Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rating the neighborhood eateries: Part III

Cafes, delis, take-out and the like 

In this, the final installment of our survey of neighborhood eating places, we discover that a couple of compact, lesser-known establishments receive the highest ratings: Bella Dolce and Arosa Café, both located in or near Madison Valley.

As with our past overviews of the dining scene in the general area, we’ve relied on the reviews of patrons, as documented on websites Yelp and Urban Spoon (prioritized in that order), to help us create a ranking. We acknowledge the limitations of this method, but our goal is simply to make our readers aware of the range of eating opportunities available in the neighborhood and provide some guidance based on the experience of others.

With that said, here’s our final list of the eateries:

1) Bella Dolce
2711 E. Madison Street
Yelp: 4.5 Stars (30 reviews)/ 91% Like (23 votes)

This tiny bakery/café—located in the shadow of the Essential Baking Company further down the block—gets much better marks from patrons than its bigger and better known rival.

Bella Dolce’s reviewers give the place kudos for its sandwiches, salmon cakes, muffins, cupcakes (especially those of the red velvet and coconut varieties), scones, and other baked goods.  Soups, salads and potpies are among the other menu items, served in a very cozy (three or four tables at most) setting.

Says ChefSeattle in its review: “Bella Dolce will appeal to any culture enthusiasts who enjoy a European styled deli, with its quaint seating and intimate atmosphere.”

2) Arosa Café
3121 E. Madison Street
Yelp: 4.5 Stars (15 reviews)/Urban Spoon: 89% Like (49 votes)

Arosa gets points from patrons for great coffee, fabulous waffles, excellent grilled paninis, and friendly service.  That about covers every aspect of this “cheap eats” café in the Arboretum Court.  There are hardly any reviewers who give the place fewer than four stars, which is definitely unusual.  There’s almost always someone who claims to have had a bad experience, but apparently never at Arosa.

Quote from a review by The Stranger: “Arosa’s snack waffles are what Eggos hope to be in the afterlife.”   The Seattle Times raved as well.

3) Park Place Deli
4122 E. Madison Street
Yelp: 4 Stars (19 reviews)/Urban Spoon: 90% Like (32 votes)

This place gets consistently high marks for its sandwiches and soups, though there seems to be a huge difference of opinion on whether the staff is neighborhood friendly or aloof and unwelcoming.  Perhaps it depends on who’s behind the counter on any given day.

4) Teriyaki Seven
2739 E. Madison Street
Yelp: 4 Stars (13 reviews)/Urban Spoon: 88% Like (45 votes)

As noted by one reviewer, this place is not much to look at or a likely place to bring a date, but the food gets mostly good reviews, and several regulars claim it’s one the best teriyaki places in town.   Accolades, also, for friendly service.

5) Famous Northwest Catering Company
3131 E. Madison Street
Yelp: 3.5 Stars/Urban Spoon: 91% Like (12 votes)

This popular neighborhood caterer makes soups, sandwiches, and quiche, among other lunch items, and they bake a wide variety of cookies, pastries and other delectable items each day.  For some reason, given the volume of business that the place appears to have, there are very few reviews on either major rating site, though Urban Spoon’s rating, for those who bothered to vote, is among the highest we’ve seen for any Madison Park eating establishment (equal to Bella Dolce’s).

The café portion of this establishment is not big, so for most patrons it’s more of a to-go opportunity than an eat-in situation.  And the service is definitely friendly.

Try the bread pudding.

6) Scoop du Jour
4029 E. Madison Street
Yelp: 3.5 Stars (23 reviews)/Urban Spoon: 86% Like (60 votes)

Primarily an ice cream parlor, Scoop du Jour also gets high marks from many reviewers for its large, carefully prepared burgers. Sandwiches are also on the menu board, but everyone who talks about something other than the ice cream definitely mentions the burgers.

