Tuesday, September 8, 2009

FoodTrek: PAX Vorare

If you've been reading Wasabi Prime's Tweets, first of all THANK YOU, as I appreciate your following of my random bursts of 140 characters or less, and secondly, based on the Twittering, you will have realized that despite the scheduled food posts, it wasn't really that much of a labor-free Labor Day weekend. I spent Saturday and Sunday at the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), in support of my plus-one, Brock, and the super-awesome team of Runic Games, and their game, Torchlight. I put my gamer face on, which is quite a feat, considering I'm not much of a gamer. And by "not much of a gamer," I mean, "I like Tetris because colorful blocks are fun." But being right in the heart of downtown Seattle for a weekend afforded me the rare luxury of visiting some favorite eating spots.

Feel the loving beer-laden embrace of Six Arms - Photos by Wasabi Prime

If you're familiar with the Seattle Convention Center, you're probably aware of the giant Cheesecake Factory sign. I didn't go there. Nothing against large, national chain restaurants, as they have to get down with their bad selves in a faltering economy with the rest of the industry, but I figured they wouldn't mind if I spent my lunch money elsewhere, and their phonebook-sized menu kinda weirds me out. Walking up on E. Pike St. the from the convention center, towards the Capitol Hill neighborhood, one will come across the glory that is Six Arms. It's part of the McMenamins pub family, offering hearty, inexpensive soups and sandwiches, along with a tasty beer menu of local brews. Their menu is a friendly mix of meat and vegetarian dishes, offering familiar pub fare like sandwich wraps and finger food appetizers, but they're all made with quality ingredients and you don't feel like everything's just been sitting in fry oil.

When you walk into Six Arms, it's a great example of Seattle quirk. The bar is framed with an arch made up of plumbing pipes. Posters for events and concerts, both past and upcoming, cover the walls. The light fixtures on the high ceilings are retro starbursts of metal and small lightbulbs. The deep red paint on the walls make you feel cozy as you sidle up into one of their booths. It has the proper feel of a neighborhood place while being a short walk away from the convention center, so there's no reason to wait for a seat in an overcrowded chain restaurant when you can go to somewhere as unique and wonderful as this place.

I went with a half turkey sandwich for $5.50 -- they had me at cranberry relish -- and a refreshing pint of their Ruby raspberry ale, the first fruity ale to be legally produced in the United States back in the like, totally rad year that was 1985. I know beer aficionados bemoan the fact that brews have gotten more rooty-tooty fresh n' fruity over the years, in the hopes of attracting a wider female audience, but for better or worse, McMenamins' Ruby ale is a perfectly delightful glass o' heaven to have with a simple turkey sandwich. Brock had his usual, which is to say the steak wrap. It looked delicious and if I wasn't so busy trying to take food photos, I'd have stolen a bite, but I'm sure I'll be back again soon enough.

These are a few of my favorite things - way better than raindrops on roses - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Warning: this is a tater tot establishment. Abandon all hope of fries, ye who enter here. Not that it's a bad thing, as I have an equal love of potatoes in all shapes and forms, especially when fried. But I know some folks appreciate fries over tots. Napoleon Dynamite would approve of this place, as their tots are crispy, flavorful and delicious. Consider yourself tater tot advised.

Six Arms has been an old favorite, and it was nice to be given another opportunity to enjoy a beer and lunch at this neighborhood haunt that's full of local character. PAX guests planning on returning for next year's event, take note of this place.

