I'm usually an obsessive planner - research for my annual trips to New York usually starts 3 months in advance, and involves a meal matrix (days X meals) as well as lists of restaurants by neighborhood. For our honeymoon, however, my husband and I were burned out from planning a wedding in four months and showed up with little more than plane tickets and hotel reservations we made the night before our flight.
We took the light rail in from the airport, got out too early, and walked to our hotel (the Inn at El Gaucho). Along the way, we passed Local 360, and something about it drew me in. I think they were advertising some sort of interesting alcohol on a chalkboard, and the warm, reclaimed wood and industrial fittings decor resonated. My instinct was spot on - it's a place I'd probably go to every week if it were in my neighborhood. We ended up eating there three times in three days.
First of all - their Dine Around menu. I generally avoid Dine Around/About - my experiences in the Bay Area and New York have generally yielded dumbed down menus featuring mostly chicken and salmon. Local 360's $30 Dine Around menu featured fried pig ears and all sorts of rabbit. The pig ears were thinly sliced, fried, and dressed in a lemony blue cheese sauce. The texture was perfect - crisp and chewy without the toughness that can mar lesser fried pig ears. We also ordered a rabbit crepinette with red flannel hash and a bacon wrapped rabbit loin (both perfectly executed but with some redundancy in the flavor profile, dominated by cherry and rabbit jus), shepherd's pie (good but not as memorable as their other dishes), and apple fritters with maple ice cream studded with bacon brittle (very good).
On the way out we took a peek at their brunch menu and spotted chicken fried steak, my husband's favorite food ("The problem with fried chicken", he says, "is that there's no beef."). 14 hours later, we were back, to order that chicken fried steak (possibly the best I've ever had - perfect craggy crust, and good quality steak. My husband wasn't crazy about the gravy, which committed the grave(y) sin of not having sausage bits, but I quite liked its mushroomy intensity). I also had a chicken soup with mushroom dumplings, which was just ok.
We really liked the concept of the local liquor flights - each was presented attractively on a sheet describing its provenance and characteristics, and paired with mixers and ice. We tried the whiskey and gin flights - while none of the whiskeys really impressed, we actually found our way to two of the distilleries (Woodinville and Mischief). The gins were really fun - I especially liked the lemongrass-y Cricket Club, by Indio Spirits.
We then made the obligatory Pike Place visit, where we had a mushroom and onion piroshky from Piroshky Piroshky (fine), mac and cheese from Beecher's (good, and the cheese-making theater aspect makes it even better), fried cod, halibut and salmon from Jack's Fish Spot (cod and halibut were great, salmon generally doesn't take well to frying, fries were forgettable), a chowder sampler from Pike Place Chowder (Seafood Bisque was my favorite, with fisherman's chowder second; DH liked the smoked salmon, and neither of us were impressed with the New England).
Dinner was at Serious Pie, where we enjoyed the frisee with egg and the clam pizzas, as well as the Elliot Bay Brewing 3.14 ale.
The next day was a travel day - we drove up to Vancouver, and along the way, we did what DH dubbed "The Triple" - a winery, a brewery, and a distillery in one day.
First up was Mischief, a recommendation from our waitress at Local 360 - the tasting room is super-cute, and the gin is terrific. We then stopped by Theo Chocolates next door - this may be the only place I've ever been that offered so many samples I actually couldn't try them all. We bought a lot of stuff here, but my favorites were the Ghost Chile chocolate bar (the burn is slow and potent, but the chile is also exceptionally flavorful) and the Bread and Chocolate bar (chocolate studded with buttered bread crumbs). We went back to our car to find the single most maddening parking ticket ever (no parking within 30 feet of a stop sign? And no red curb? WTF?)
We then stopped by Red Hook Brewery for their fun, inexpensive ($1 pp) tour with generous tastings, and Château St Michelle (they're pretty broadly distributed in the Bay Area, so it was fun to be able to try a bunch of their wines at once).
On our way back from Vancouver, we stayed overnight in Bothell (DH did some research one rainy afternoon in Vancouver and found something on the Bothell Wine Walk ($25 pp for 10 tastes)- we had briefly considered going out to Yakima to taste, then dismissed it, so we were happy to find a way to do some wine tasting without too much driving). It was located in the shopping center on Bothell's main street and 15 wineries were represented (most offered 2 types of wine to taste), each hosted by one of the local shops. Most of the wineries are located in the warehouse district in Woodinville and are run by young winemakers. My favorite was Open Road Wine Company, run by a young couple with an adorable baby. They had a really delicious non-oaked, non-secondary malolactic fermented chardonnay blended with a bit of viognier that took off the astringency that type of chard often has.
On our last day, we made our way to Woodinville. My husband had read up on Pacific Distillery, which operates out of a garage and makes gin and absinthe - per Washington State's liquor laws, they cannot offer tastings or sell from the distillery itself, but we wanted to see it. We found it tucked amongst a thousand other identical looking spaces in the warehouse district and gingerly knocked on the metal sliding garage door - up came the door, and we were enveloped by the most intoxicating perfume of absinthe. It was bottling day, and the whole family was involved. The owner/distiller/father greeted us and apologized that he wouldn't be able to spend as much time with us as he normally would (we were just grateful to be able to see the operations - the website suggests emailing in advance before visiting). As we chatted, he gracefully multitasked, wielding a heat gun to shrink wrap the foil caps on each bottle while gently admonishing his daughter not to push the corks in quite so far. With the bizarre transition in liquor laws in Washington now, he wasn't able to tell us where we might be able to by his product in Washington, but one of the well known wine shops in the Bay Area does carry it, so we at least have an outlet near home (their Voyager gin is pretty popular with some of the better cocktail places at home).
Next up - Woodinville Whiskey. We loved the vodka made from soft winter wheat - it was lush and smooth, and only the second vodka I've ever tasted that i like enough to drink straight (the first is from Hangar One, a few miles from my house). The whiskeys were good, and my husband couldn't resist the age your own kit, so we came back with three bottles of their unaged White Dog and a mini-cask.
While we were in the parking lot trying to decide where to go next, a lovely, slightly tipsy woman knocked on my window, commented on our California license plate (a total coincidence, as it was a rental car we picked up in Seattle), bonded with my husband over their respective freshman dorms at UC Berkeley, and directed us to JM Winery, where we spent the rest of our afternoon. Their red blends are terrific - they don't hew strictly to either Bordeaux or Rhone profiles, and manage to have big, lush fruit without high alcohol.
Before returning to the airport, we paid one more visit to Local 360 for another round of pig ears and chicken fried steak, then hit up Via Tribunali in Fremont for their exceptional happy hour deal - small, $5 pizzas (margherita, marinara, salame), perfectly executed. I'd read that their style was pretty purely Neapolitan, with the softer, wetter center, but maybe because of the smaller diameter, ours were crisp throughout (while still having desirable flexibility).
In retrospect, it was pretty amazing that we had zero misses on a trip with minimal pre-planning. We owed a lot to the friendliness and generosity of locals, and a little to serendipity. We had a blast, and apparently it poured in the Bay Area the entire time we were there, so we didn't even lose out on weather!