Prior to venturing up to Seattle this summer, I received varied reactions. Some listeners expected my transitional move claiming my personal style & mentalities would unquestionably fit in this city. And acknowledging the countering viewpoints, Seattle would be lackluster to the bells and whistles playing under California’s sun.
How could I ever want to wake up to the gloom & doom Seattle is so well known for? Sure, good point, but honestly, I can’t help but chuckle when weather is the first ‘deciding factor’ when discussing a location’s serenity. Granted I’ll admit I’m not in the market for thunder’s next comrade, but the difference between rain, shine or sleet isn’t a compelling enough argument. Perhaps, what are the people like, are the neighborhoods compactly stacked, is public transportation the recommended route for exploration, how about your local parks?
But besides these queries, it is only natural for one thought to bubble to this crop’s top.
You mention a city. Did my appetite turn in curiosity? Racking my brain’s vault of Yelp / blog reviews, a city that not only beckons a migration of people looking for a change of pace(speaking to you Bay Area and Portlanders), but Michelin packing chefs is reason enough for me, and Seattle certainly delivers. Not to confuse my attendance at these star studded restaurants(maybe a few more years as an Associate Strategist) , I still find too much pleasure in welcoming new food onto my taste buds plain.
Privileged to have discovered a recent edible playground, the International District is harbored on the outskirts of Seattle downtown, lined by an arena of restaurants, markets, and street houses.
Being a majority Asian population with the occasional redhead strutting the sidewalk, there is no denying I felt a bit out of place, but consider the main thrill of a new journey; when you step outside a perceived comfort zone, the world[in this case], is your jellyfish. Putting aside its cliché origins, you never know until you try. [Stay tuned for my take on actually eating jellyfish] Though trying certainly faces its limits; limits even prior to trying a new cuisine.
When wandering through unfamiliar territory, my rather sheltered upbringing shoots the flag of fear. Words like sketchy come to mind when passing run down buildings baring cat-calling drifters. The sense of urgency comes full throttle anticipating every worst case scenario. Thankfully, my foodie partner Crystal stood by my side directing our never ending walk. Excited to enter the Yelp-raved restaurant despite these hardships, we both were severely stunned by its exterior.
Stretching barely ten feet in diameter, Green Leaf’s forest green signage featured generic type revised significantly by faded graffiti letters. Holding our breath past the massive garbage framing, our shared expression of surprise was met with sighs of relief once entering. Even on an early Thursday evening, the inside ushered an array of wooden booths seating a population of flannel clad hipsters, toddlers testing their parent’s patience, and even a few businessmen loosening their silk ties. Consoled by the company, we proceeding with caution & intrigue taking our seats upstairs.
Luckily Crystal and I share the same urge to indulge in ‘stranger food’, dishes featuring semi-recognizable ingredients, but altered to partner unconventional pairings. However, as my eyes danced back and forth across the menu, my usual indecisive nature took hold. Dining with me? Well, you best be setting aside some good quality time to submit yourself to the waiting game. It’s just something about being in a 50/50 limbo; what if I make the wrong choice, and my palette is utterly disappointed? But noting the benefits of a little risk involved, I plugged on eventually deciding on a few options.
As one that typically avoids appetizing my tongue in favor of a filling entrée, I couldn’t help but give in to my intrigue. Grilled lemongrass eggplant topped with green, fried onions and peanut couldn’t be passed up especially noting Crystal was willing to share[the cost]. You see, you have to be strategic when finding yourself in the limbo. Using persuasive skills, sampling your second choice is feasible.
Besides winning this pitch for the initial bites, choosing a main course was a usual stretch. As I weighed each option, finally coming to the conclusion of Bun Oc, a tomato based broth harboring slurpable noodles, tofu, and Escargot, I figured, when in Seattle, do as the locals do. And the select French-Vietnamese cuisine I had stumbled upon.
After a more or less short wait, our table was greeted with a plate of fresh leaves and vegetables seemingly plucked from a nearby blossoming garden. Staring blankly at the earth limbs, Crystal was quick to offer an explanation assuring me they would delight the soup I had chosen. Comforted that I hadn’t ordered a less than satisfying option, it wasn’t long before the brimming ceramic bowl was placed in front of me.
Excited to please my well developed appetite, the vegetables made acquaintance with the soup’s ingredients melding together in slurpable fashion. Seeping the flavors in hopes of richer taste, I set it aside in favor of our recently provided appetizer.
Eggplant is a tricky food to prepare nicely; the line between under cooked, and far too mushy is quite thin, and takes much practice to ride on. Though this restaurant’s obvious history proved its expertise. Pegged on spiky watch out! Skewer sticks, the eggplant slid off seamlessly meeting my tastebuds with charred garlic, nutty flesh. Coupled with freshly pickled vegetables hovering the edge of acidic and sweet, our foodie adventure was off to a good beginning.
But with every good instance, I often wonder, is it too good to be true? Pushing the obscure soup in front of me and helping myself to a taste, I couldn’t muster a defined opinion. Having split one of the balls floating in the bowl, I couldn’t decipher what had just cozied itself on my palette. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, but I didn’t love it. Cue the waiter.
“What is actually in these balls? Is this where the escargot lies?”
Spoken in broken English he replied, “Uh, yea there escargot, spice, pork…” At the mention of land meat, my stomach flipped over as the color from my face ran pale. Having hoped the food would be one of those ‘it will grow on you the more you eat it’, the third I had downed suddenly was creeping its way back up. [I am Pescatarian if you were wondering the reason]
Noticing my apparent change in expression, the man was quick to offer me another option. Crystal and I had unapologetically been eying the shiny golden crepes gracing the surrounding tables and figured it couldn’t hurt to try it on ours. Maybe the Universe was telling us something?
After the initial shock simmered down, my adventurous spirits were again uplifted just in time for the next course. Without realization that my attempted preparation a few month’s back[Bon Appetit’s version of the Hoi An pancake] was in fact inspired by this cuisine, I was happily satisfied when encountering an authentically cooked plate of the recipe. However, apparently the ‘practical’ way of eating such a delicacy is different than what you would expect.
Laughing at my tofu and vegetable filled pancake, the waiter corrected my creation teaching me that the sweet batter actually was meant inside the greenery. Whoops?
After thanking him for his hospitality and tip for future reference, my elicited food coma, like always, marked the sign of a much-enjoyed meal further proving one of my points: what’s the fun in maintaining favorites? Without the occasional visit to a new restaurant here and there, life tends to turn in a routine direction, making even the schedule stuck ritualists bored.
The thing is, you never know what could be your next go-to bite without tredding in unfamiliar territory; who knows, you may just find yourself in the middle of cultural crossings. Still thinking about that one Mom + Pop shop on the corner of Maybe I Should Go Ave? I say, take the risk.
With every closed door, two are ready to be opened, and in this case, your tastebuds are the guests.