7) Teriyaki Bowl
3121 E. Madison Street
Yelp: 3.5 Stars (6 reviews)/Urban Spoon: 93% Like (105 reviews)

Although Yelp reviewers rated it lower than Teriyaki Seven, Urban Spoon’s reviewers preferred this Arboretum Court teriyaki entry to its down-the-street, Madison Valley competitor. 93% said they liked it, which is the highest such rating for any neighborhood eatery except Independent Pizzeria.  “Not bad,” to quote one Yelp reviewer.

8) Essential Baking Company Café
2719 E. Madison Street
Yelp: 3.5 Stars (66 reviews)/Urban Spoon: 88% Like (110 votes)

Historically, Essential Baking has gotten pretty good marks from reviewers, but this year the average rating by customers on Yelp has been only 2.7 stars, which explains our ranking the cafe lower than the neighborhood’s other 3.5-star eateries.  It’s worth noting, however, that while 81% of Zagat’s reviewers liked the place, Zagat has yet to record any reviews in 2011.

Although Essential serves soups, salads, crepes, quiches, and sandwiches, it’s the baked goods that are most often mentioned in patron reviews. Some service issues have been noted, at least in the past.


So that completes our three-part survey of the neighborhood eateries. Our goal has been to shine some light on both the well known and the more obscure choices that we Madison Parkers enjoy for getting good food without venturing very far to do so.

We’re gratified to know that as a result of our series some readers have tried places they’d never tried before or perhaps even learned about places they didn’t know existed.  We learned a few things as well, one of which is that not everyone believes in the value of consumer reviews posted on the Internet. As noted above, we admit to the limitations, which is why we encourage everyone to check these eateries out and form your own opinions.

[Note:  Our survey included only eating establishments where one could logically get breakfast, lunch, or dinner.]  Upper photo courtesy of Bella Dolce; middle photo courtesy of Cafe Arosa; lower photo of  Pugliese bread courtesy of Essential Baking.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

June Happenings

The Shore Run returns

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center will be the beneficiary of the 34th Annual Shore Run 5K Run/Walk, 10K Run, and Half-Mile Kids’ Run events to be held on Sunday, June 12, with Madison Park again serving as the finish line.  This is always a fun event for participants and spectators alike, and it raises a lot of money for a very good cause.  The 5K Run/Walk begins at Leschi Park at 8:15 am, the 10K Run begins at Ferdinand Park at 9 am, and the Kids’ Run begins at 10:15 am at Madison Park.  Information on registering or donating is available here.

Remember that entering and exiting the neighborhood may be somewhat challenging for brief periods while the Shore Run races are underway.

Hear the latest on 520

You will get multiple opportunities during the month to hear about different aspects of the SR-520 project, beginning with an “informational drop-in session” presented by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) at the Madison Park Starbucks (4000 E. Madison Street) on Monday, June 6, from 5 to 7 pm.  It’s another chance for you to ask WSDOT staff about the floating bridge replacement project and what its impact on Madison Park may be.

We, for example, would like to ask why WSDOT has yet to produce a decent close-up side graphic showing what the proposed bridge will look like from the water (the view that many of us will have once the thing is completed).  It’s making us suspicious, frankly, that the new bridge may look a bit nasty.  Of course it appears positively lovely from the air, or at least it does in this WSDOT graphic:

But it’s the up close and personal that we’re wondering about.

The Coalition for a Sustainable 520, by the way, is hoping to be able to staff a competing table in or near Starbucks at the time of the official event.  If that happens, Madison Parkers will also have another chance to hear the other side of WSDOT’s story.  Official information on the SR-520 project is available here.

Celebrate the removal of the arboretum ramps

While many Madison Parkers are not looking upon the upcoming removal of the Arboretum ramps as a particularly good thing, other people seem to be positively gleeful about the prospect.  You may have received a post card in the mail recently from the City’s Department of Parks & Recreation emblazoned with these bold words: “Imagine No More 520 Ramps!”  At first glance, we thought it must be a new anti-520 coalition organized to fight the travesty of everyone having to go through Montlake to access the Eastside.  But no, the postcard is simply an invitation to a Wednesday, June 8 meeting to meet the design team that is going to renovate the Arboretum after both the “Ramps to Nowhere” and the ramps to somewhere (the existing floating bridge) are demolished.

