Food to Fly

Sea-Tac's Pacific Marketplace is a real departure.

It may be the most exclusive dining experience in the Northwest. First, you have to shell out hundreds of dollars for an advance ticket. Then you submit to a rigorous security check. When you finally sit down to eat, you'll rub elbows with other diners from all over the globe. But it's not a private club or a four-star restaurant—it's the food court in the new Pacific Marketplace at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Only ticketed passengers are allowed, and believe it or not, it's worth the trouble it takes to get there. Not that the food is anything spectacular. The burritos, sushi, fish and chips, sandwiches, and pizzas doled out by the half-dozen vendors on-site range from barely adequate to fairly good. But the overall dining experience—convenience, selection, price, and comfort—is far above what we've come to expect from airport meals in Seattle. Pacific Marketplace, a dramatic, atriumlike space that houses eateries and shops, opened in May. We visited on a Thursday, midday, a busy travel time at Sea-Tac. Our goal was to sample as much takeout food as possible and find the best-tasting, best-priced, most convenient item to either eat in the waiting area or carry on board. Looking for portable lunch and dinner options, we skipped the sit-down anchor tenant, Anthony's Restaurant and Fish Bar, and the two beverage/dessert kiosks run by Starbucks and Dilettante Chocolates. (Confession: We also skipped Wendy's, confident that the burgers are just as square at Sea-Tac as anywhere else.) The remaining vendors are a mix of local and national franchises. "We want people to know when they get off their plane they're in Seattle," says airport spokesperson Bob Parker. A quick survey: Kathy Casey's Dish D'Lish Food T' Go Go On the menu: Prepackaged salads and sandwiches (toasted on the spot), and fresh baked goods. Good to go: Kathy's Favorite sandwich, a delicious amalgam of chicken, warm Brie, and apple/cranberry chutney on grilled focaccia ($6.99). Sweet and savory, it was one of the best things we tasted at the airport, though a bit messy. Beware: The urge to impulse-buy branded products, like Kathy Casey's Fragrant Star Anise Rub ($8.99) and the book Dishing With Kathy Casey ($22.95). Pallino Pastaria On the menu: Subs, pasta, pizza. Good to go: Pallino Combo pizza ($10.95), with sausage, mushrooms, roasted peppers, and pepperoni—flavorful on top and thin, chewy crust on the bottom. Beware: The prices can add up here. Qdoba Mexican Grill On the menu: Burritos, tacos, and other Mexican fast-food standards. Good to go: The Chicken Mole Burrito ($5.59) was satisfying, if a bit generic. It tasted like any moist, spicy burrito, without the distinctive unsweetened-chocolate flavor of a good mole. Beware: Longish wait times (eight minutes from end-of-line to register). Maki of Japan On the menu: Sushi, stir-fried dishes. Good to go: Sushi is a travel favorite because it's so easily transported. But the prepackaged Maki Value Platter we tried (California roll, plus three skimpy nigiri sushi) seemed overpriced at $8.95 and chewier than made-to-order. Beware: The tired-looking stir-fried offerings in the warming trays—tangerine chicken, tofu with vegetables, chicken teriyaki, and so on (two items $6.49, three items $7.49). Ivar's Seafood Bar On the menu: Fish and chips, chowders. Good to go: The classic white clam chowder ($2.49 cup, $3.89 bowl). Beware: The less-than-appetizing pastries. All Sea-Tac vendors are required to offer breakfast items, but if you're after muffins or other baked goods, Dish D'Lish is probably your freshest bet. Our winner for taste, speed, and ease of handling: Pallino's pizza. Winner for price: at $5.59, the Qdoba burrito. Qdoba's menu also featured a number of super-cheap snack items, like a $1.69 veggie taco and a 79-cent order of chips and salsa. However, Sea-Tac forbids vendors from placing an airport markup on their food, so prices are reasonable across the board. There are many other places to eat at Sea-Tac, but the takeout vendors listed above are a strong draw because they're in the heart of the new Pacific Marketplace, a showcase of architecture and design. A towering, 60-foot-tall wall of glass along one side invites you to find a free table and chair, spread out your meal, and watch the planes come and go. A notable collection of public artwork is displayed throughout the marketplace and the new, adjacent Concourse A (among them, a whimsical mobile by Ralph Helmick and Stu Schechter, colorful mosaic pillars, and an ingenious contraption by engineer/sound artist Trimpin). Did we mention the upscale shopping? Pacific Marketplace is an absolutely gorgeous place to lunch. It's just too bad you have to leave town to get there. ljacobson@seattleweekly.com Pacific Marketplace, Sea-Tac Airport, 206-433-5388, www.portseattle.org/seatac/amenities.

 
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