Dining in South Lake Union, Seattle
Tech town 2.0.
Northern California’s Silicon Valley has been synonymous with tech industry innovations since the early 1980s, but now the tech set is moving north to Seattle’s South Lake Union district.
“The neighborhood has just exploded over the last few years because it’s home to Amazon now,” explains Ryan Crosby, community relations manager at Seattle’s Pan Pacific hotel, nestled in the heart of the area. “They’ve taken up all the commercial space around here and are in the process of creating a brand new campus as well, so there’s a lot of growth.” Microsoft has offices here too, along with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Tommy Bahama may seem the odd man out, but the area is being settled by a number of big names not exclusive to the Silicon faction. Regardless of industry, the Pan Pacific is there to house new recruits as more office spaces are erected in the Emerald City. Spacious suites feature roomy workspaces, plush beds, and large bathrooms complete with soaker tubs from which one can slide aside shoji screens to watch movies. Many rooms come with views of the Space Needle, and all adhere to the hotel’s impressive sustainability standards.
The hotel’s staff are keen to make restaurant recommendations, although guests need not travel far for a satisfying nosh—an abundance of options are available in the area. Mere blocks away, vintage Coca-Cola soda bottles line the shelves of the spacious La Toscanella bakery. Illuminated cases house a plethora of iced, frosted, and puffed treats. Breakfast skillets and quiche are also at the ready, not to mention flaky almond croissants and fruit-filled pockets dusted with powdered sugar.
Toscanella’s savory antithesis is Indian darling Shanik, sister restaurant to Vancouver institution Vij’s (named after its chef Vikram Vij, a newly minted Dragons’ Den member). The spice-laden menu was designed by chef Meeru Dhalwala (Shanik is named for her daughter). Lamb-beef kebobs with creamy fennel seed curry are a favourite appetizer, but the plates here are for sharing—although you’ll want to keep the kale, jackfruit, and cauliflower curry to yourself.
“Vikram is like a hero to me,” says William Belickis, chef and owner of nearby Mistral Kitchen, a relaxed culinary stop with haute cuisine roots frequented by glass sculptor Dale Chihuly. “As I start to progress in my career, I think less about being a cook in a kitchen and more about running my entire restaurant.” Belickis has an anything goes mentality, captured in his 15-course tasting menus crafted to satisfy each individual diner. Creativity is encouraged among patrons and expected among staff. Belickis welcomes the challenge of diet restrictions, be it vegan, gluten-free, or the like. “I recommend [diners] start with the cold, raw things at the top of the menu and work their way down. We also have guests say ‘surprise me’ and then we have the opportunity to invent new dishes, and maybe they’ll become a menu item next week.”
To wash it all down, Sun Liquor Distillery’s vodka and gins feature notes of juniper berries, grains of paradise, and sarsaparilla root, and its rums use sugar cane from the Louisiana bayou. Handmade bitters change with the seasons, and come summer, rhubarb is collected from the head distiller’s backyard. Rain City Spirits’ coffee-flavoured liqueur Drip is a must-buy and suspected fuel for the city’s new army of night owl coders.
At the Pan Pacific’s home base, 2200 Plaza, the hotel itself is neighbour to Air Force One favourite Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria, a Starbucks (this is Seattle, after all), and a Whole Foods Market as well as the award-winning Seastar Restaurant & Raw Bar. Happy hour is not to be missed at the lobby bar, where sushi, crab cakes, and edamame hummus are complemented by Pan Pellinis (a refreshing bellini stand-in). While it is clear this is not the burrito laden, sun-drenched land of Silicon Valley, the refined cuisine of South Lake Union feels more like tech town 2.0.