Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Madison Valley Afternoon: Cafe Flora Feast and Scenic Japanese Garden

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
And oh, because I can't avoid anything that says patisserie, I had a peek in sweet little Ines Patisserie, tucked behind Cafe Flora.  I bought one of the pistachio hazelnut macarons, and the owner threw in an extra lemon macaron for the road (closing time), an exquisite treat for later. [Sadly Ines Patisserie is no longer there since I wrote this blog post.]

Ines Patisserie macarons
From there it's just a 10-minute walk to the Seattle Japanese Garden in the Washington Park Arboretum, which celebrated the season's "first viewing" a few weeks ago with a Shinto priest's blessing. Although I'm a native-born Seattleite, surprisingly this is my first time inside the garden gates.

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.


Suezy Proctor said...

When I was much younger, I found out that Kobe Japan was Seattle's sister city. I worked for Optical Illusions in Bellevue Square at the time, and was anticipating the arrival of several Japanese Women business owners - they all owned optical shops. One of my responsibilities was to find a gift for each guest and also some way to show a meaningful connection. For the gift, I purchased water colored note cards from a local Japanese artist at Pike Place Market, depicting the Japanese Garden you write about. For the meaningful connection, we took them to through the Arboretum and participated in a special Tea Ceremony in the garden, held in their honor. It was one of the highlights of their trip and of my life.

Ed said...

Cafe Flora is freaking sweet...we even bough their cook book. Have you ever made the french dip that they use portobellas instead of beef? Take a while but it is tasty as all heck...

Anne said...

Jill, your great-great grandfather named Madison street during his tenure as mayor of Seattle in the 1880s. So it is my favorite Seattle street, besides the fact that there are some great business and places bordering it, like the Arboretum!

Anonymous said...

Ahhh. I love these photos. Even with the "flat light" as you say, the scene is lovely. Thanks for sharing. And yes, those potatoes look awesome.

Jill said...

Suezy, thanks for sharing that beautiful memory.

Jill said...

Ha didn't know they had a cookbook!

Jill said...

Cool Anne, I didn't know that about our great-great granddad. Ah if only there was some trickle down.

Jill said...

Thanks Kim! Yea, the flat light is actually better for shooting than bright sunshine.

Lesley said...

Hey Jill,
I fell a little behind, but just caught up with the last few posts. Love that you included the Anjou ham sandwich in the mix -- definitely deserving. However, I especially love when they have a brie and sun-dried tomato combo. :) Also, you continue to inspire with the glimpses of "everyday places" -- the Japanese Garden looks well-worth an afternoon of exploration and relaxation. Keep up your great work!

Mab said...

I can't say enough about Cafe Flora..I thought it would a bit "tired" after all these years. I am happy to report that they haven't lost their touch. Amazing veggie tacos. Now I want to try a lemon macaroon at Ines Patisserie. How was that Jill?