Welcome to the first installment of my newest feature: Passport to Pleasure. As a food writer and sex educator, I’ll share hedonistic ideas for couples visiting various Seattle neighborhoods and more distant destinations. What’s ideal to a food writer and sex educator, you ask? With a goal of gluttony in both food and play, expect a recipe for a romantic time, ranging from nibbles to “naughtiness.”
For the debut of Passport to Pleasure, I start in my own neighborhood: Upper Queen Anne. What’s the appeal of this area? It’s the highest part of the city, with romantic walks offering turns that reveal stunning views of water and mountains.
PASSIONATE FOR PASTRIES
Your first stop should be Café de Lion on Queen Anne Avenue. Daisuke and Tomoyo Miura named it after their now 4-year-old son (whose name you pronounce like “Leon”). There are just a few tables in this cozy cafe, but what you want are two seats at the counter in front of Daisuke. His coffee station looks like a chemistry lab, and Daisuke delights in playing mad scientist, pairing a cup to your choice of cake. (By the way, the water-dripped iced coffee is the best I’ve ever had.)
Tomoyo occasionally emerges from the kitchen with a small platter of pastries to stock the front showcase. Healthy and seasonal, these French-style sweets (though not too sweet, which is part of the Japanese influence) are made with care and fine ingredients—like sugar that’s a mix of Okinawan black sugar and sugar cane. Look for green tea “rare” cheesecake, molten chocolate cake with red wine fig wine compote, colorful berry tarts, and the like. The staff posts the ever-changing selections to Facebook each morning; since they can be reserved, they sometimes sell out quickly. (Café de Lion has a strong Japanese following, drawing customers from Seattle and the Eastside.) Daisuke describes the café as a boutique, calling the desserts “limited editions.”
To get a jump on your Queen Anne adventure, come to the café early for the “croque” sandwiches. And with urban hiking ahead of you, why not get something to go? You’ll find bags of golden madeleines, a rainbow array of macarons (the matcha macarons are especially delicious), fruit phyllos, and cute jars of homemade jams that you can spread on bread for your picnic.
STROLLING THE STAIRS
Carbo-loaded, you’re ready for an afternoon of walking. In Queen Anne, that’s likely to mean some stair-climbing, as there are more than 100 stairs in the neighborhood. Stop in at Queen Anne Books, just two blocks north of Café de Lion, to pick up the “Map of the (oft) Pedestrian Public Stairs of Queen Anne Hill.” Thomas Horton authored this helpful resource with help from the Queen Anne Historical Society, which sells the map online. (Or visit the Queen Anne Stairs website for maps, tours, historical information, and more.)
A suggested route: From the bookstore or Café de Lion, cross Queen Anne Avenue and continue to 1st Avenue North, making a right and walking southbound until the street becomes more like an alley (at Galer). Continue to the cul-de-sac (past Lee), then walk the path and you’ll reach the Comstock Grande Dame. Perhaps the highest point of any public stair in Seattle, it was built in 1905 and has 85 steps. The shape makes it unique—and romantic. According to Horton, “(w)ith its sinuous turns (twisty, serpentine) and the great canopy of trees above it, the Comstock Grande Dame is a great place to steal a kiss.”
The stair drops you back on Queen Anne Avenue. From here, walk one block south. Cross the street and walk west on Highland, where you’ll see Kerry Park and then the magnificent mansions. Approaching 7th Avenue West, peek into Parsons Garden. You might witness a wedding or an informal croquet match, or you might get lucky and have the place to yourself. Floral and peaceful, this is a perfect place to picnic, or to simply relax together on the grass.
When ready, stroll across the street to the Betty Bowen Viewpoint. Here you’ll enjoy a spectacular southwestern view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, as well as some interesting art installations. Beyond the Betty Bowen sign is the Wilcox (retaining) Wall with its built-in stair, well worth exploring, but from the view area try walking one block south to the stair at 7th Avenue West and West Prospect. A shorter stair with just 33 steps, it was built in 1918 and features a resting bench at the top landing. The house along the stair, atypical in not facing a street, is quite intriguing. From here, with map or not, meander the neighborhood at your leisure.
MOUTH IS ALIVE WITH JUICES LIKE WINE
Appetite restored, make your way back to Queen Anne Ave for dinner at How to Cook a Wolf. Named after the M.F.K. Fisher classic, this quaint Ethan Stowell joint is popular, so go early to indulge in quieter moments, and to enjoy the energy as the space fills.
If you don’t get in right away, two doors down is Queen Anne Dispatch, which offers double the chance for romance. Here you can send your partner a pre-prepared love letter. (After all, wouldn’t it be a great surprise to receive one via old-fashioned, regular mail?) As a bonus, the store is informally known as Undies and Outies, and you can communicate your love with a purchase of lingerie, massage oil, and even paintable chocolate.
Wolf will call when your seats are ready. You might get the back table (actually designed for four), which offers the most seclusion. Counter seating is a great option, as you can banter with the bartender and your neighboring diners. Summer means warm weather, with tables spilling out onto the sidewalk, and romantic dining al fresco.
Chef Matt Fortner occasionally makes an appearance to deliver a dish, but is otherwise tucked away in the tiny kitchen, visible when you first enter the restaurant. This is a place where you’ll share Italian-inspired plates both large and small. Preparations are rustic with a focus on fresh ingredients, so items jump on and off the menu. Fortner blisters Padron peppers (said to be an aphrodisiac) in olive oil and sprinkles them will sea salt, perhaps spicing up your sex life in the process. Morel mushrooms (with cauliflower and brown butter) add earthiness to a pair of sweet, succulent scallops. And pastas at Wolf are perfect; a plate of ribbony tagliarini with geoduck and basil pesto exemplifies what you can expect.
SEDUCTIVE SUNSET IN SEATTLE
Time your evening right and you’ll be leaving close to sunset, which means returning to Highland Avenue. You can saunter back to Betty Bowen again and, with luck, land seats on one of the benches to snuggle up and take in the pink skies over the water and mountains. But if you don’t mind small crowds, go to Kerry Park for the quintessential view of Seattle. If it’s clear, you’ll see the city and the Space Needle with Mount Rainier hovering in the background. As the sun sets, its rays brighten up the Seattle skyline one last time, and then you can enjoy the city lights that emerge with nightfall. It’s a perfect ending to a perfect day in Queen Anne, and a reminder of Seattle’s romantic potential.