Well, of course I was in. I combated my anxiety about driving around an unfamiliar city with some meticulous planning. Thank you, Internet. First I mapped the hotel where we were staying. I then used the "City Guides" at Design Sponge to find a neighborhood near the hotel that had interesting shops and restaurants. I picked a few places to eat and printed out directions to and from the hotel and our various destinations, including our final stop at the airport.
I finally hit the road at about 11:00 on Saturday. It was a beautiful day. No traffic to speak of. Clear, but not so sunny as to make one squint. I usually find my eyelids getting heavy about an hour into a drive (30 minutes if I'm the passenger), but I was wide awake. Why, hello majestic Mt. St. Helens. Good day to you, three bald eagles soaring on a thermal high above my golden minivan.
And that was just the start of good things. I didn't get lost. I found a parking space with a working pay box in my target area. The place where I'd planned to eat had just stopped serving, so I ended up somewhere even better. Eating at Cafe Presse was like being in France except that I could understand the waitstaff. Do take a gander at their menu. I had the red cabbage salad with potatoes, goat cheese and walnuts in a whole-grain mustard vinaigrette. Oh, was it good. They must have soaked the cabbage, because it was amazingly crisp and juicy. I had a glass of French white wine (for only $3.50!) so good that it reminded me of how I came to love wine in the first place. As a bonus, they were playing a great Hot Chip album, start to finish. One hour in, my Seattle weekend rated an "exceeds expectations."
I wandered on down the street, and, though I didn't make a love connection with any of the shops on my itinerary, I happened right by the Bluebottle Art Gallery and Store, which I couldn't believe I had the good fortune to encounter by accident. The shop was filled with prints that I've seen online many times, and it was such a thrill to see them in person. It's the fun kind of gallery/shop, where nothing is so prohibitively expensive that one couldn't at least consider buying anything one liked. Some of it was downright cheap. I bought myself an early birthday present (an enamel pendant necklace depicting two red toadstools) and ran back up the hill to arrive at my car just before my allotted two hours was up.
Amanda was done early, so by then it was time to head back to meet her at the hotel, which turned out to be fairly close and easy to get to. Alas, things didn't go quite as smoothly for my friend. A fellow conference attendee offered to drop her off at the hotel and instead left her at a bank that turned out to be about 10 blocks away. Of course Amanda, without a map, had no way of knowing that. The two of us tried to figure it out over the phone until she finally decided to stop at a Starbucks and have me come get her. Armed with a description of the building, I headed down the hall and into the glass elevator...and saw the building she had described, catty-corner across the street. Hilarious for me, less so for her.
Cafe Presse had been such a success that we made it our first stop for the evening. We had the chicken liver terrine with dried cherry compote. It was served with cornichons, grainy mustard, and all the baguette we could eat. A glass of delicious red wine each and we split the bill--it came to less than $8 per person. I think I shall move to Seattle just for Cafe Presse.
We moved on to the popular gastropub Quinn's. We learned that finding parking in Capital Hill on a Saturday night is no mean feat. We asked the waiter what the "must have" dishes were; and that is how I came to try sweetbreads for the first time. It's hard to go wrong with a plate containing fresh corn, cream, and lardons (small bacon nuggets), and the sweetbreads did not disappoint. Also delicious were the scallops on pumpkin risotto.
The next day brought more sunshine and more eating. We ventured outside of Capital Hill for the first time to the neighborhood of Madison Valley (lovely is the only word for it) and the amazing Cafe Flora. The Hamiltons have made dishes from the restaurant's cookbook but hadn't eaten there. In yet another "how much better could it get?" moment, we were seated in an atrium room that was edged with tables. One small table for two sat in the middle of the room next to a natural stone fountain. Our table. There I had one of the best breakfasts I've ever eaten. We shared a "hunter's scramble" of eggs with chantarelles, squash, and gruyere, and a plate of black-eyed pea hush puppies with spicy greens and creamy cheese grits. I'll spare you the adjectives.
We had a few hours left and Amanda was wanting a haircut, so she asked the waitress if there was a Rudy's nearby. (I hadn't heard of it; It's like Supercuts for cool people.) There was, and we followed the waitress's directions...right back to the area of Capital Hill we'd become very familiar with. Rudy's was almost directly across the street from the Bluebottle Gallery, which I'd had to dash out of the day before. So we paid that a visit and then finished off our Seattle trip with a haircut for each of us. Nothing tops off a relaxing Sunday like a good shampoo.
We hadn't left time for traffic, and thankfully there wasn't much going our direction. I dropped off Amanda at the airport on time and made my way onto the 5 without getting lost. I cannot stress enough how remarkable this is.
I couldn't bear the thought of my adventures coming to an end (meaning I didn't want to get home in time to put the kids to bed) so I followed a sign off the freeway and made an impulsive stop at a McMenamins at the 100 year-old Union Hotel in Centralia. I'd never been there before, so seeing that was good fun.
I made it home without incident, thankful that I live within driving distance of such a great city as Seattle and even more thankful that I have a husband who encourages such gallivanting.