SEATTLE, WA — When my husband and I were planning our recent trip here, there was one thing first and foremost on my mind.
Coconut cream pie.
The Triple Coconut Cream Pie by Tom Douglas, to be exact.
It’s been Douglas’ best-selling dessert ever since he put it on the menu when he opened his flagship Dahlia Lounge in 1989. It’s the primary reason he later opened his Dahlia Bakery next-door. He sells more than 1,000 coconut cream pies a month. He’s donated them to charity auctions, where they fetch upwards of $5,000 each!
Even one of my best foodie friends told me she’s not usually a coconut cream pie fan, but fell hard for this one. A Lyft driver on my trip told me she loved it so much the first time she had it, that she went back the very next day for another slice. Friends on Facebook described the pie as “life-changing.”
Our first stop the morning after flying in was indeed Dahlia Bakery, where you can buy a whole 9-inch coconut cream pie ($42), a 6-inch one ($22), a slice ($7.75) or even a “bite” ($3), which is a two-bite-sized pastry with the same filling and topping as the regular-sized version.
The retail part of the bakery is tiny — about the size of a walk-in closet. Step inside, and there’s probably room for only 4 people to queue up. The glass cases are filled with all manner of pastries, tarts, cakes and pies. You can even get made-to-order beignet doughnuts or egg and ham sandwiches on house-made English muffins.
We were there for breakfast, so we loaded up on an almond croissant ($4.50), a huckleberry oatmeal muffin ($4), a fig bar ($3), an English muffin with house-made berry jam ($3.75) and yes, two “bites” of the pie — well, just to tide us over until dinner that night at Dahlia Lounge, where we planned to indulge in the pie for dessert. Believe you me, though, if we had a refrigerator in our hotel room, I might have sprung for an entire pie because it is cheaper to have the pie at the bakery than at the restaurant.
No matter, we toted our pastries back to our hotel to enjoy. The almond croissant was plenty flaky, maybe not as overflowing with almond paste as some, but still delicious nevertheless. The muffin is a perfect way to start the day. It’s hearty with a lot of oatmeal, plus a generous amount of jammy Washington huckleberries. The fig bar has a more pastry-like exterior than others elsewhere that are more of a short-crust cookie texture. I really loved how the flaky exterior provided such a contrast to the soft, dense, figgy filling inside. The English muffin sports plenty of nooks and crannies. It’s a little sturdier in texture than my favorite ones at Berkeley’s The Cheese Board and not as rich with butter as The Model Bakery in St. Helena.
The pie bite? It was just enough to whet our appetite for a full slice later that night. Creamy, and thoroughly coconut-y, it definitely made me want more in a hurry.
But first, dinner.
Dahlia Lounge may get a lot of tourists now, but there’s nothing wrong in that. It just shows the reach and impact this restaurant has had. Douglas, a chef who really put Seattle on the map, now owns 16 restaurants and bakeries, along with five other culinary ventures in Washington State. We kept passing so many restaurants that we didn’t even realize were his until we saw them listed on his web site.
The restaurant is cozy with dim lighting and plenty of roomy booths. We started with the “Tastes From the Sea” sampler, which consists of four different seafood preparations. The sampler comes in two sizes; the smaller one ($29) is plenty for two people to share.
That evening it consisted of a spicy tuna tartare, done poke-style with ginger-soy dressing, chili oil and peanuts, as well as eggplant; fluffy Dungeness crab mixed with sweet grilled corn and creamy aioli; Kona Kampachi with jalapeno, shiso, lime and cubes of watermelon that mimicked the fish’s color and offered a burst of juicy fruitiness; and applewood smoked salmon with the heat of hot mustard.
My husband opted for the Alaskan halibut ($35), moist and grilled to a lovely smokiness. The fillet lay atop a bed of creamy corn grits and fresh corn. Sweet peppers and Sungold tomatoes garnished this fresh sea-to-table entree.
The Dungeness Crab Cakes ($39) are thick hockey puck sized and pretty much all crab. You really taste the sweet, delicate crab in these cakes. Toasted pepitas garnished the accompanying Delicata squash. Even the sofrito and pickled peppers added to the dish without detracting in any way from the crab.
Finally, the moment we had waited the whole trip for — a big slice of the Triple Coconut Cream Pie ($12). That’s triple, as in coconut in the crust, shredded coconut in the filling, and big toasted shards of coconut scattered over the top.
The crust is thin. You’re almost in awe that it can support the weight of the mountain of filling and whipped cream. It holds everything yet has no problem playing second fiddle to the luscious creamy filling as thick as chilled pudding.
Dig a fork in and you are assaulted — in the best way — with tropical, rich coconut creaminess. The toasted coconut atop adds just enough crunchy texture, and curls of white chocolate add even more sensuousness.
If a pie can be both sexy and sentimental, this one surely is.
And it is so worth making a special trip for.