Portage Bay Café (University District), Seattle

Most Vancouverites I know have either been down to Washington state once or go down routinely to shop. I easily fit into the latter category, but on this occasion Emme and I journeyed down to meet up with a very old, very good friend of mine in Seattle. We decided to rendez-vous at the Portage Bay Café, in the University District, after I suggested it to my friend and he replied that he had heard good things. Word-of-mouth reviews that substantiate written claims on UrbanSpoon.com are fine by me!

We managed to make a reservation, although we still ended up waiting half an hour for a table to open up after arriving early. No worries – we chatted in the meantime! There was unfortunately not a lot of room to stand and wait, which would be a downside, though it’s not like the place is particularly small… It’s just very popular, clearly. (It was probably particularly busy because we went there on a Sunday – the only day I could meet up with my friend – so there were a lot of families out to brunch!)

The menu has plenty of options, all dishes with either organic or sustainably-farmed/raised ingredients. Since it was still relatively early in the day, all three of us opted for breakfast-y dishes.

Apparently on the same wavelength, both my old friend and I asked for salmon omelettes, while Emme opted for a gluten-free eggs benny.

Wild Salmon Omelette:

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Wild Salmon Omelette

Yes, it really was as humongous as it looks here. It’s a three “cage-free” egg omelette stuffed with local wild salmon. I ate it all – very filling, very delicious! Because the dish is quite simple, it really allows the quality of the ingredients to shine through. Maybe it’s the placebo effect, but cage-free eggs taste far better than standard factory-raised chickens’ eggs. They’re more eggy (eggier?) and definitely more golden-hued. Much love for the omelette itself. My criticisms would be these:

  • The menu said the salmon was smoked, but I’m pretty sure it was roasted. While perfectly cooked (moist and flaky, not tough), there is certainly a flavour difference between smoked and roasted (or even pan-fried) salmon. Smoked salmon would have been lovely and added some extra umami flavour!
  • Needs more capers! Does it look like there are a lot? The green things were mostly green onions that were sautéed into the omelette, so you couldn’t taste them. Topping the already-cooked omelette with chives/scallions (as I thought would be the case from the menu description) might add a nice flavour boost.
  • The sour cream was supposed to have dill, but there wasn’t any… Add dill!

So, I still gave this 4/5 stars. Why? Though not smoked, the salmon was still delicious. Though lacking more dimension in terms of flavour, the omelette was, also, still delicious. High quality ingredients will take you far.

As for the ‘taters, they were yummy but nothing special. Actually, the only difference between my pal’s plate and mine was that I ordered extra roasted potatoes instead of toast, so I didn’t try the bread. It looked fresh and was thickly cut, so I imagine it was true to the menu’s description (“freshly baked”).

The Classic Benedict (with GF toast):

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The Classic Benedict

That’s molasses ham underneath the eggs! I’ve already raved about the eggs, so just know that they were great here, too. Poached to perfection. The chefs at Portage Café certainly know how to cook their eggs.

The ham added a great molasses spin to this dish. I thought the hollandaise was a bit too thin, but it wasn’t bad. The gluten-free toast was perfect for soaking up the extra sauce, and wasn’t crumbly like some gluten-free baked goods can be.

The 3 stars is for the fairly average hollandaise (that should be a star feature, but the eggs and the ham seemed to carry this dish, mostly) and, also, the lack of toppings! No chives?! Need an extra sprinkling of fresh pepper, too! I also downgraded the rating for the value aspect. My $14 omelette with its huge side of roasted potatoes was unquestionably a better deal than the $14 benedict, not only in terms of flavour but purely in terms of bang-for-your-buck (i.e., $/amount).

The ambiance was charming. The restaurant is clean and bright with an uncomplicated interior and design. Décor is minimal, which is fine; the food is enough to steal your attention. This is really the kind of place you come with good company to enjoy a hearty meal – which is exactly what I did. Though extremely busy, the waiters remain very friendly and patient with customers. Ours was helpful in regards to finding a gluten-free option (to a usually gluten-containing dish) for Emme and accommodating when it came to any other requests or favours. The hostesses were slightly less friendly, but perhaps understandably so; they have to stand at the front and deal with repeated questions about how much time is left before a party is seated and so on. For the amount of people they’re handling on busy mornings, I’d say they do a good job.

If not for the cheerful and busy atmosphere, then I would certainly recommend the Portage Bay Café for its wonderful food (made with high quality ingredients). Try to grab a bite here if you’re ever in Seattle and can bear a bit of a wait!

Ambiance: 4

Food: 4.5

Service: 4.5

Value: 4

Overall: 4.5
Portage Bay Cafe on Urbanspoon

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