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‘Shouldn’t be this bad’: Seattle Times critics review Space Needle food

(Photo by Bethany Jean Clement / The Seattle Times)

More than a million people visit Seattle’s Space Needle every year. View seekers also visit Columbia Center’s Sky View Observatory and the the historic Smith Tower. All three tourist attractions have recently gone through big renovation projects, and all three offer new dining and drinking experiences.

So Seattle Times food writers decided to head for the clouds, to go where the tourists go, to ride elevators to restaurants and bars to see if the food stands up to the views.

Space Needle

“I firmly believe that the food at the Space Needle should be amazing,” food writer Bethany Jean Clement said.

Unfortunately, in her experience at their new cafe, Atmos, it was not.

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“We should note that the actual restaurant, the revolving restaurant at the Space Needle, has not yet reopened,” said Clement. “So we went to the new cafe on the observation deck and it was, um … not great.”

Clement, and fellow Times food writer Tan Vinh, ordered what looked like a fried macaroni and cheese doughnut, coated in what she describes as “violent red” crumbs.

“It looked like it might have been coated in sriracha crumbs,” she said. “But the crumbs were actually rather tasteless, just providing a vague crunchy texture. And then the interior, the macaroni, was very globby and also tasteless.”

Vinh was not happy to pay $10 for a can of Rainier.

“I thought it was for a 6-pack,” he remarked. I had no idea it was one can for $10. I’ve never seen Rainier beer priced that high, not even at football games or baseball games.”

For some tourists, the food they eat at the Space Needle will represent their Seattle culinary experience.

“I think the food is meant for Instagram and whether it tastes good or not is pretty much beside the point,” Clement said. “The view is magical and it is a great experience. Although, I don’t think it should cost $75 for two people to get to the top of the Space Needle, which it does now.”

Columbia Center

Let’s move on to the newly remodeled Columbia Center. The Sky View Observatory allows guests to walk around the building to get a 360 degree view of the city and they added a food and drink menu. But Clement, Vinh, and I all think it looks more like a corporate conference room than a fun place to grab a drink.

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“Tan made me order this margarita at Sky View Observatory and it turned out to be insanely bright blue with sort of a green level toward the bottom of it,” Clement said. “Perhaps they’re going for a Seahawks theme? It tasted like a chemical nightmare. It was very much ‘SPRING BREAK!’ It hurt your teeth and your eyes and your soul.”

The food menu mostly consists of salads, sandwiches, and flatbreads. I don’t think I need to tell you that these two critics were not fans of the food there either.

Smith Tower

Next up was Smith Tower’s Observatory Bar. They created a bar with a speakeasy theme on the 35th floor of the building — the observatory level most know as the Chinese Room.

“It looks nice up there, I love the Smith Tower,” Clement said. “You get a real sense of history. It has a really classy, lovely feeling to it. That being said, I would not eat there.”

The bar serves everything from blackened wild Alaska salmon to Beecher’s grilled cheese sandwiches.

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“We had some potstickers. I think Tan said, ‘These aren’t even edible.’ And Tan will eat anything. The filling was sort of a texture more than a flavor and that texture was kind of refried beansish.”

Listening to these two food writers critique these popular tourist destinations, I worried that our listeners would call them snobs.

“I just want readers and [listeners] to know that we do get this,” Vinh said. “It’s a tourist trap, it’s going to be overpriced, it’s going to be crowded. But it shouldn’t be this bad.”

“Even the Eiffel Tower restaurant, which is run by a fancy, very French Michelin star chef is reportedly pretty terrible,” Clement said. “But that doesn’t mean Seattle can’t do better.”

Their advice: eat before you go. And if you’re seeking a delicious restaurant experience with a beautiful Seattle view, check out Marination Ma Kai and Westward. They’re not up in the clouds, but food tastes pretty good at sea level.

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