’ve had luck with in the past, but the Seattle branch was sketchy at best. Because Seattle is so walkable, we ended up leaving our car parked at the hotel for almost the entire trip. The parking cost almost as much as renting the car and I can absolutely think of better ways to spend that kind of money here in Seattle (say on fresh seafood or cheese at Beechers).

Eschewing a car this time, knowing we could easily acquire one for a day trip outside of Seattle if necessary, we were prepared to take a taxi into downtown. However, I had enough forethought to tweet at our hotel, the Hyatt at Olive 8, to ask for advice on the best way to get to the hotel from the airport. They responded almost immediately and suggested the light rail. They also included specific information on where to get off and how to get to the hotel. (I love brands that use Twitter to deliver great customer service. )

The light rail was easy to find, the tickets were easy buy, and the ride comfortable and fun. Because we were going to the last station the ride in took about 30 minutes. Sure, a cab might have been faster but the ride was relaxing and but for a combined $5 for two people, it was well worth it. I saved $25 or so to use on food adventures later (or possibly at the Nordstrom that is connected to the light rail station where we exited the train).

I can’t recommend the light rail system enough, at least as an easy way to get from the airport to downtown.

Lodging: Hyatt at Olive 8 – Green and Luxurious

Hyatt at Olive 8 External View

An Outside View of the Hyatt at Olive 8

There really aren’t words to describe how much I hate shopping for hotels online. The hotel marketing folks go out of their way to cast the best possible light on their accommodations (which is their job), but the glossy brochure pictures usually don’t represent my actual accommodations. Site like Trip Advisor help take some of the guess-work out of the process by segmenting user reviews by type of visit (personal vs. business) and by highlighting traveler photos of their actual accommodations. Before I get too attached to any hotel’s description of their rooms or location, I reality-check myself with a visit to Trip Advisor.

I settled on the Hyatt at Olive 8, a relatively new hotel in Seattle, because it was a good value, looked cool, and was in the right location. Thus far it hasn’t disappointed. As the city’s first LEED certified hotel, it’s a green as green can be, but that doesn’t mean we’ve had to sacrifice comfort or ambiance. The staff has been attentive and informative since we arrived and our room is comfortable and well-appointed. One of my favorite features of the hotel is a key-based lighting system that helps us avoid wasting electricity. When we enter the room we put our key in a small holder near the door and that powers all of the lighting in the room, which we can further turn on or off at each fixture. When we leave, we take the key with us and the lights go out. I really appreciate not only the hotel’s initial commitment to being environmentally friendly, but their ongoing commitment to helping guests serve the environment as well.

Olive 8 is smack in the middle of downtown, and just 3 blocks from the light rail, so we’re within walking distance of major attractions and restaurants. When we visited last, we stayed at the Hotel 1000, which is a wonderful hotel in a great location, but it’s absolutely a splurge hotel. Hotel 1000 mixes the best of Zen and tech into a serene retreat and I hope to visit them again on another trip. Other hotel recommendations made to me for this trip by people I trust included the Hotel Max, the Four Seasons, Inn at the Market, Mayflower Park, and The Westin Seattle.

Good Eats: Wild Ginger – Revisiting a Favorite Spot

I’ll apologize now for not having any pictures of the great food at Wild Ginger. The lighting is dim and I felt like the shots I did capture simply didn’t do their food justice. Be sure to visit their website for a look at their beautiful food.

We touched down in Seattle in the evening, about an hour after my stomach started making noise about wanting dinner. I hadn’t actually contemplated our dinner plans for after we arrived, shocking I’m sure, but hey, I was still recovering from late evening travel. As I sat on the light rail train and perused the map of our hotel’s location, I realized we weren’t far from a restaurant we’d thoroughly enjoyed on our last trip: Wild Ginger. While I try not to replicate dining experiences in cities I don’t visit often, in some cases known quantities are the best, and this was one of those cases. It didn’t disappoint the second time around, which is saying something given that our last visit was two years ago. The travelog snapshot of Wild Ginger looks something like this:

  • What they serve: a plethora of dishes inspired by the owners’ travels through Southeast Asia. The menu is expansive and includes a satay bar with 13 different offerings (try the boar). Their main dish selections feature a wide assortment of fish, fowl, and livestock in a variety of preparations from curries to traditional stir-frys. You can treat yourself to your own tour of Southeast Asia right from your table.
  • The ambiance: Wild Ginger is a fairly large restaurant, with two different dining rooms on the first floor and a third dining space on the second floor. The interior is well-appointed but not stuffy, and you will be equally comfortable there in business attire or just nice casual dress. The lighting is muted to convey a sense of intimacy and huge floor-to-ceiling windows offer a lovely view of downtown Seattle.
  • How I heard about it: One of my co-workers recommended Wild Ginger to me based on a recommendation from a friend and from an advertising agency she’d worked with in the past who said the entertain clients there often. In my experience, client-worthy restaurants are always a safe bet, but validation by a second source sealed the deal.
  • Why we like it: We’re fans of Wild Ginger not only because of the good execution of a really diverse menu, but because almost all dishes are available in two sizes to make it easier to share and taste more. Instead of having to order and split one large entrée, we can generally order three small dishes for two people and experience more of the menu in a single visit.
  • Must-try dishes: The Black Pepper Scallops were outstanding. The soy sauce and black pepper balance the richness and sweetness of the scallops perfectly. Also, as unassuming as it sounds, the Coconut Gelato was terrific. It had a deep, rich coconut flavor and wasn’t too sweet. The topping of toasted coconut was a nice compliment, and two scoops were just right for sharing.

What’s on Tap for Tomorrow

With our first full day ahead of us, we’re planning a trip to the market and a walk along the waterfront. We don’t have concrete plans for any meals yet, but I have a wonderful list of possibilities from local blogger Frantic Foodie, so I know we’re sure to have some great food experiences before the day is done.