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Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.

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March 31, 2008 11:22 AM

Pike Place Market: How lucky can we get?

Posted by Nancy Leson

I've spent many column inches over the years writing about how much I love Pike Place Market, and it's no word of a lie: I'm crazy about the place.

I just don't get it when people tell me they only go to the Market when they've got friends or family visiting from out of town. Yes, I know there are fabulous farmer's markets everywhere these days, and there's no question that some of our amazing supermarkets are one-stop shopping places with scads of free parking, but to me, nothing -- nothing -- beats Pike Place Market.

If you haven't been there for a while (or worse, never been there), let me share my Market with you. . .

On Saturday, I spent four hours tooling around the place, alone. I ate. I shopped. I chewed the fat with my favorite shop-keeps. I shopped some more. And then, before I left, I ate again. The sun even came out for the occasion.

Because I'm working on an oyster-bar roundup, and because I was starving, my first stop was Emmett Watson's Oyster Bar where I downed a half-dozen oysters. Because it was Saturday (and because it was Emmett Watson's), I washed that lunch down with a $2 beer-shortie.



And because you can never eat enough oysters in my opinion, I also hit Jack's Fish Spot where I saw something I rarely see: a bunch of kids sitting at the counter. I ordered a half-dozen oysters then asked the kids if they'd ever eaten a raw oyster. Nope. (They were eating chowder and fries). "Oh, come on! They're delicious!" I told them. "Who's going to be brave enough to try one?" And that's when 10-year-old Zac Purcell, who lives in Madrona and was here with his brother, his parents and some friends from Spokane, spoke up. Here his is, eating his very first raw oyster. Yo, Zac. You rock!



Next, I took the secret elevator down to Western Avenue:

And I spent a half hour sniffing spices at World Spice.



Each time I go, I buy something I've never tried before, which is how I got addicted to Aleppo pepper (great for rubbing on meats before grilling or roasting) and their Sri Lankan curry blend. (Be sure to check out CeCe Sullivan's take on cooking with world spices in this coming Wednesday's Seattle Times food page.) This time I couldn't resist buying an ounce of poivron rouge -- an incredibly deep-red sweet pepper from Marrakech that's similar to paprika. (Here's some, spread out on a piece of computer paper.)



Then I went across the street to the Spanish Table, where I snagged a jar of Matiz brand Navarra beans (on sale for $2.99) and a couple of bottles of Spanish wine. They've got a generous wine selection, with racks stocked by price-point, which is especially helpful if you're like me and you're always looking for a bottle in the $10-range.


I managed to walk through DeLaurenti without buying anything, but not without stopping to sample some of the astonishing number of olive oils. You know how you see all these expensive olive oils and say, "I'm not going to spend $35 on something I've never tasted!" Well, here you can try before you buy. They're pretty generous with their tasting selection:



Just outside of DeLaurenti, I found umpteen people lined up at the Daily Dozen Donut Company for a bag of mini-donuts, fried on the spot. Me? I'd much rather have a kasha knish hot from the oven at I Love New York Deli -- the kiosk next to Daily Dozen. I ordered a couple of kasha knishes from owner Jon Jacobs (one for now, one for later), and when I asked him how things were going at his tiny take-out spot, he said, (I love this!) "It's exactly what I dreamed of, only ten times better." Doesn't he look happy?



When I'm cold and hungry, I usually stop by the counter at Oriental Mart for a bowl of salmon soup, but on Saturday I just stopped by to say hi to my friend Auntie Lei.



Auntie Lei (aka Leila Rosas) runs this joint with her sister Joy. And if you don't count the three seconds when she smiled for my camera, it was obvious to me that, unlike Jon Jacobs, Auntie Lei wasn't too happy on Saturday. When I asked her whatsamatter, she told me about the Market management's plans for her little corner of the Market: they want to put an elevator exactly where her kitchen stands. The same kitchen she slaves in seven days a week. Leila and Joy's parents opened their Asian food store 35 years ago, and Lei's been cooking her famous chicken adobo here since they put in the counters and the kitchen in the mid-80s. Today she can prep, cook, serve customers and wash dishes blindfolded. Which is to say she's none too thrilled at any proposed changes -- don't get her started.

I was also in the market (literally and figuratively) for some produce. I buy my produce at Sosio's, where my friend and neighbor Mike Osborn (whose daughter Jackie used to babysit my son), always hooks me up with something ridiculously delicious. Like these plums, which were expensive, but totally worth it.



I took one bite of those purple orbs and guess what I said? (and this was before I saw the sign):



Off to the butcher. I'd seen a great recipe for caramelized Vietnamese pork ribs in my favorite cookbook, "All About Braising," by Molly Stevens. I needed a couple of pounds of baby back ribs, so I stopped in to see Don Kazaro, Jr. at Don & Joe's Meats.

We talked about the weird weather -- snowing one minute and sunny the next, and when I told him the day was perfect because I was at the Market, and mentioned that my husband and son were planting trees for salmon habitat, (or "out in nature" as I described it), he asked, "Why aren't you out in nature?" I looked at him sideways and pointed out the obvious: "This is my nature." Here's Don in his nature-place:


Last, I stopped in to say hi to Kevin Davis at the Steelhead Diner -- a guy I consider one of the best chefs in the Pacific Northwest.



"Hungry?" he asked. And when I told him I couldn't possibly eat another thing, he insisted I try "just a little bit" of his latest bliss: geoduck, fresh from from Taylor Shellfish Farms. He only brings it in as a special, and he's planning to bring more of it in on Friday. Seeing as I love geoduck almost as much as I love oysters, I relented. (My arm still hurts from the twisting -- not!) So he pulled out a big meat-tenderizing mallet, smacked the "duck's" body around a bit, dredged it in flour, sauteed it briefly and served me a little square with a classic beurre meuniere.

Had someone taken a photo of me sitting there eating that perfect piece of seafood on that oh-so-perfect Saturday, I'd have looked exactly like Zac did after he ate his first oyster:


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Food for Thought | Nancy Leson on KPLU

Listen to Nancy at 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. during Morning Edition, at 4:40 p.m. during All Things Considered and again the following Saturday at 8:30 a.m. during Weekend Edition on KPLU 88.5.

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