Taste of the Town
Skip the plane food — just eat at Sea-Tac
Only ticketed passengers and airline personnel can enter Sea-Tac's Pacific Marketplace food court.
I went to the airport: to eat. I was there, armed with a prodigious appetite and security clearance from the nice folks at the Port of Seattle, to check out Pacific Marketplace, the new food court at Sea-Tac. Here, travelers can fuel up before or after a flight, or stock up on carry-on fare, relaxing in a comfortable light-filled atrium where they can nosh till they drop. Which was exactly what I did a week ago Tuesday during the very busy lunch hours.
Seated in this vast central hall among a fleet of new retail shops and eating spots, I had my chance to "Look, up in the air!" through a beauteous 60-foot wall of windows with a wide-angle view of runways and the Olympics. Glorious. And that's only the beginning of the good news.
Turns out everything I sampled at the fancy new food court was much, much better than what they're serving on the plane. Which, if you haven't noticed lately, is either nothing or next to nothing. In addition, airport price gouging does not exist at Pacific Marketplace but some of the city's slick quick-service eateries do.
Prices at the Pallino Pastaria here are comparable to its stores in U-Village or Woodinville. Love the rich chocolate mousse at Dilettante Mocha Cafe in downtown Seattle? Lucky you: You can love it at Sea-Tac ($3.50 and packed with a plastic lid). Other happy news? Each of the new eateries is required to serve something resembling breakfast, and each opens at 5 a.m.
Now for the bad news: Closing time is 10 p.m. And Anthony's restaurant — the only full-service venue in the marketplace's new hub — is running behind schedule, presently slated to open June 21. So I can't weigh in on how "full" the service is or how well the kitchen translates Anthony's signature seafood recipes, set to include favorites like mahi mahi tacos ($9.95) and wild king salmon ($19.95). But, after a sneak preview of the marketplace venue I can tell you this:
If you've eaten at Anthony's Bell Street Diner or at Chinook's at Fisherman's Terminal, you'll feel right at home bellying up to the counter here, checking out the Northwest wine list or begging for a table out on the glass-enclosed "deck" with its view of the runways. With its rustic-modern Pacific Northwest design-theme (a salmon-centric description that extends to the chairs and artwork set throughout the spacious food court) Anthony's looks several thousand times more appealing than, say, the T.G.I. Friday's at the airport in Newark, N.J.
Stepping out from Anthony's into "quick serve"-central, my marketplace tasting tour began at Pallino Pastaria. Service proved scattered and slow here, but the Tuscan bean soup (hinting of bacon and heavy with herbs, $3.95) and thin-crusted, basil-scented pizza Margherita (from a gas-fueled oven prettily positioned behind the counter, $8.50) were well worth the 10-minute wait. Cold pizza fans take note: Pizza to go comes in sturdy cardboard, one handily feeds two and you'll be the envy of your seatmates if you carry one on board.
The Pallino Grinder ($7.50) may be grilled upon request, but I took mine from the grab-'n'-go case and, in the name of science, sampled it two hours after I bought it. Which would be right about the time your flight attendant might be saying: "We'll be coming through with the beverage cart in a moment." Built on a rustic baguette, this Italian sub was thinly layered with salami, pepperoni, turkey and provolone and its promised prosciutto was, on close inspection, missing in action.
After packing my leftovers in a brown bag (with handles, thanks Pallino!), I approached a trio of young Marines and donated my pizza — save for a single piece — to their cause (Hey, it's the least I could do!). Then it was off to Qdoba Mexican Grill for a kid's meal ($3.19) and a chicken mole burrito ($5.59).
My kid would have no complaints about that soft taco filled with grilled beef. It came with a variety of toppings, a side of tortilla chips and salsa, and a soft drink large enough to make certain your kid will be begging to "go potty" right about the time the plane is taxiing down the runway.
The chicken mole burrito (expertly rolled with rice, beans and my choice of toppings) weighed in at about 6 pounds and tasted great the next day eaten cold from the fridge. Finish this bad boy and you can fly all the way to Tokyo before you're hungry again.
Speaking of which, Maki of Japan, a national chain offering Chinese foods and sushi, will please anyone in search of frequently refreshed steam-table fare of the Chinese-American variety. You know: just like what you'd get at the mall. Hungry? Try the combo plate (a deal at $7.49). My choices: a chubby egg roll, bourbon chicken (a teriyaki-like best bet) and barbecued pork with a side of yakisoba noodles or fried rice (have the rice).
Considering the venue, Maki's sushi is great, especially if you do as I did: special order something that's not in the grab-'n'-go fridge. I made out with a prettily packaged eel roll ($6.99) and a pair of salmon nigiri ($3.29). Again, the wait during a busy lunch hour (five minutes, tops) was worth it and, in case you were wondering, I did not wait two hours to sample the raw salmon.
With so many people vying for a table — one that's maintained by a conscientious clean-up crew — it's quite possible that you might make the acquaintance of other travelers. I made room at my table for a couple of kind ladies on their way to Chicago and was quick to inquire about their choice of lunch: burgers and fries from Wendy's. "We prefer Burger King, but the price was right!" they said. And no, they didn't mind having to wait in the longest line in the food court, seeing as they had time to kill.
Later I chatted up a family en route from California to Montana whose table looked like a veritable smorgasbord. Dad was sipping Starbucks (What? You thought there wouldn't be Starbucks in here?), the baby was sleeping in her stroller, and one of her big brothers was scarfing fish 'n' chips from Ivar's Seafood Bar. Meanwhile, Mom was forking into an entree-sized chicken Caesar from Dish D'Lish ($7.49) — whose most interesting ingredient, I'd later find out after sampling myself, was not its vaguely dry chicken or its creamy dressing but its complement of tabbouleh salad.
"I want fish 'n' chips, too!" complained the other brother. "But you asked for a grilled cheese!" said Dad, attempting to "keep calm." Ten minutes later, while waiting for my fish 'n' chips from Ivar's and trying valiantly to figure out how I can possibly eat another bite, up walks Dad. "Have I got a deal for you!" I told him. And that's how I ended up sharing my most excellent fish (four pieces of beautifully batter-dipped cod) and chips (hot, crisp, skin-on fries) with a 5-year-old in a cowboy hat from Montana.
My last stop: Dish D'Lish, a café clone of Kathy Casey's Pike Place Market specialty-foods shop. (Casey writes a monthly food column for The Seattle Times.) I couldn't help but give the evil eye to the pilot in full regalia who had bought his goodies at Ivar's but ate them here in the relatively intimate confines of this modern-diner-style setting: complete with cafe tables and a world of gift-worthy noshables. I'm sure he was raising his eyebrow at me as I sat surrounded by takeout bags filled with leftovers while sampling vegetarian lasagna layered with pesto ricotta and roasted vegetables ($6.99 and double d'lish!).
And it was here that I bought exactly what that dad from Montana neglected to buy and sorely needed: a 24-ounce spill-proof plastic cup of "Cranberry Cosmo Lemonade" ($2.99). Hand-shaken and machine-sealed in the manner of bubble-tea joints everywhere, this tasted truly great unadulterated. But saved till you get on the plane and the booze-cart makes its way to your seat, well, who says you can't get a great mixed drink on an airplane?
Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find more columns at seattletimes.com/nancyleson
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