Supper ... in Seattle
In the competition for the prestigious James Beard restaurant awards, Hawaii chefs are lumped in with those of the Northwest, and our main rivals seem to hail from Washington.
Cascadia: 2328 First Ave., about five blocks from Pike's Place Market. Dinner from 5 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays; about $30 to $85 per person without drinks. Call 206-448-8884.
Lark: 926 12th Ave. (Capitol Hill). Open for dinner Tuesdays through Sundays. Suggest three appetizer portion plates per person at about $20 to $30 per person. Call 206-323-5275.
Chateau Ste. Michelle: 14111 N.E. 14th St., Woodinville (pictured). Wine Enthusiast's American Winery of the Year, 2004. Call 800-267-6793 or 425-415-3300.
Last year, three of the five nominees came from Seattle: Scott Carsberg of Lampreia, Joseba Jiménez de Jiménez of the Harvest Vine and John Sundstrom of Lark. Holly Smit was nominated for her work at Café Juanita in Kirkland, just outside the city.
The final nominee and winner, Vitaly Paley of Paley's Place Bistro & Bar, hailed from Portland, Ore. Hawaii had zip.
Just be glad that with our climactic and demographic similarities we're not lumped with restaurants from California, a formidable bloc that comprises a single category.
So what's Seattle got that we don't? I made a brief trip over to check it out.
It's been just over a decade since I last visited the city to pay respects to departed music legend Kurt Cobain. I had some fine meals there, but when I returned to the Northwest, it was always to the more intimate Portland.
Such is the growth and scope of the Pacific Northwest as a dining destination that it merits at least two of its own slick food, wine and travel magazines -- Northwest Palate and Wine Press Northwest -- that offer guides to wineries and calendars full of tasting events and farm festivals.
Every tourist naturally finds his or her way to Pike Place Market, which delivers an overview of the area's abundance in seafood and farm offerings. It's enough to make anyone sigh with longing.
You might then find your way to one of several wineries. Washington state is the nation's second-largest wine producer, having more than doubled its production in the past decade. It's home to 350 wine grape growers, with 30,000 acres of vineyards and wineries dotting the Puget Sound area, and many more in the Columbia Cascade, Columbia Gorge, Yakima Valley, Spokane and Walla Walla Valley regions.
One of the most accessible is Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, just north of Seattle, where free tours run every half-hour between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily, ending with a complimentary tasting of three wines.
WITH ALL THE bountiful resources available, Seattle's restaurants have become wonderful laboratories for culinary experimentation.
I found my way to Lark, where tapas-style servings, comparable to those at Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas in Honolulu, make meals there a pleasurable lark.
Hamachi carpaccio is nothing new to us, but delicious when topped with shaved fennel and slivers of green olives.
A first for me came at the end of the meal with a fig tarte tatin topped with creamy goat cheese ice cream that left me craving more.
If you want to stay closer to tourist central, look no farther than Kerry Sears' Cascadia on First Street. There, a meal might start with black olive lavosh and white bean purée.
Nonfoodies might simply enjoy happy hour treats of little hamburgers and salmon burgers, but more serious diners will want to try one of the restaurant's nightly tasting menus. The three-course, $25 tasting menu is a deal, but to make the most of a short stay, seven-course menus at $60 to $80 offer more diversity. A la carte dining is also an option, with entrees at a reasonable $14 to $16.
Here, I enjoyed a meal that started with McCarthy Whiskey-smoked salmon accompanied by a small salad of black trumpet mushrooms, followed by crab ravioli with parsley and sweet garlic jus and yuzu butter sauce, with main courses of grilled Alaska halibut with forest mushrooms and crisp fried leeks, plus a serving of green curry-rubbed lamb with black truffle jam.
In between the appetizers and main courses was an intermezzo of Douglas fir sorbet that had all the fresh pine flavor without overwhelming the palate. A recipe for the sorbet, for those so inclined, is on the restaurant's Web site, www. cascadiarestaurant.com.
During the summer, Sears offers Saturday morning walking tours of Pike Place Market, finishing with lunch at the restaurant, at $65 per person.
I left vowing to return to Seattle and its restaurants soon.
Seattle's agricultural and culinary successes should provide an example for our shortsighted government officials to consider whenever the argument over development versus ag land preservation arises. Their traffic messes are another story.
NADINE KAM / NKAM@STARBULLETIN.COM
...and chicken of the woods and lobster mushrooms are among the many varieties available at Pike's Place Market.