Saturday, October 3, 2009

Get Out Goes West: Seattle

Big city to the west offers every exotic taste imaginable

A late summer foray to Seattle is always an easy, pleasurable road trip, just a relatively quick drive through the channeled scablands and over the North Cascades. I recently took the timeless advice of The Village People and decided to “Go West” for a weekend reunion with some old friends and to enjoy the city’s unique shopping, dining and nightlife.

Naturally, the much larger population and greater cultural diversity make for some dining and drinking adventures which simply don’t occur here in North Idaho.

I hadn’t been in town more than an hour and my Seattle friend and I were already headed to 23rd and Jefferson for a much needed fix of Ezell’s Famous Fried Chicken. When I say famous, I’m talking Oprah famous. In fact, the queen of all media herself reportedly flies her assistants into Seattle just for a grease-soaked box of Ezell’s original recipe and some of their homemade sides. An autographed photo of Miss Winfrey, ironically enough in one of her thin phases, reads “I don’t know what I like more, the chicken or the sweet potato pie.”

I faced a similar dilemma when I finally made it to the front of the line and elected to go for a leg and a breast with coleslaw and a side of fried okra to split. There is no finer chicken in the entire Northwest and probably beyond. An intensely rich golden-brown shell seals in the savory juices of the plump, locally raised poultry. The fried okra bits had the same crispy coating, lending some needed substance to the mushy vegetable inside. I had to wonder; does Oprah love the okra too?

After dinner, we had some time to kill before our two California friends were to taxi in from SeaTac and meet us at our home base for the weekend, the Silver Cloud Hotel. The Seattle friend frequents one of the city’s members-only lounges, partially because they’re immune from Washington’s no smoking laws and he tends to smoke more cigarettes than Bette Davis.

They also have an extremely strict Goth dress code and when we he tried to get me in as a guest, the doorman took one look at me and said “Um, sorry, you’re wearing blue jeans” and denied my entrance. Unfortunately, I had packed light and neglected to bring my black leather pants and spiked dog collar.

Instead, we wandered up the street to a crowded, noisy sports-themed gay bar where wearing jeans was completely acceptable and we made short work of a few mixed drinks before heading to the hotel and settling in.

I wouldn’t expect to see an Ethiopian restaurant anytime soon here in North Idaho, but Meskel is just one of many located in Seattle’s Central District. Dining at an Ethiopian place requires an adventuresome appetite, and we were all feeling up to the challenge for dinner on day two. No utensils are required; different piles of spicy bean, vegetable and meat dishes are served on a large, round sourdough flatbread called injera. Just tear off a piece of the bread and use it to scoop bites of the entrees.

The flavors are distinctive and exotic, but Ethiopian cuisine requires quite a bit of intestinal fortitude. The injera rapidly expands in your tummy and the dense, zesty main courses have been known to cause long, reflective interludes in the bathroom the next morning.

After attending a shindig at another friend’s apartment and some bar hopping on Capitol Hill, we ended up closing out Saturday night at a massive dance club with wall to wall party people and some very heavy-handed bartenders.

The next morning, half our group decided to sleep off the effects of the night before, but two of us decided to spend Sunday morning shaking off our case of the morning dizzies by exploring some record shops. Sadly, we discovered that they’re a dying breed these days. Half the stores listed in the most recent phone book had closed for good. Still, we did manage to unearth some vinyl treasures at a few of them.

We spent the last day of our Seattle visit in Chinatown, buying fun and freaky food products at Uwajimaya, a massive Asian supermarket, and eating fried rice and beef with black bean sauce at the Purple Dot Cafe. The menu was that of a typical Chinese restaurant but the incredibly fine food seemed to have an edge of authenticity that can only be found in the international district of a large city.

The weekend seemed to fly by and we all parted ways just before dawn on Monday morning. Every time I visit Seattle, I end up wanting to stick around for good and tackle every exotic eatery in the city. Still, it’s always a relief to roll back into the more conventional culinary terrain of Coeur d’Alene and experience the centering feeling of being home.

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