The upcoming meeting is an opportunity for you to share your thoughts with the parks department, the UW Botanic Gardens, and the Arboretum Foundation about the future north-side entry to Washington Park Arboretum.  A multi-use trail is among the design elements being proposed for the newly cleared area of the Park.  The meeting will be held in the Graham Visitor Center (2300 Arboretum Drive E.) from 6:30 until 8 pm.

Upcoming floating bridge closure

It’s probably worth noting, for those planning to be over on the Eastside late at night next month, that the floating bridge will be closed both directions between 11 pm on Friday, June 17, and 5 am on Monday, June 20.  During this period crews will be constructing “fish passage culverts” under the bridge, removing the pedestrian overpass on the eastside (at Evergreen Point Road) and completing “other time-sensitive work.”  So be prepared, since otherwise it will be a long drive around.  Information on the weekend closure is available here.

“Race to Nowhere” screening to benefit McGilvra

The Great Hall of Epiphany Parish Church (1805 38th Avenue) will be the site of the screening of a movie about education in America, an event to raise funds for the McGilvra Elementary School PTA.   The event will occur on Tuesday, June 7, beginning at 6 pm.

Here’s the movie’s synopsis: “A concerned mother turned filmmaker aims her camera at the high-stakes, high-pressure culture that has invaded our schools and our children's lives. Race to Nowhere points to the silent epidemic in our schools: cheating has become commonplace; students are disengaged; stress-related illness and depression are rampant; and many young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired. Race to Nowhere is a call to action for families, educators, and policy makers to challenge current assumptions on how to best prepare the youth of America to become healthy, bright, contributing and leading citizens.”

Following the movie, there will be a panel-led discussion of the issues raised by the film and potential solutions.  Admission is $10 in advance, $15 at the door.  Information is available here.

Free document-shredding event

On Saturday, June 11, from 9 am until 12 noon, Windermere Real Estate’s Madison Park office is sponsoring a charitable event to benefit Northwest Harvest.  Just bring a non-perishable food donation to the Grocery Outlet Parking Lot (1126 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way) during the times specified and Secure Shred will do even more than just shred your confidential documents—and do so without charge. According to Windermere’s Dave Hale, “They use a process called Hammermill, which pulverizes the material beyond recognition, making it impossible to reassemble (just in case anyone might ask).  The driver then takes the material to their plant in Renton where it is baled, and then its shipped off to a local recycling plant where it is turned into reusable material.”

The event, Hale notes, is good for Northwest Harvest, good for the environment, and good for your personal security as well. “Plus, you can’t beat the price!”

Glow Natural Health Center events

Glow (located at 2719 E. Madison Street, Suite 203) has three events upcoming in June.  On Monday, June 4 at 4 pm: “The Fourth Trimester: What Chinese Medicine Can Teach You About Postpartum Care,” facilitated by Chinese herbalist and acupuncturist Lindsey Lawson.  The session focuses on the crucial months following birth. On Wednesday, June 8 at 1 pm: “Postural Assessments: Your Gait and Spine,” facilitated by Dr. Heather Bergdors.  And on Tuesday, June 14 at 6 pm: “Anger Management,” facilitated by Tina Michalski. Each of the sessions is $10.  To reserve space, call (206) 568-7545.

Children’s Day at Japanese Garden

Finally, even though it is not a June event and the parks department did not get the event information to us in time for the May Happenings posting, we are still going to tell you about this Children’s Day event, which occurs on Monday, May 30, and could be fun.  There will be a Japanese-language puppet show, performances of traditional Japanese dances, and hands-on craft and cultural activities (including origami tutorials and the opportunity for children to try on a Japanese summer kimono, known as a yukata).  Children’s Day is a Japanese national holiday celebrated on May 5.  Why it is therefore being celebrated here on Memorial Day is not explained.  Possibly because Cinco de Mayo doesn’t quite work here as a Japanese holiday.

