Thursday, June 19, 2008

Eating Through the Market

This past weekend I was opening a can of Cougar Gold, that coveted singular cheese made by our friends over at Washington State University – it is truly ambrosia.

Getting the can open, however, is a pain in the…neck. It required sifting through the utility drawer to employ three different can openers all which I concluded were worthless. My wife and I determined that it was time, regardless of cost, to acquire the Rolls Royce of can openers.

Fortunately we were entertaining out of town guests, so I was headed to the Pike Place Market the next day anyway, and I knew exactly where to go.
The Pike Place Market (0.39 miles from the Convention Center) is nirvana for the gourmand. Not only is it a destination for incessant eating of every conceivable ethnicity, it is also a source of all possible food items and the tools to prepare them.

Any trip to the Market should be begun as soon as possible. By noon all the amateurs are there and pedestrian traffic increasingly becomes dysfunctional. And, since the wise begin early the sine qua non initial stop should be Le Panier (self described as “the very French bakery”).

Getting there you will probably walk by the original Starbucks. So now you can say you have seen it; keep walking. The coffee is far better at Le Panier and with a dizzying array of savory as well as sweet pastries.

As you enter the bakery you are confronted with two sensations: first is pleasant warmth from the ongoing baking and coffee being made; the other is olfactory – that of copious amounts of butter. Be advised, Le Panier is not on the American Heart Association list of recommended stops in Seattle. This visit a friend and I bought two almond croissants to have with our coffee and after the first bite debated whether to continue eating them or to rub them in our hair.

Of course, you need to rest and slowly savor the coffee after ingesting that much butter, which allows you to savor viewing the array of fish, fruits, vegetables and flowers across the street for sale in the Market itself. I left the bakery with two baguettes, 6 croissants: raspberry, apricot, and chocolate ( I had to think of the rest of the family) and 6 palmiers (don’t know what a palmier is? Guess you’ll have to go to Le Panier to find out, eh?)

During the rest of my shopping natives looked covetously at my shopping bag; when I got home the bags were largely spotted with the butter oozing from the pastry.

There are of course many other bakeries at the market such as Chinese, Russian (e.g. rich pierogies that leave you paralyzed after eating one). Fortunately, though, my appetite is on hold for hours after a visit to Le Panier.

Tourists should be sure to go to the fish stalls to see the renowned flying fish at the Pike Place Fish Market. Years ago the staff at the fish stalls developed a routine to amuse themselves as well as to entertain customers and drum up business and which makes their work fun -- buying selecting and buying fish is quite the performance. You request 2 lb. of salmon, for example, the clerk waiting on you yells your order across the store, and another wraps it up and throws it like a football to the one who called in your order while he and his colleagues bark back and forth like seals. (Guess you’ll have to go there to appreciate it.)

They are particularly animated if you have an attractive woman accompanying you. It is a genuinely fun experience and the imagined marketing/work philosophy has been much discussed, analyzed and published in various new age business studies. However, the visual pleasure of seeing all the beautiful fresh fish neatly arrayed on ice is reason enough to visit the fish market. All this is situated directly in front of the iconic large brass pig statute upon which visitors feel compelled to sit and have their pictures taken.

Walking through the many different stalls you immediately get great intentions about going home and later making incredible meals and you leave with bags of incredible fresh vegetables (of course they were less expensive 3 stalls down you discover after buying them), and fruit that you are compelled to sample as you continue shopping, meat, and then you have to buy a bouquet of flowers.

There are myriad specialty shops, like the expansive spice shop full of massive jars of every conceivable spice, and the Middle Eastern store where I initially get concerned glances as I start to take deep breaths upon entering the store.

One of my favorite stops is a gourmet Italian market De Laurenti. It has an incredible cheese selection with usually two clerks on hand just to assist your selection of cheeses (how can you not like a place with minimally four different types of Stilton at any given moment?) This is an upscale store (read Yuppie), so the cannollis have candied lemon peel (as opposed to those with chocolate chips offered at working class, and wonderful, Borrachinni’s Bakery in the Rainier Valley), and there is a great wine section with very knowledgeable salesmen.

My friends were return visitors, so they had certain destinations in mind. An ongoing favorite on their list was Milagros, an incredible Mexican folk art store that specializes in Oaxacan works, with many focused on the Day of the Dead. I have frequented this store for years and have acquired a number of black Oaxacan pottery pieces in the process.

Adjacent is a store featuring Moroccan artifacts, a store with sub-Saharan African works, and myriad Asian nation stores. Owning an Airedale I was drawn into a dog specialty store where I was able to acquire some breed specific gifts (it’s a dog thing if you don’t get it…) Suffice it to say there are many many many shops full of interesting and distinctive things besides food on which burn money at the Market.

Another of my favorite stops is the Seattle Cutlery Store. While I no longer need any more chefs’ knives I like to go in and ogle and fondle the amazing merchandise. My son has a new found interest in making sushi and wanted a specific Japanese sushi chef’s knife, but determining I’d need to finance a small loan I deferred that purchase.

The store includes incredible top shelf hardware like Sabatier, and cutlery from Laguiole in France, such as Laguiole corkscrews (described by Peter Mayle in Encore Provence as the best corkscrew in the world.) They have Swiss Army knives, and manicure sets worthy of performing surgery so be advised you will want everything.

So based upon the power of suggestion we dodged the many street musicians and walked a few steps down to the Pike and Western Wine Shop. While hardly Seattle’s best wine shop it has a nice array of wines from around the world, and a good representation from the Northwest, as well as a nice collection of appropriate vintage specific Riedel stemware. After all, after buying all the other groceries you need to complete the meal – right? Therefore this shop is very convenient. The pal accompanying me is a white wine drinker, so we left with several excellent bottles of Oregon Pinot Gris.

And, yes, I got the can opener – some state of the art German gadget at the market at Sur La Table – a mecca for cooks. Sur La Table is another of those dangerous places where you find yourself surrounded by things you don’t need but suddenly feel compelled to have. If you visit there perhaps you should only bring cash.

While I managed to frequently exercise my charge card, fortunately this was a short trip to the Market, as my friends and I were en route to the Experience Music Project (location for the NACAC social) to see the current special exhibit American Sabor (the Latin influence in contemporary music; it is great – sorry the exhibit leaves before NACAC).

Michael K. McKeon
Dean of Admissions
Seattle University