|Seattle Japanese Garden|
Recently I spent a wonderful afternoon in Madison Valley due east of downtown Seattle between Capitol Hill and Madison Park. If you haven't been lately, I suggest you head there, too.
A few decades ago when I was just out of college, I used to bicycle frequently in the area, through the Washington Park Arboretum that borders the eastern edge of the valley. My how Madison Valley has changed since then, from a borderline scary neighborhood to a spiffed-up, gentrified stretch along Madison Street lined with charming shops and sophisticated eateries.
A couple girlfriends and I started our afternoon at longtime vegetarian/vegan favorite Cafe Flora, which after 22 years is still packed with long waits for their outstanding weekend brunch. When they opened in 1991 in the space of an old laundromat, Cafe Flora was the first truly vibrant and stylish vegetarian restaurant in Seattle and helped spark the Madison Valley renaissance.
There's a reason we waited 45 minutes for our table (no reservations accepted for parties under 6). The organic, mostly locally produced food is excellent, prepared in innovative ways along with classics. Mary got the kale and leek scramble, MaryAnn enjoyed the vegan and gluten-free southwest tacos with quinoa, yams, and black beans, and I had a caesar salad and side of the best roasted breakfast potatoes I've ever had. Yes, they were that good, creamy and savory and perfect. And because we were celebrating a birthday, we also shared a spiced apple scone and cinnamon roll. Divine!
|Yummy Cafe Flora cinnamon roll|
|Best. Potatoes. Ever.|
To work off some calories, I did a little wandering before heading to the Japanese Garden in the Washington Park Arboretum, with a stop in the fabulous City People's Garden Store, another long-time Madison Valley fixture. Besides the garden supplies, this store features an eclectic gift shop as well.
|City People's Garden Store|
|Ines Patisserie macarons|
When I arrive on what is a rainy, gray, and chilly afternoon, there's an open house for an exhibit of autumn photographs taken at the garden by local photographers. Ravishing fall colors and delicate Japanese maple leaves splash across these images. What a contrast to today!
"Today," photographer Aurora Santiago tells me, "the garden is just bare bones." Indeed. But still lovely and worth a stroll through this 3.5-acre formal garden laced with pathways and bridges surrounding a large central koi pond. Benches for admiring the views are scattered throughout.
Aurora told me that there is a special photographers membership to the Japanese Garden, which allows photographers access to the garden in the early morning and after it has closed. I can only imagine the more dramatic light here early and late in the day. Even on a day with flat light, I can't stop taking pictures.
After an hour or so of walking in the rain, it's time to get out of the early March chill. This garden definitely needs more exploring in different lights and later in the season. My next goal: come back for one of the formal Chado tea ceremonies at the garden's Shoseian Teahouse.
How about you? Have you been to a tea ceremony there or participated in some of the many annual events at the garden?
When You Go
Here's a general location map of Madison Valley in the Seattle area and some basic info on this desirable neighborhood. Besides Cafe Flora, there are several excellent restaurants and cafes in the valley, like Harvest Vine (Spanish), Voila (French Bistro), Essential Bakery Cafe, and Luc's (French-American bistro); here's a link to dining in Madison Valley.
Admission to the Japanese Garden is $6 for adults, and it's open each year from March 1 through November. Here's more basic visitor information about the garden.