The Japanese Garden is located at 1075 Lake Washington Boulevard E., and the Children’s Day event begins there at 11 am, continuing until 3 pm.  Admission is $10 for adults, with up to two children (age 12 and younger) per paying adult (each additional child $4).  We would direct you to the site for the details, but it has apparently gone down. Information, however, is available by calling (206) 684-4725.

[Arboretum photo courtesy of Cloganese on Flickr.]

Monday, May 23, 2011

Estimating house values from sales data

If you happen to own stock in a publicly traded company, it’s pretty easy to know what your investment is worth.  Exact information on how the market values that asset is available in real time, at least when securities markets are open.  Even if you don’t sell your own stock, its current market value is determined by those who do.  This is in spite of the fact that on any given day it is usually only a tiny percentage of a company’s shareholders who effectively set the stock’s value by selling their shares.  Though you may have an entirely different view of the true value of the stock shares you own, if you want to sell them you will have to accept what the market has dictated.  When you acknowledge that the market has reset the value of your stock shares, you are doing what’s known as “marking to market.”

But what’s relatively easy to do for stocks and other kinds of securities is difficult to do for your own home.  “Marking to market” in the real estate world is, to put it mildly, an inexact science.  Houses are one-of-a-kind assets, and your home’s characteristics will vary in some degree from each of the homes that may have recently sold in your neighborhood.   Interpolating the value of your house from data on the sales of other homes is therefore no easy task.

For certain of my neighbors who tell me they intend to leave their houses “feet first,” the need to value their homes as an investment is minimal at best.  For most the rest of us, however, the value of our houses is of more-than-academic interest.  Each of us probably expects to sell our home at some point in the future, and our personal sense of wealth and security may well be tied to what we perceive as our house’s value.  After all, for most of us our home is the most expensive asset we will ever own.

So when we hear that the median sales price of a house in the Seattle area has declined by 27% from the market high, what might that aggregate number imply about the value of our own residence?   Is it reasonable to assume that our own abode is now worth about 73% of what it was in 2007?

The short answer to that question is “not necessarily.”  For one thing, market changes within a region may not be uniform across neighborhoods.  Madison Park may not be experiencing the same degree of decline as, say, Rainier Beach.  Another major factor to take into consideration is the fact that the mix of housing sold in any given period may be different from that sold in a subsequent period, making comparisons a bit tenuous.  Last year, for example, a lot of sales in Seattle were apparently driven by federal tax incentives that have since expired.  It is highly likely that more of those sales occurred in the lower tier of the market than in the upper tier.  This might have had the effect of overstating the real decline in values, since relatively more houses in the lower tier may have been selling than was true before or after.

To illustrate the point, here is a simplistic example of how a distortion might occur due to the mix of homes sold in different time periods:  If four houses sold in a particular month at $500,000, $700,000, $1,000,000 and $2,000,000 respectively, the median price of homes sold that month would be $850,000, the midpoint at which 50% of the sales were higher and 50% were lower.  If in the next month all of the same sales again occurred except for the $2,000,000 house, the median sale price for the remaining three houses would be $700,000, an 18% reduction from the previous month’s number.  That certainly doesn’t imply that all of the other houses in the market (for sale or not) have suddenly fallen 18% in value.  The total number and the mix of sales is simply too small to warrant such a conclusion.

Madison Park, as we all know, is a rarefied market, with the median sales price consistently in excess of $1 million.  At the same time, of the 2,800 or so housing units in this market, only ten or fewer are being sold each month, on average.   What kind of conclusion can legitimately be drawn from the monthly or even the annual sales data under these circumstances?

