WHY FLY... when you can stay on the ground and eat? Brooke Kempner

Pacific Marketplace
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, 433-5388
5 am–10 pm.

I poked at my crab salad and felt a little sad.

There I was, eating in the airport's grand new concourse, the so-called Pacific Marketplace, the only person around who was neither a ticketed passenger nor an airport employee, feeling sorry for myself because I had no journey ahead of me. It's a feeling I'm familiar with; the same sadness crept in when I worked in restaurant kitchens. I would stare out at customers getting up from their tables, heading out for the night with a good meal in their bellies, while I was stuck tossing salads. It's the melancholy of inertia.

I should say that my wistful meal, eaten at Anthony's, the fanciest restaurant in the new concourse, was pretty damn good but only the first of five or so I'd sample in my afternoon grounded at Sea-Tac. Anthony's is an awesome place to eat alone: plenty of bar stools and comforting anonymity. My pan-fried Willapa Bay oysters ($7.95) were quite spectacular–still briny and this side of wobbly inside a light crust. A Dungeness crab salad ($11.95) with avocados and grapefruit, was about as fresh and unairporty as it gets. It came with Anthony's signature chowder, which was sludgy and thick and not my style, but inoffensive as these things go.

If you're more interested in watching people than planes, you should skip the restaurant service, get some takeout at the food court, and sit in the big rotunda, where I watched a guy in a "Government is not the solution. Government is the problem." T-shirt put his shoes on after getting frisked by the TSA, and a not-very-Japanese woman in a bad kimono hand out teriyaki samples. The architecture of the refurbished terminal isn't groundbreaking (this is no TWA terminal at JFK), but what the terminal lacks in inspiration it makes up in sheer grandeur—wowing you with a curving glass wall so huge that it dwarfs even the airplanes that make their way across its giant grid of panes.

With the improved airport has come decidedly better food—cheaper, too: vendors are called upon to keep their prices in line with comparable restaurants outside the airport.

Takeout and fast-food places line the rotunda in true food-court style: Mexicanish, quasi-Italian, and Japonesque, like the employer of the woman in the kimono. And Seattle standbys Ivar's and Anthony's each run fish 'n' chips stands at opposite ends. I should like Anthony's ($6.79) better, with its moist cod and feathery tempura crust, but if I'm going for fish 'n' chips, I'm not quite looking for delicacy. Ivar's ($4.99) is more fast-foodish, but it works: I like the seasoned crumbs they put in their crust, and the deeper golden brown they fry to.

But I would never eat fish 'n' chips before boarding a flight. When I'm airborne, my cravings veer toward the doughy, and I must say I'm impressed with how well Seattle's self-proclaimed culinary maven, Kathy Casey, provides it.

Her style may be grating, but Casey is smart. Dish D'lish is horning in on the territory Pret a Manger has sought out in other airports: neatly packaged sandwiches and salads that have been somewhat yuppified—artichoke purée on the turkey club ($6.79), goat cheese in the grilled cheese, caramelized pears and radicchio in a tossed salad ($7.49). The offerings are appealingly over-packaged so you can easily eat them on the plane (although my plastic-sealed guava lemonade [$2.99] leaked a bit). If you can get beyond the eye-rolling names like Mile-High Turkey Club and Tuna Meltdown, the food is downright yummy, especially the baked goods. There is no reason a giant brownie ($3.69) should be baked around a coconut macaroon, but who am I to question such tasty frivolity?

Despite the thoroughly decent chow being served at Anthony's and Dish D'lish, the longest line I saw was at Wendy's. It didn't seem fair to ignore it, so I joined the line and was soon biting into my first Wendy's burger in 20 years. It was cheap all right ($2.79), but it doesn't say much for the meat quality when a quarter-pound patty is overwhelmed by a single slice of pickle. Even at more than twice the price, I'd rather fly with a Dish D'lish sandwich.