Friday, January 31, 2014

Seeing Seattle: Food and Books and Books About Food

As I've already mentioned previously, this year's Winter Institute was in Seattle, and as has generally been the case, I attended, along with Amie, our kids' book buyer. I've only missed two, including New Orleans, which many say was the best Winter Institute ever.  And with 50 degrees and no rain, it almost felt like summer to us.

One of the great things about Seattle is that it's perhaps the most dynamic indie bookstore market in the country. The American Booksellers Association took advantage of this and scheduled half-day and full-day bus tours of area stores. I had seen most of the stores on the list, so I passed (plus I also had to host William P. Jones) but Amie was able to partake.

On recapping her day, Amie told me that the highlight was Book Larder, a cookbook store that I'd not yet visited. It had only opened in 2011, and so was only in business on my very last trip. Amie's always been fond of cookbooks, but she assured me that I would like it as well.

The next day at a breakfast, I found myself sitting with Laura, the store's owner.  And several other folks had talked up the store as well. It was named best bookstore in Seattle by Seattle Magazine in 2012

Fortunately I was meeting my niece and nephew one afternoon, and gave them the challenge of getting us there. The store is not large, but it's open and airy layout utilizes the space well. In the middle of the floor is a mini kitchen for demos. There was something cooking, but I was too shy to ask what it was.

The nice thing about so many cookbooks is that you have the opportunity to divide your inventory up in interesting ways. The store had a focused selection of gift items, and also did a fair amount of importing from Great Britain.  I bought a copy of On the Noodle Road as a gift for someone's birthday. It turned out my niece has mutual friends with the author.

Speaking of food, we had some very nice meals while there. The joint dinner with Grove/Atlantic and Random House had a number of authors attending Local 360. And when I say a number, I'm not just referring to our dinner--it turned out to be a very popular venue for author dinners. In addition to the Grove authors listed yesterday, Random House featured Colson Whitehead with his poker memoir, and Cynthia Bond, with Ruby, a much buzzed-about debut novel.

Simon and Schuster's dinner was held a restaurant called Delancey. It was a nice coincidence that Molly Wizenberg has a memoir coming about building the restaurant with her husband, also called Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant. Wizenberg is known for her previous book, A Homemade Life, and her blog Orangette. The focus was on Neopolitan pizza, but my favorite dish was roasted Brussels sprouts with Sriracha vinaigrette and shaved cheese.

I guess we must have been in a Neopolitan state of mind as my niece and nephew went to yet another neighborhood, Columbia City, on the way to the airport, and ate at Tutta Bella. My favorite thing on that menu was in fact a pizza, one with shaved Meyer lemon on it. Apparently I like foods that are shaved.

But I also like conveyer belts, and we wound up eating not once, but twice, at kaiten sushi. With some other booksellers, we went to the more upmarket Blue C sushi downtown. The weird thing about that chain is that I read about the business plan before the first store opened in a book written by Starbuck's head real estate honcho, when he left the company to do consulting. And then we also went to Marinepolis Sushi Land in Lower Queen Anne. Both locations had pretty good options for vegetarians, I should add, including deep fried and cubed sushi rice, corn sushi, and green bean tempura sushi. I know this is a bit of a detour, but I really do like kaiten sushi. Like dim sum carts, the thrill is in not knowing what will show up.

Seattle is still a bookish place, but it's also the home of  the famous bookstore disruptor. I asked my local friend who is nos longer in the business how the locals deal and she said its very polarized.  Here's a piece from Seattle Magazine on their disappearing bookstores. The story focused on second-hand bookstores in particular, which have been under as much stress as new stores, also due to internet pressure. And here's a Seattle Times article from 2008 about stores that sell new books closing.

In addition to the ones mentioned, Bailey/Coy Books on Capitol Hill closed in 2009. But shortly after that, Elliot Bay moved up the hill from Pioneer Square. We wound up having a wonderful opening reception there for Winter Institute.  I also got to sneak over to The Secret Garden in Ballard with my friend K2, where I bought a copy of This Town, which I promised to share.
One last note on Seattle. Who else is weirded out that there's so much wrong-way parallel parking? It's something you take for granted in most cities, that you parallel park in the same direction that you drive. Well it turns out that it's not allowed in Seattle either, but you see it in every residential neighborhood, whereas you never see it in other cities? How did Seattle get this culture of wrong-way parking? If you know the answer, let me know.


John Cooper said...

Daniel, re wrong-way parking in Seattle, particularly in residential neighborhoods: I think it's just that the streets are often very narrow and crowded, making it difficult and time-consuming to turn around. As in any human circumstance, people tend to do what they see others doing, and since the rule against it isn't enforced, the practice perpetuates itself.

John Cooper (Seattlite 1990-2004)

Daniel Goldin said...

Oh I understand why folks do it and it's clear that it's a cultural acceptance in Seattle. It's just that I've been to plenty of other places with narrow, crowded streets and you simply don't see it. The difference? You'll get a ticket or even towed. Try parking backwards on the East Side of Milwaukee. It reminds me of the controversial rebirth of jaywalking ticketing in Los Angeles. There's illegal and ILLEGAL and it's lower-case in Seattle and upper-case just about everywhere else. Thanks for the comment!