Well, it’s been suggested by more than one reader that as a way to normalize for the differences in the types of houses sold in different periods, we should start looking at the price per square foot of these houses.  When we do so, we see that between 2007 and 2010 the value of houses sold in our market may have fallen by under 20%.  At the height of the local market in 2007, the price per square foot of the 56 houses sold was $498.37.  In 2010 the price per square foot of the 71 houses sold was $418.37, an $80 drop or 16%.  This is significantly less than the 27% fall reported in Seattle-area median sale prices for single-family residences.  But this is hardly an apples-to-apples comparison.  Moreover, there is an anomaly.  Although the height of the market in terms of the median house’s sale price was in 2007, the height of the Madison Park market in terms of price per square foot came in 2008, when the average value for the 46 houses sold was $534.70 per square foot.   Comparing 2008 to 2010 in terms of per-square-foot price results in a 22% price decline, still better than the Seattle-area median decline.

Finally, another way to look the change in housing values in Madison Park is provided by real-estate data site Zillow. Last year Zillow pegged our neighborhood as the absolute worst in the region in terms of declining values.  The news since then doesn’t appear that bad, however.  The Zillow Home Value Index, which provides a rough estimate of the median value of houses in Madison Park (Broadmoor excluded), has declined from $723,000 at March 1, 2010 to $718,000 on the same date in 2011.  That’s only a 0.6% decline year over year and a surprisingly stable performance for the twelve-month period, relative to the bumpy ride after the market high of $1,001,000 recorded September 1, 2007.

This more-recent news is certainly encouraging for those of us not planning to take a “feet first” exit from our homes.  In the period through the end of March 2011, Madison Park, indeed, showed the second-best performance of any of the 88 Seattle-area neighborhoods surveyed. Compared to Madison Park’s under-1% decline, Seattle as a whole suffered an 8% year-over-year fall in average value, according to Zillow.  Rainier Beach, by contrast, was down 17.2% and nearby Capitol Hill was down 7.3%. 

Reporting this good news at the end of this posting, by the way, is an example of what’s known in the business as “burying your lead.” However, we really thought you should first see those graphs.

[Photo: This 2,820 sq. ft. 1925 home located at 3805 E. Madison Street, has a rooftop deck with a surprisingly good view.  Priced at $799,000, it is a current listing of Monica Tracey of Windermere Real Estate.]

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Police Blotter 5/18/11

There has been a fair number of crimes committed in the neighborhood during the past month, as evidenced by the Seattle Police's crime map above. Although the map shows criminal activities reported since our last Police Blotter posting on April 14, the most shocking crime that took place during the period was inexplicably not shown on the map. So we manually put a big red "X' there to mark the spot at the E. Prospect Street road end where the armed robbery occurred on April 29.  We reported on that incident earlier this month.

At that same road end there was a drug bust two weeks later, on May 11.  In that incident, neighbors called police in the early evening to report that juveniles were smoking marijuana in the area just north of the Seattle Tennis Club.  The police report states that on arrival at the scene the officers smelled pot in the air, recovered the drugs from the juveniles, and took down names.  No one was arrested since there were fewer than 40 grams of weed confiscated and, according to police spokesperson Mark Jamieson, the policy is not to arrest unless 40 grams or more is involved. Which is not to say that the perpetrators' drug use will not have consequences. The police report notes the case has been "referred to City Attorney" for follow up.

There were three burglaries reported.  Two of these were in Broadmoor, one on May 9 on the 1700 block of Parkside Drive E, and one on May 11 on the 1400 block of Shenandoah Drive E.  In the first incident a homeowner reported having left a door unlocked when leaving the house, returning to discover that a laptop had been stolen. In the second incident, which happened in the early afternoon, the security guard at the gate reported to police that he had observed two juvenile males exiting Broadmoor carrying a laptop and what appeared to be an Xbox-type console.  He said he went over to talk to the suspects, who immediately dropped what they were carrying and took off.  The investigating police officers were able to locate the residence from which the objects had been stolen, noting that while there was no one home at the house, it appeared that there had been a forced entry through a door that had a broken window pane which had been patched with some cardboard.  There may have been other break-ins in Broadmoor which did not get reported or, if so, did not make it onto the crime map.  A couple weeks ago we received an email exchange between Broadmoor residents warning of numerous burglaries in the past month ("over 100 during the day in the last month in our area") and urging neighbors to lock their doors and keep a look out.

