Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 22, 2017
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Seduced by Seattle

Great art, fresh food and cool architecture. What's not to love?

Talk to Americans in the know and you may tire of hearing Seattle listed as the most affable city in the land. Once a rowdy, rough-and-tumble Pacific port reaping a fortune outfitting Gold Rush prospectors en route to the Yukon, it's evolved. The city is at once civil and civilized, innovative and enterprising, distinct in its Pacific Northwest flavour and yet a world away from Vancouver or Victoria.

Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks and Amazon are Seattle companies. Bill Gates was born here. Other celebrated Seattleites include jazz musician Quincy Jones, glass sculptor Dale Chihuly and film director Cameron Crowe. Cool, the lot of them.

THURSDAY
11am: Waiting For Godot
A kilometre from the US border crossing south of White Rock, it seems like it will take 36 hours to reach Seattle. Among the towering achievements of the Bush administration is the transformation of the world's longest unguarded border into the world's longest waiting line. On weekends, that's six to eight hours gone, just like that.

Canadians come prepared with tomes like Conrad Black's Roosevelt bio or Gone With the Wind. Hold it a minute. Maybe it's not about keeping all the terrorists in Canada. Maybe it's really a literacy program. If you can manage it at all, leave mid-week instead.

2pm: On The Road Again
Finally, you're back on track, and the actual driving along the pastoral Pacific Route is considerably more pleasant. Take the time to rev up for playing tourist in Seattle (www.visitseattle.org).

4:30pm: Sleepless in Seattle?
Check in at the Ändra (2000 Fourth Avenue; tel: 877-448-8600; www.hotelandra.com; doubles from $189), a boutique hotel distinguished by stylish Pacific Northwest interiors, Starbucks in the room, a complimentary New York Times at your door and extra-comfy beds. It's easy walking distance to the shopping district, Pike Place Market and loads of restaurants.

7:30pm: Italy on my Mind
It's a five-minute walk to Barolo Ristorante (1940 Westlake Avenue; tel: 206-770-9000; www.baroloseattle.com) where the glimmer and shimmer of mirrors, chandeliers and dripping wax candelabras -- a motif that extends even to the washrooms -- welcomes on a rainy evening.

From the Varchetta family, whose cosy Mama Melina has pleased Seattleites for two decades, Barolo is contemporary Italian glamour with a high-voltage menu to match. Crusty Italian bread and tapenade arrive at the table moments after you do, and you're off.

Barolo isn't interested in small flavours. Although the menu drifts to Piedmont, sautéed calamari reveals Sicilian roots in the kitchen: the cephalopod comes drizzled with lemon, olive oil and capers. Veal carpaccio brings velvety, sweet meat sliced less stingily than in most restaurants. It is draped over baby arugula with aged Parmesan, explosive little capers and a dreamy truffle mélange.

House-made gnocchi festooned with rich-tasting chunks of roast pheasant is light and fluffy. Fork-tender veal scaloppini comes spiked with the chef's signature touch of lemon then blanketed oh-so-generously with sliced black truffle. The Medicis never had it so good.

FRIDAY
10am: Looking Back
Start the day by meandering around Pioneer Square (www.pioneersquare.org), Seattle's classy historic quarter. It is 20 blocks of 19th-century Victorian-Romanesque architecture, antique shops, galleries, museums and restaurants. And coffee, of course.

11am: The Cistern Chapel
Seattle's history rests on a fascinating foundation -- literally. After the Great Fire of 1889 razed its wooden buildings, 33 blocks were rebuilt on top of the rubble which raised the city above flood level. For a year, the city operated on two levels, with drops as great as 10 metres between street and sidewalk. No one perished in the fire, but 17 people died taking a step in the wrong direction.

Join tourists from as far off as Korea and Singapore for the Underground Tour (608 First Avenue; tel: 206- 682-4646; www.undergroundtour.com). Leading through a maze of rubble and cobwebs, this could be a creepy experience, but tour organizers play it for laughs, mostly at the expense of corrupt politicians of the day. The tour runs 90 minutes. "If you keep up with the jokes, we'll get you outta here faster," chortles our guide, and lives up to her word. A tsunami of puns -- "welcome to the cistern chapel" -- ensues.

1pm: Life on the Half Shell
For lunch, try Emmett Watson's Oyster Bar (1916 Pike Place, Suite 16; tel: 206-448-7721) in the Pike Place Market. Yes, it's plain and kind of homely. Yes, some of the food -- rubbery clams, chips with the consistency of dry wall -- is gawd-awful. But the clam chowder is so thick and rich with clams, bacon, onion and potatoes, a fork would stand up in it, and the bivalves themselves, nude on the half-shell, show what Pacific oysters are all about.

2:30pm: Soaring Sculpture
It can be argued that the measure of any city is its public art. The Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park (2901 Western Avenue; tel: 206-654- 3100; www.seattleartmuseum.org) is an inspiration, a magnificent use of three and a half hectares of prime, downtown real estate. Admission is free and, on a good day, the vista of Puget Sound and snow-capped Olympic Mountains rivals Vancouver's.

 

Sculptural superstar Alexander Calder's soaring Eagle has, arguably, replaced the familiar Space Needle as the city's enduring symbol. Like all great sculpture, this eagle has to be seen every which way over a leisurely afternoon as it layers one urban perspective after another and frames passing Seattleites as silhouettes against the Puget Sound sundown.

Follow the 670-metre Z-shaped path. See it all: Mark Dion's Neukom Vivarium is pure West Coast, an 18-metre-long "nurse log" sprawled in a 24-metre-long greenhouse, the log simultaneously decaying and teeming with plant, lichen and insect life.

