Eating at the Space Needle Seattle – food with a view
In terms of iconic structures, Seattle’s Space Needle is right up there with the world’s most recognisable; indeed it’s spawned a host of imitations around the world and Greedy Girl – despite her dislike of heights – has visited most of them.
So when gluttonous husband was researching where to eat, all signs pointed to the Sky City restaurant, a floor below the tower’s observation deck. Given the tower is 650 feet (around 180 metres) off the ground, Greedy Girl wasn’t keen especially as she was fairly certain the restaurant would be a tourist trap.
But gluttonous husband won the day and soon thereafter, having secured a reservation for an earlyish lunch, we were on our way skywards in a glass-fronted lift. Greedy Girl stood at the back of the elevator and tried not to look down. It was the longest 41 seconds of her life.
Given it’s US$22 just to visit the observation deck at the tower (unless you qualify for a child or senior discount), going to the restaurant is a good way of putting those funds to better use. Indeed, there’s a minimum spend at the restaurant of $25 per person and you’re also welcome to head up to the observation deck at any stage during your visit.
Exiting the elevator, we were ushered into a small holding area before being shown to a table. As you’d expect, there were a lot of tourists, many being hosted by locals keen to share the history of the structure, which was built in 1962 for the World’s Fair. Above the restaurant is the observation deck and, apparently, above that is a floor that was home during the 1970s to a DJ who lived atop the Space Needle for six months and did shows up there. Legend has it he liked to host rollerblade parties. Ahhhh … Such days are not likely to come again.
But we were there to eat and possibly the easiest way of checking out Seattle’s views. Happily for Greedy Girl, we weren’t right next to the windows, but as comfortable as one with acrophobia can be, seated in a booth where we could be side by side. Our friendly waiter Matthew trotted out his spiel (we heard the identical lead in as new diners sat at the tables around us which was a little disappointing) and we ordered a Pikes Place IPA for gluttonous husband, from the market of the same name just down the road, and a glass of Nicolas Feuillatte champagne for Greedy Girl while we perused the menu.
There’s no doubt the views, over the Olympic mountains, Mount Rainier, Puget Sound and Lake Union are spectacular and, given Sky City is a revolving restaurant, diners can enjoy all of them. It takes about an hour to make the full circuit and the revolving floor moves at a reasonably slow pace, if a little jerky.
The restaurant is ranked in local guides as one of the best seafood establishments in the city. Three of the four dishes we took were seafood, while our waiter talked us into the blue cheese burger. Sorted.
The chef is Jeff Maxfield, a Seattle native who has also worked in Hawaii. He’s apparently regarded as a rising star in the Seattle food scene and committed to showcasing the best of the Pacific Northwest. There were a number of specialties, the waiter told us, including the Dungeness crab cakes. This is a species of crab regarded as particularly sweet and found in Washington and Alaska waters. Greedy Girl was sold.
The cakes were served with a sweet onion marmalade and what the menu described as a stone ground mustard butter. OMG. If Greedy Girl’s had a better crab cake, she can’t remember it. It was all killer, no filler. The crab was indeed sweet and paired sensationally with the onions and the mustard butter, which was really more of a creamy sauce. She’d love this recipe.
Gluttonous husband took half a dozen oysters. These were served with dishes of shaved horseradish and a red wine mignonette granita. He was delighted to see the condiments served on the side rather than on top of the little oysters which the waiter told us came from Humboldt Bay. They were just as gluttonous husband likes his oysters, preferring the smaller species rather than big, meaty ones. He was a happy Chappy and commented that the granita was actually quite nice, taking spoonfuls of it after each oyster.
Next up, gluttonous husband had the salmon; the waiter tried to talk Greedy Girl into ordering this but she’s never had a seared salmon dish she’s enjoyed, preferring it sashimi style, cured or smoked.
This was local wild salmon pan roasted with a cherry emulsion, fingerling potatoes and wilted pea vines. Initially a bit disappointed there was no crispy skin on the fish (actually no skin at all), gluttonous husband said it was beautifully cooked although some of the accompaniments were a little odd; particularly the cherries on the plate, two of which were quite sweet. He left the biggest to last and found it to be quite sour – go figure.
Greedy Girl was talked into the blue cheese and bacon burger, served with crispy onions, a Worcestershire reduction and steak-seasoned fries. This was a huge serving and although the beef patty had a nice charred flavour, it didn’t have much moisture. The blue cheese worked OK but was in lumps rather than being uniformly melted across the meat. The onions were nice and the fries perfectly edible, if a bit too salty.
And we were done; we downed the last of the drinks and prepared to head for the exit and hopefully the quickest 41 seconds of Greedy Girl’s life in the elevator going back down. Having already seen the view, from every angle, we didn’t feel the need to go to the observation deck.
This is a big restaurant and caters well for groups of all sizes, as well as good tables for two. While the burger wasn’t the best we’ve ever had, the rest of the food was very good. It’s not exactly inexpensive, but for your window on the world (Seattle chapter) it was a cheap rent. A tourist trap? Definitely – but with some decent foodie pretensions and a very pleasant lunch.
If you’re heading to Seattle, lunch gives you probably the best view – while the lights would be enjoyable at night you’ll miss a lot of detail, especially the dramatic mountains.
Sky City at the Space Needle
400 Broad Street, Seattle