The third neighborhood burglary occurred on April 15 on the 600 block of 33rd Avenue E.  At about 1:30 pm on that Saturday a concerned citizen reported that he had observed the backdoor standing open to a house whose owners had left town the day before.  Police investigated and discovered that there had been a forced entry and that the place had been ransacked.  A second-floor window of the master bedroom had apparently been the point of entry.

There were two cars stolen, one from the 2300 block of Broadmoor Drive E. on May 14, and one from the 1800 block of 41st Avenue E. on May 8.  Car prowls occurred on the 4100 block of E. McGilvra St. on April 19, on the 3900 block of E. Lee Street on April 21, and from the 2300 block of 41st Avenue E. on April 29.

Finally, there were a couple of disturbances reported to police.  One of these occurred at 3:30 in the morning during the night of April 24. Neighbors on the 2200 block of 38th Place E. reported hearing loud unidentified noises.  The police officer initially dispatched to the scene reported that he was hearing what sounded like gunshots.  Additional patrol cars soon arrived and officers tried to locate the source.  It soon became apparent that the noise was not gunshots but was occurring at regular intervals and appeared to be coming from the roof of a residence.  A fire department ladder truck soon arrived and the firefighters discovered that a gas-line release valve, which was protruding through the roof of the house, was making the noise.  The gas company was summoned, the gas to the house was turned off, and a notice was placed on the door notifying the homeowners to contact the gas company upon their return.

[Key to crime-map symbols: starbursts represent burglaries, solid cars represent car thefts, un-solid cars represent car prowls, spray-paint cans represent property damage, upraised hands represent shoplifting, dollar bills represent thefts, handcuffs represent arrests under warrants, guns represent weapons involved, red exclamation points represent cases of harassment, narcotics needles represent drug busts, black masks represent disturbances, and gray cars represent traffic incidents.] 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Rating the neighborhood eateries: Part II

Burger joints, pizza parlors, pubs, and the like

Last month we surveyed the more upscale restaurants in the neighborhood (Madison Park and Madison Valley combined), ranking them based on the reviews of patrons.  Now we take on the remaining sit-down restaurants, not quite ignoring the opinions of the professional reviewers, but giving them less credence than the views of regular folks who took the time to record their comments.

As with our rankings of the “white-tablecloth” establishments, this list is based first and foremost on the reviews of Yelp users, since that site has by far the greatest number of reviews of each restaurant and a five-star ranking system. Urban Spoon’s reviews were given secondary consideration because of its smaller number of reviews and the fact that it has only a Like/Don’t Like differentiator.  For this list, we made a couple of adjustments to the ranking system, as noted below.  Most of these establishments do not have reviews in Zagat, but when such reviews exist they are noted.

So without further ado, here are the rankings:

1) The Independent Pizzeria
4235 E. Madison Street
Yelp: 4.5 Stars (18 reviews)/Urban Spoon: 94% Like (86 votes)

This recent addition to the neighborhood gets excellent marks for the high quality of the Neapolitan-style, handcrafted pizzas. But it also garners criticism from a few reviewers who don’t like to wait or feel the prices are high.  However, here is a typical response from a fan:  “If you don’t like the pizza here there’s something wrong with you.”

By the way, seriouseats.com, has an excellent review here.

2) Bing's Bodacious Burgers
4200 E. Madison St.
Yelp: 3.5 Stars (44 reviews)/Urban Spoon: 81% Like  (148 votes)

Only 50% of Zagat’s 37 reviewers said they liked Bing’s, but it’s quite possible that Zagat’s reviewers are a pretentious bunch. Bing’s is definitely not pretentious--and for most reviewers on Yelp and Urban Spoon, Bing’s works just fine as a family-friendly, neighborhood joint whose courteous staff serves up good eats.  Reviewers most often cite the burgers, the Huevos Rancheros, and the Key Lime pie as excellent fare.

