Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Northwest Notables: From Billboards to Bookstores

Here's looking back to capture the past year while looking ahead. My contribution to the "best of" genre is pretty random. And not comprehensive. Otherwise I would've been writing all week because there are so many notable things about this region! Disagree with me? Thumbs up? Leave your Northwest Notables by clicking on the Comments below.

I truly hope 2010 is a year full of laughter, fun, and abundant good health for you, me, and everyone! (Pets included.)

Happy New Year!

Most Annoying Yet Most Read Billboard: Uncle Sam’s on I-5 near Chehalis, WA.
If you’ve ever driven the I-5 slog between Seattle and Portland, you know what I’m talking about. THE billboard near the Rush Road exit south of Chehalis with the provocative, often outrageous messages. A spaced-out, angry-looking Uncle Sam face on the billboard exhorts things like WHERE’S THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE? (alluding to right-wing claims that President Obama really wasn’t born in the U.S.). I’ve looked forward to seeing the latest words on every trip since I was a girl. My big brother LOVED the billboard messages, so I knew I must therefore lean the other direction. Perhaps obnoxious Uncle Sam helped shape me into the Democrat I am today?

Best Bowl of Veggie Pho: Monkey Bridge Tofu Pho, Ballard neighborhood, Seattle.
Big bowls of steaming hot, Asian-style noodle soup are much sought out here in the Northwest. A former boyfriend introduced me to my first bowl of beef pho years ago. Since then I trend vegetarian-vegan-flexitarian, so I’m always on the lookout for a good bowl of meatless Vietnamese pho. My current favorite is Monkey Bridge’s tofu pho. “We simmer lots of daikon radishes, carrots, and onions with a bit of vegetable bullion for several hours every morning to make a slightly sweet, aromatic broth,” says one of the Nguyen family daughters who helps out at the restaurant. What makes this pho a standout besides the flavorful broth is the generous portions of seasonal vegetables mixed in with the rice noodles and tofu. Baby bok choy, broccoli, green cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, zucchini, fennel, and onions are all simmered until tender but not mushy. Hmmmm. Get all your daily phytonutrients in a bowl here.

Best Place to Meet a Down-to-Earth, Academic Geek: Exhibit Openings at the Burke Museum, Seattle, WA.
The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture is a research institution at the University of Washington with wonderful traveling exhibits and regular displays. Think dinosaur bones, fossils, photos of Antarctica explorations, and Northwest Coast Indian art and culture. If you join, you’ll get invited to their great exhibit openings. Instead of urban hipsters (whatever that means), you’ll find tweedy professors, graduate students, and solid citizens—like environmental lawyers, engineers, and teachers—interested in good educational exhibits. At the recent Burke opening for their exhibit Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway by artist Ray Troll, I saw a few too many plaid shirts and Dockers for my taste. But I also mingled with smart people having a good time, excited about the intersection of art and knowledge. To me this is the real Pacific Northwest.

Best Breakfast with No Wait for a Table on a Weekend: The Commodore, Goose Hollow neighborhood, Portland, OR.
Yes, Portland is full of wonderful foodie restaurants and places to brunch. But sometimes what I really want is a good breakfast without waiting around. Instead of the masses at places like Mother’s, head to Goose Hollow and try the Commodore. The décor and ambience is bland and uninteresting (plain beige walls, Formica tables), but genteel Chef Abraham cooks every breakfast to order. (Be forewarned, he’s not speedy.) Try his Potatoes O’Brien, sautéed with red peppers and onions and roasted to perfection. I recently had excellent Eggs Benedict there, slathered with a tangy and rich hollandaise sauce, and reasonably priced. My friend Matt loves their French toast. “It’s one of best deals around.” This is a neighborhood spot, so don’t be surprised if another local customer refills your coffee after refilling their own. The menu is not extensive, but they’ll take special requests and do it up quite well. And since the restaurant is connected with the bar, you can get a stiff Bloody Mary with your breakfast.

