The cappuccino that made me fall in love with Seattle. Victrola’s.

APRIL 2010:

“But you promised you’d take a week out to visit me in Seattle. You’ve been promising that for the past 2 years!”
“I know, but this is a super short trip. I also have to go to Michigan and can barely squeeze in 2 days for Seattle”  (And why in the world would I fly half way across the world from Dubai, and then leave NYC for Seattle? Who does that?)
“Wait, you’re spending a whole week here, including a weekend, that was the deal right?”
“No, that’s what I’m trying to explain to you…”

And on, and on, and on. My friend and I haggled like old aunties in an Indian bazaar for a week in Seattle, no five days from Monday to Friday, no I work so at the very least you have to include the weekend, ok only the weekend then, weekend + 3 days, weekend + 1, weekend + 2, FINE. FINE.

It had been settled. I was dragging myself away from my culinary adventures in NYC to go to Seattle. And what was there to do in Seattle anyway? The things you have to do to keep friends happy.

MAY 2010:

Here I am walking down 15th Avenue in North Capitol Hill, Seattle. My friend is at work, so I’ve taken the liberty of stepping out to explore his neighbourhood. Hate to admit it, but it’s beautiful, and it smells good. Really good. Without getting too sentimental here (I’m still very much a big city girl), the morning air is invigoratingly crisp, and carries the faint, yet luring aroma of freshly baked bread and muffins. That’s what air freshener companies need to capitalize on – why make your house smell like laundry if it can smell of sticky buns and hot cakes?

15th Avenue has got a ton of cute bakeries and cafes whose names I’ve never heard of before, and that are contributing to the fresh-baked aroma wafting on the streets outside. These are more your neighbourhood, locally-owned cafes whose homely, uncontrived atmosphere is suggestive of owners who are true coffee artisans, and not just in the business for the profit that can be skimmed off a $3.75 latte (Starbucks may well be Seattle’s bastard child). I’m walking up and down the street trying to find the cosiest of the many cafe options available, until I stop by the one that looks the most promising, Victrola Coffee and Art. Spacious, two connected seating areas, wooden tables and chairs, a small bar-style wooden countertop with stools behind the espresso machines, and the hypnotic smell of freshly ground coffee beans.

My order is simple – a cappuccino and a turkey and cheese sandwich. But what I get is far from mundane. By my subjective, non-coffee-expert standards, the cappuccino is absolutely flawless. Here’s a deconstruction of what I loved about it:

  1. It’s served in a wide-mouthed mug, which I find to be the most conducive to savouring the foam up top.
  2. The foam itself has been steamed to a dense, creamy consistency that laps up to the sides of the cup, creating a sticky ‘caramelized’ espresso-milk layer around the rim that gives your lips the first signal of a stronger espresso rush to follow.
  3. Another advantage of the wide cup is that it is also shallow enough to enable each sip to be an all-encompassing one, where you get each of the three layers in succession:  creamy foam, frothy espresso-laced milk seeping out from beneath, and finally, a tiny but powerful surge of concentrated espresso. Tall glasses typically result in a more disjointed experience, where you have to finish one layer before you can reach the next – foam, then milk, milk, then espresso.
  4. I taste a medium-roasted espresso blend in the Victrola’s cappuccino mug, which complements the smooth, velvety feel of an impeccably-made cappuccino far better than more bitter, dark-roasted beans.

If only my caffeine-deprived veins could be serenaded with a mug of Victrola’s cappuccino every morning, I’d be such a civil person – even pleasant at best – to be around through the rest of the day.

My turkey and cheese sandwich is equally perfect. Warm grilled bread, melted havarti cheese, thin strips of turkey, and a sour pickle on the side. So simple, but so, SO good.

It suddenly hits me that, contrary to my prior wailing/griping/sniffling about inserting Seattle into my itinerary, I’m blissfully happy to be here. All it took was a perfectly-brewed cappuccino and a killer turkey-and- cheese sandwich.

In addition to Victrola’s, here are some of the other cafés we tried while I was in Seattle:

Caffe Ladro.

Preferred the coffee at Victrola’s, though the cappuccino here still does meet a very high bar. Also enjoyed a huge slice of streusel-topped coffee cake.

Faire Gallery Cafe.

We visited this café right after dinner on Friday. Faire is committed to supporting various local artists – music, drama, poetry, and so on, and they even had a live band the night we visited the place. I loved the fact that it stays open late into the night (midnight on weekdays, one a.m. on weekends), though the ominous wall hangings to support the artist-of-choice that evening was a little unsettling. While my dinner excesses warranted nothing more fancy than a peppermint loose-leaf tea, Faire is actually known for whipping up a mean Nutella mocha.

Espresso Vivace.

My friend had told me that the guys who started this place had designed a unique process to prepare espresso, so I jumped at the opportunity to try their espresso when we spotted their sidewalk location on Broadway. Confirmed on their website:

After fifteen years of research on all aspects of espresso preparation, a specialized method and  roasting process  has been developed at Vivace in the singular pursuit of perfect espresso. Our Northern Italian inspired espresso blends are considered by many experts to posses the sweetest flavor and most abundant crema of any coffee out there.

Again, I’m no coffee connoisseur, but my layman taste buds missed any hint of sweetness – in fact, I found the espresso to be quite dark and bitter, lending itself to an appropriate jolt early in the morning, though somewhat missing the smooth subtlety I enjoyed in my cup at Victrola’s.

North Hill Bakery.

I’ve thrown this on the list even though it’s not really a café, but because I had this buttery almond croissant whose sticky-sweetness was a perfect complement to my morning cup of coffee. They also had savoury biscuits that looked incredibly soft and crumbly, but the day was still young, and I had many, many other Seattle eateries whose goods were a-waiting my appetite.

For a short span of four days, where coffee was only one of many eats on our list, I’m quite satisfied with this initial sampling of Seattle artisanal coffee.  For all those cafés that I didn’t get a chance to try, I may just have to do the unthinkable and plan a weeklong trip to return to Seattle.

Victrola Coffee and Art
Phone: +1 (206) 462-6259
310 E Pike Street, Seattle, WA

Caffee Ladro
Phone: +1 (206) 267-0551
435 15th Ave E, Seattle, WA 98112

Faire Gallery Café-Bar
Phone: +1 (206) 652-0781
1351 East Olive Way, Seattle, WA 98122

Espresso Vivace Sidewalk Bar
321 Broadway Avenue East, Seattle, WA 98102

North Hill Bakery
Phone: +1(206) 325-9007
518 15th Avenue E, Seattle, WA 98112

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

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