The Stranger’s assessment: “Slightly classier than your regular burger joint, Bing’s serves fancy burgers…with a healthy side of joie-de-vivre.”

3) Attic Alehouse and Eatery
4226 E. Madison Street
Yelp: 3.5 Stars (55 reviews)/Urban Spoon: 80% Like (103 votes)

The Attic, a Madison Park institution, gets solid marks as a sports bar and is credited by most reviewers with good pub fare (especially the burgers, meatloaf sandwich, and chicken wings), and for the wide range of on-tap beers.  The place gets occasional dings for service issues, however.

The Weekly’s review points to another attribute:  “Known mainly for its incredible burgers and rough-hewn longevity in the face of Range Rover yuppiedom, the Attic, to the knowledge of a select few, serves a mean breakfast on weekends.”  Recommended:  the corn beef hash.

4) Thai Ginger
1841 42nd Avenue E.
Yelp: 3 Stars (24 reviews)/Urban Spoon: 93% Like (130 votes)

Fully 85% of Zagat’s reviewers (all seven of them) liked Thai Ginger, giving the restaurant a 16th-out-of-32 rank for Thai restaurants in the Seattle area.  Yelp reviewers, however, varied significantly in their assessments of the place, some knocking the service and others the food.  Still, the majority of reviewers found the food to be acceptable-to-good.

5) McGilvra’s Bar & Restaurant 
4234 E. Madison Street
Yelp: 3 Stars (36 reviews)/Urban Spoon: 68% Like (104 votes)

McGilvra’s is most often cited for its great outdoor seating.  For many, the venue clearly makes up for any deficiencies--but that’s not true for everyone. This is an establishment that has ratings all over the map, with a few five star reviews, but also a lot of other evaluations at the very low end of the ratings scale.  The bar and the bartender get good marks from many, but only a minority of reviewers cites the food as being the thing.

6) Philadelphia Fevre Steak & Hoagie Shop
2332 E. Madison St.
Yelp: 3.5 Stars (60 reviews)/Urban Spoon: 86% Like (90 votes)

Many reviewers over the years have sworn that this place serves the best cheese steak in town, and a fair number also mentioned great service.  However, in 2011 most the reviewers complained about the food or the service, or both.  In fact, the average of the eight reviews on Yelp so far this year is 2 Stars, which by itself would not be enough for this place to even make our list.  For this reason, we lowered the ranking.

Note, however, that the foodie website, Gayot, pronounces the food “authentic Philly,” praising not only the steaks, but the hoagies and crinkle-cut fries as well.

7) The Red Onion
4210 E. Madison Street
Yelp: 4 Stars (15 reviews)/Urban Spoon: 62% Like (8 votes)

Yes, The Red Onion gets a surprising 4 stars from Yelp reviewers, on average, but almost all of the reviews are based on karaoke or sentiment, rather than the food.  For this reason (and the fact that Urban Spoon reviewers, overall, gave the place tepid marks), we moved The Red Onion down the list.  Not that there aren’t some positive comments about both the food and the service from certain fans.

A review on Yelp: “I love how this place is a dive bar in one of the most upscale parts of the city.  It is cheap, good (food included) and cozy.  Very unpretentious and welcoming.  I love it!”

8) Mad Pizza
4021 E. Madison Street
Yelp: 2.5 Stars (16 reviews)/Urban Spoon: 73% Like (45 votes)

The neighborhood’s longtime pizza parlor gets low marks from Yelp reviewers for both food and service.  However, Gayot, the foodie website, recommends the place for quick bites, giving credit for “inventive, tasty pies.”

And with that, our survey of the neighborhood burger joints, pizza parlors, pubs and other dinner restaurants is complete. Next up: ranking the neighborhood cafes and delis.