Most Transcendental Tea Experience: Wild Purple Tip Black Pu-er from Zen Dog Teahouse Gallery, Seattle.
Some people just drink tea and some people experience tea. Steve Bonnell of East-West Books reviews tea on the Zen Dog Teahouse Gallery blog, and his experience tasting the prized Purple Tip tea took him on a sensory trip to a dark, warm cave and back again. Click here to go along for the ride with Steve. Zen Dog sells premium, highest-grade teas from small estates in China and Taiwan along with cakes of much-revered Pu-er (or Puerh) tea. I wrote about my relaxing first stop at Zen Dog in Crown Hill/north Ballard neighborhood last January and now I’m a regular. Go taste teas with Zen Dog Larry Murphy for a soothing, mindful experience and then take some home!

Most Bittersweet Bookstore Relocation: Elliott Bay Books, Seattle.
This wonderful bookstore in historic Pioneer Square has been the center of Seattle’s book universe for close to 40 years. Italian film director Bernardo Bertolucci praised Elliott Bay Books as “one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world” when he visited in the 1990s. Pioneer Square’s transition in the early 1970s to a charming yet vibrant business district was hailed nationally as a model of successful urban renewal. Along with art galleries, chic shops, and restaurants, Elliott Bay Books anchored the renaissance. Today, despite its historic charm, many businesses have moved uptown and Pioneer Square doesn’t draw the clientele it needs to support this treasure anymore. So in Spring 2010, Elliott Bay will move to now-vibrant lower First Hill, with ample parking and more active nightlife/pedestrian traffic. Bless Peter Aaron, owner of Elliott Bay Books, for putting his energy and money into keeping it going. But I’ll miss wandering with the ghosts of Seattle past around the multi-leveled nooks and crannies, exposed brick walls, creaky wood floors, and mile-high shelves of books in its Pioneer Square location.

Special Thanks
To the Burke Museum Blog for letting me use one of their photos.


Don said...

I thought your 2009 Northwest Notables were insightful. What about Best Social Tea Place: Miro's? or Best Morning Hangout: Cafe Besalu? Also, you left out your favorite neighborhood getaway walk: Carkeek Park

Shari said...

Happy New Year to you!
Nice post.



Mary Ann said...

Hi Jill—thanks for the plug…wow- love this!

MaryAnn Barron Wagner Communications Director Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

Anne said...

Nothing better than noodles and broth with a few other treasures thrown in, will have to visit Ballard soon. Sounds like perfect winter fare.


Anonymous said...

I know you hate to shop on the Eastside but there is a wonderful store in
the Square that might make your list someday. Oil and Vinegar. They have
dozens of olive oils and vinegars and you can decant them into different
sizes of bottles for gifts or yourself.

Christmas lights at Bellevue Botanical Gardens? They have added some great
new things in the past couple of years.

jill said...

Don and Anne,
Great suggestions! (and I don't hate to shop on the Eastside, but I admit I hate the drive across 520 to get there when it's crowded!).

Thanks Shari, happy new year to you, too!

Mary Ann,
I hope you get lots of visitors to the museum in 2010! I'll be back.


Victoria said...

Ah, that flaming billboard on the way to Portland. It's moved a bit over the years, but I too have always waited "eagerly" to see what nonsense it comes up with next ... always have to have someone with me to read the flipside if I'm not coming back that way. It sparked political discussions when we were growing up, and now I make sure my kids read it and weep, too. It has led to some interesting discussions with my 10 & 16-year=old! ;-)

As for the rest, you've given me some good places to go this year. Thanks for the blog. Happy New Year.

Carol Ann said...

Fabulous, Jill!
Happy New Year to you and tons of good health and fun outdoor adventures.
Your blog is coming along very well.

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Lindsey said...

This post is great, you should definitely do a follow up with most requested. I'd like to know great Indian food places and best movie theaters!!

jill said...

Carol Ann and Vic, thanks for your comments! And Lindsey, thanks for the suggestions. I'm in need of inspiration right's looking like weeks of long days of work ahead and not much getting out...jill