Sunday, August 12, 2007

Good Eats in Olympia, WA

by Xani

I'm going to be on the road a lot this month (again) so look forward to posts exploring the cuisine in various corners of the country!

Fountain outside my hotel in Olympia, WA

We begin in the Pacific Northwest, where I spent a few days in Olympia, WA. Olympia is the capitol of Washington, about an hour south of the Seattle-Tacoma airport. The night I arrived my coworker AJ and I were invited to dinner by a co-worker. I wasn't really feeling up to it after an early wake-up in Philadelphia (we had a great meal there as well-- post coming soon) and spending all day in planes, but, duty calls. We had dinner at Anthony's Hearthfire Grill, where we were seated at a lovely table right by the water. While the East coast sweltered in 100+ temperatures, I was eating a delicious steak with an enviable view of Puget Sound. Not too bad. No pictures of Anthony's, unfortunately, but we did have a good, solid meal there on my first night in Olympia. Our dining companion has lived in the area for many years, and gave us great recommendations for the rest of the week!

The next night, after a long day of work, AJ and I strolled across the street from our very cute hotel to Gardner's Restaurant. Gardner's is a cute little place, that has sort of an old farmhouse feel. The servers were all very friendly and attentive. Once we sat down and got settled, we ordered a bottle of local Pinot Noir, nibbled some bread with garlic butter, and admired the lovely surroundings.

Gardner's is mostly a seafood place, and the menu had lots of tempting dishes. I finally decided on the Cioppino, and AJ ordered the crab casserole. Both dishes were served with a salad and side, so we decided any additional starters would be overkill. Salads were basic, but fine. Then out came the main courses. AJs crab casserole turned out to be a large plate filled with lumps of (I think) Dungeoness crab, mushrooms, cheese, and lots of yummy flavorings. I tried a bite and it was wonderfully rich and flavorful. He got a side dish of fettuccine alfredo, too. My bowl of Cioppio was absolutely HUGE. I mean, it was kind of obscene. Piled high with mussels, rock shrimp, fish fillets, and scallops, all swimming in a rich tomato broth. If that wasn't enough, it came with a side of delicious mashed garlic potatoes. It was a delicious dish and after eating as much as I possibly could, the bowl was still half full! I felt bad throwing it away, but somehow I didn't think the fish soup would taste so great after a night in the mini-fridge...

Of course we did have a LITTLE room left for dessert and coffee. How could we resist when the waitress brought over this gorgeous dessert tray?

AJ got a slice of decadent chocolate cake, I was happy to order a dish of pear sorbet, which turned out to be really flavorful and refreshing-- just the thing I needed after that rich soup.

With full bellies we said goodbye to the friendly staff and strolled back across the street to our hotel. I got right into the soft, cozy bed and fell asleep listening to the sound of sea-birds singing outside my window.

The very next night we made reservations at Ristorante Trinacria, another recommendation from our Olympia resident and apparently a "cult favorite" among locals. Trinacria is a funky little place on the main drag in Olympia, right next to a tattoo parlor, and a short walk from our hotel. The whole place only had about 10 tables. The decor was a collection of mismatched furniture, unusual art, and bizarre aqua fiberglass pillars.

After admiring our surroundings we got down to business and decided what to eat! The menu was limited: about four or five starters, and maybe a dozen mains, mostly pasta with homemade sauces and pizzas with unusual toppings. We were tempted by the starters and decided to get an order of antipasti as well as a caprese salad, to share, along with a bottle of Italian red wine. Once the starters arrived, I could tell we were in for a treat. This was definitely a real-deal, authentico type of place....

Our friend in Olympia had told us that the owner/chef of Trinacria came to the US from Sicily not long ago, and that he was a stickler for doing things the old-fashioned way (not to mention an insistence on reservations, that's a helpful hint from me in case you end up in Olympia and want to just drop in for dinner-- don't do it!). The starters were simple, delicious, and perfect. Cappo ham, asiago cheese, olives and imported Italian bread sticks made up the antipasti, and everything was just bursting with flavor. The caprese was made of sweet, ripe tomatoes, topped with pieces of fresh buffalo mozzarella and shredded fresh basil. It was just as it should be-- basic but absolutely delicious.

Pleased with our starters we were excited to get to the main dishes. AJ ordered Spaghetti with the homemade Ragu (meat and vegetable sauce) and I decided to be brave and try the gnocchi with pomodoro (tangy tomato) sauce. I say I was brave because, as you might know, good gnocchi can be hard to find! The little potato/pasta dumplings can become gummy and nasty if they are improperly cooked. But I had a good feeling about Trinacria, so I went with it... and I was greatly rewarded for my bravery! The gnocchi were really, really great. They weren't gummy at all, they were light little pillows with just enough tangy tomato sauce on top. They really seemed homemade, right down to the little ridges on each one...

Ooohh... just look at that! It was a really good plate of pasta. Makes me want to try to master this dish at home!

After the mains came a plate of salad, further proving this place was following a traditional Italian model of dining.

At this point I guess I have to talk about the one "complaint" I had about the place-- the dessert. They only serve two desserts, cannoli and tiramisu. Well, as I've said before I'm not a big fan of tiramisu, and the same goes for cannoli. So, instead of dessert we lingered over some espressos and enjoyed the atmosphere of the restaurant. Here's a picture of me as we left and headed back to the hotel for yet another good night of sleep.

Overall we had delicious food and great times in Olympia! Thanks so much to Scott for all the great tips!

Stay tuned for another Washington post featuring one of the best burgers in the USA!



  1. wow, great research here! Next time in WA god willing I will be able to find this post beforehand once more.

  2. I have tried making gnocci once so far(used Lydia's recipe). In my fear of the heavy and gummy, i used to LITTLE flour and ended up with a pot of falling apart mashed potato. Learn from my mistakes!

  3. Any time one can find a good gnocci it is a cause for celebration.


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