Victrola shows coffee the love - Photos by Wasabi Prime

The best thing to combat the post-lunch/beer foodbaby coma: have a coffee at Victrola, which is conveniently a few steps away from Six Arms. There's the common association with Seattle and coffee, since it's the birthplace of java megatron, Starbucks, but Victrola is an example of why the love between Seattle and coffee is an affair worth remembering. It's a small, specialty coffee company, so their beans are lovingly roasty-toastied to perfection in small batches. And it's truly roasted, not burned, aka French Roast. You can actually taste the subtle flavors of the beans, as all the oils aren't burned out from the roasting process like most industrial roasters do, for the sake of consistency. Victrola has respect for the almighty bean, and it shows in each drink they pour. I'm more of a latte drinker, and they don't shame folks like me who like to have a little coffee with their milk. They flourish their beverages with lovely foam designs, which I always appreciate, as it's a sign of a cafe's attention to detail. They recently had a competition over latte art, and if you doubt the power of beautiful foam, check them out on Victrola's blog, which has a link to other competition photos.

The rest of Saturday was a blur of quick snacks, a few hastily-imbibed cocktails, and an early finish at an after-party held by Warner Bros. Too tired to party on like Wayne and Garth, we retired for the night for Sunday's final round of PAX.

A little piece of France in Seattle? Oui, oui! - Photos by Wasabi Prime

On an early Sunday morn, I took some "Wasabi Time" and walked down to Pike's Market before the rush of the tourist/brunch crowd hit. One of my favorite spots is Cafe Campagne, located right on Post Alley at Pine, across from the ubiquitous red neon cup o' coffee sign, down the steep cobblestone path into the main market. It was still early, and because it's by the Inn at the Market, they thankfully start brunch at eight and you can just walk in and have a bite. I indulged in their wonderfully Francophile menu and ordered one of their spécialitées de la maison, the Pâté de Campagne. A gorgeous terrine of creamy, seasoned pork and chicken liver, served up in a chilled slab with a crispy baguette, lightly dressed greens, olives, pickled onions and cornichons. Don't be hating on the organ meat; it can be a lovely thing when it's done right, and Cafe Campagne does a mean pâté. It couldn't get much more French than this, and sitting in the little corner table, it was a nice moment of calm. I don't smoke, but it would have been a great time to have started, just to soak in the whole civilized mood before the dining area became too full. There were other single-party breakfast diners who were also taking in the early morning lull, morning papers in hand. I recommend coming in first-thing for a quiet Sunday breakfast or just during the week, when it's not too busy. The Market can be a bustling place, and I don't get to come as often as I'd like, so being able to enjoy an early breakfast there was a luxury in and of itself.

Organ meat is the breakfast of champions - Photo by Wasabi Prime

It was a picture-perfect Seattle morning, which is to say, gray, windy and rainy. My lack of preparation heading down to the Market left me running for cover for a few city blocks, scampering from one covered awning to the next, trying to make my way back up to the convention center. In a moment of drowned-rat misery, standing against a building waiting for the deluge to dial back, I had to remember what a friend once told me, which is that when things like this happen, just pretend you're in a movie. So I did. I pretended I was in a movie set in Paris, after a lovely breakfast, running through the rainy streets, waiting for my handsome leading man to find me for a lamppost corner embrace, and then WHAMMO, reality set in when I saw a herd of nerds dressed up like characters from Halo walk by. Doh.

I'm very thankful to Runic Games for giving me the opportunity to experience the Penny Arcade Expo, and all the sensory overload one gets when walking the exhibition hall floor. The team did an amazing job, and it afforded me a rare chance to do some extended wandering downtown and revisit some favorite places for a mini foodie vacation. To see more photos of PAX, go to the Prime's sister site, The Jaunty Magpie.

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  1. Sounds like you had a great weekend. I'm also into the videogame. But more of the casual games than hard core game. Halo is a very popular game. No surprise you see some guys dressing like Halo characters:) The way you describe Victrola makes me want some coffee. It won't be as good as Victrola though.

  2. Wow - not a good idea to read the blog w/o having had lunch. The food looks SO GOOD! Especially those tater tots . . . yummmm

  3. Go Team Tater Tots! Yeah, reading about them can be dangerous for one's empty stomach -- won't stay empty for long. I'm so not a video gamer, but am so totally amazed at the enthusiasm people have over certain games.


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