The playful Typewriter Eraser by Claes Oldenberg and Coosje van Bruggen appears to be trying to stop traffic. Roxy Paine's Split is a stainless steel tree so graceful, you'd never think it supports 2270 kilograms of cantilevered branches. And Teresita Fernandez's Cloud Cover, a glass bridge playing to the city's changing cloudscape, transforms passers-by into art as they make their way across the park.

7:30pm: The Gras is Greener
In the courtyard of the Inn at the Market, Campagne (86 Pine Street; tel: 206-728-2800; www.campagnerestaurant.com) gives off the amber glow of a French country dining room. Its stellar appetizer is foie gras steak, a portion three times the size of the exiguous Toonie-sized jewel you'd get for the same money in Toronto or Vancouver. This fois gras demonstrates why they call it "the cocaine of cuisine." Chef Daisley Gordon further proves his Gallic credentials with ris de veau -- yes, sweetbreads, the grand gland -- in butter, shallots and capers. And afterwards, there's a hazelnut crème brûlée to rival LeCirque's Manhattan marvel.

SATURDAY
10am: Smorgasboard Sights
Now into its 101st year, Seattle's Pike Place Market (Pike Place at First Avenue; tel: 206-682-7453; www.pikeplacemarket.org) is one of the oldest continuously operated markets in the US. It's Seattle's number one tourist attraction. Washington State's, too. The arguable hub of Pacific Northwest foodiedom, any Seattle visit starts -- and probably ends -- right here.

Pike Place is right up there with the street markets of Paris at Christmas and the country markets of southwest France. It's almost all about food. It hasn't been hijacked by fast foodsters or corporations (although Starbucks and Seattle's Best both started here). A governing non-profit corporation keeps it honest; 80 percent of the Market economy comes from food.

It's a city in itself. It covers eight blocks containing 23 buildings, 250 shops, 100 farmers, 250 craftspeople and 300 buskers. It has its own hotel, the Inn at the Market (86 Pine Street; tel: 206- 443-3600; www.innatthemarket.com; rooms from $225) and a bed-and-breakfast, Pensione Nichols (1923 First Avenue; tel: 206-441-7125; www.pensionenichols.com; doubles from $120). There are also 400 apartments subsidized for about 500 elderly and low-income earners. Plus, there's a medical clinic, food bank, senior centre, child care centre and preschool. The market should get its own flag.

2pm: Fiction, Funk and Fame
How many cities can boast a Science Fiction Museum (325 Fifth Avenue North; tel: 206-770-2700; www.empsfm.org) and a sci-fi Hall of Fame? Worth the short monorail trip to Seattle Centre -- the urban park sprung from the 1962 World's Fair -- it's an onslaught of artifacts and memorabilia saluting science fiction pioneers from H.G. Wells to Robert Heinlein, as well as SF filmmakers Ray Harryhausen, Steven Spielberg and James Cameron. It's colourful, cheesy, good fun.

Co-located in the same structure designed by Frank Gehry -- resembling a giant gob of bilious blue ice cream -- is the Experience Music Project, a tribute to American music and Pacific Northwest talents including Bing Crosby, Ernestine Anderson, Ray Charles and Quincy Jones. It holds the world's largest collection of Jimi Hendrix memorabilia.

7pm: Caviar Pie, Anyone?
The hot newcomer on the Pike Place restaurant scene is the Steelhead Diner (95 Pine Street; tel: 206 -625-0129, www.steelheaddiner.com), a first restaurant for chef-owner Kevin Davis and his wife, Terresa. Beneficiaries of a policy that permits only chef-owners to operate restaurants here, they buy most supplies from Market vendors and boast no ingredients from "south of Oregon or east of Idaho."

Originally from New Orleans, Davis cooks American with the current accents of the global kitchen. His table salt is deeply smoked with alder wood and his pepper zapped with habanero and lemon, both from World Spices on the Market's lowest level. Razor-clam chowder gets the obligatory truffle oil drizzle. His packed Dungeness crab cake -- a whole crab's worth -- leaves its peers looking effete by comparison.

You won't find steelhead trout on the menu -- it's what Chef likes to catch as a fly fisherman -- but who cares when you can start with caviar pie? Think mascarpone cream topped with a rainbow of American sturgeon, trout, salmon and golden whitefish eggs, sitting in a hail of finely chopped onion, egg and capers. Health warning: can produce delirium in the sensually unimpaired.

SUNDAY
10am: Hoarding the Goods
You can't get out of town without one last stop at the market for take-home. Talk to a lot of uncommonly cheerful people who know what they're selling, where it comes from, what it's about and why you should buy it. Then buy it.

Come away with glowingly fresh Hawaiian swordfish and the biggest scallops you've ever seen from Pure Food, the oldest of the four fish markets; dark chocolate linguine -- yes, chocolate -- from Papardelle's; chanterelles and Oregon truffles from Sosio's; hazelnut flour and dry-roasted hazelnuts from Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards; from Le Panier, baguettes and croissants the way they turn 'em out in Paris; and a seething jalapeno-habanero jam from Mick's Peppourri. How can you resist any product described as a "circus in the mouth?"

Successful shoppers you are, but take notice: you've barely skimmed the surface of what there is to see and do in Seattle. You've missed the Klondike Goldrush National Historic Park, the Future of Flight and Boeing Tour -- design your own aircraft and test its airworthiness via computer -- the Museum of Glass with its 152-metre-long Chihuly Bridge of Glass, the Seattle Art Museum and the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

You'll just have to come back.

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