[Upper photo of Independent Pizzeria pizza from Slice.  Lower photo of Bing's burger uploaded by Louis L. to Yelp.]

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Nighttime protest in Madison Park

Few people would think of Madison Park as a likely venue for a protest march, but mini-demonstrations do sometimes happen here.  A few weeks ago, for example, four or five senior citizens appeared in the business district to demonstrate in favor of taxing the rich and against corporate tax evasion.  Why they picked Madison Park for this public display was not obvious, but perhaps it was the presence of a particular bank branch within our midst (one of the protesters supposedly was holding a sign reading "Bank of America is a tax dodger").

And on Wednesday night there was another demonstration in the neighborhood, this one in a residential area. Students from the University of Washington set up a candlelight vigil in front of the Walker-Ames Mansion (aka Hill-Crest House) in the Washington Park section of 36th Avenue E.  The mansion is the residence of the UW President, and the students were on hand to protest against the University's concessionaire at Husky Stadium, Sodexo, which is accused of providing "sweatshop-like" working conditions for its employees. Not surprisingly, the company denies the practice.

In any event, the nighttime vigil here in the Park proved much less eventful than the sit-in at the UW President's office on campus, which took place earlier in the afternoon. That demonstration was broken up by UW Police, who hauled 25 or so students away, citing them for trespassing.  Although Seattle Police were on hand for the candlelight protest, the twenty or so students in attendance were reportedly on their best behavior. According to our correspondent, some candles were lit, some songs were sung, and after about a half hour everyone moved on.

By the way, that silhouette in the upstairs window is apparently not interim UW President Phyllis Wise.  She was reportedly not at home at the time of the demonstration.  Incoming UW President Michael K. Young will be assuming his new position on July 1 and will presumably become a Madison Park resident and neighbor at about the same time.

[Photo sent from the Iphone of J. Waltz.]

Starbucks revamp complete

It's taken a bit longer than expected, and its roll-out will not prove much of a surprise to those patrons who've been watching the progress of construction over the past few months, but Starbucks officially unveils the new Madison Park store today. 

More importantly for some, the transformed Starbucks will now be serving wine and beer each weekday beginning at 2 pm (noon on the weekends).  We're told that some new menu items will be making their debut in conjunction with the alcohol service.

The new space has polished concrete floors, lots of wood and tile, and more, though seemingly less cushy, seating.  The meeting area has been reconfigured, and there's also a new bar.  The space appears to be more effectively organized, and the feel is definitely brighter than it was.  The fireplace remains intact.

While the physical transformation of the Madison Park Starbucks is certainly a done deal, the menu changes now underway are still theoretically experimental.  As we reported before construction began in March, corporate headquarters is trying to determine whether the introduction of wine and beer in a neighborhood like Madison Park will be as successful as it has proven to be on Capitol Hill.  So in some slight sense, perhaps, Starbucks patrons here who decide to imbibe (or not) can consider themselves guinea pigs sacrificing themselves for a higher cause.

[Starbucks is located at 4000 E. Madison Street.]

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Madison Park: not quite homogeneous

Madison Park has many things going for it, but diversity certainly isn't one of them.  At least not diversity of the racial/ethnic kind.  Though we may show a degree of variety in other ways, it would be evident to anyone taking a quick jog around the neighborhood that our population is essentially monochromatic.  

But not exactly lily white, either.

The recently released 2010 census numbers provide evidence that there's at least a modicum of diversity in the old neighborhood. Slightly more than 10% of area residents classified themselves as either non-white, mixed race, or Hispanic/Latino. Asians comprised the largest minority group, representing 3.7% of the total population (186 total residents), with Hispanics at 2.7% (136 residents), blacks at 1.1% (60 residents), and American Indians at 0.2% (10 residents). A total of 141 Madison Parkers claimed two or more races, while two people reported they were native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders and 17 said they were of another race.  

This certainly makes Madison Park one of the whitest neighborhoods in what is a very white city. As the Seattle Times reported last month, the 2010 census showed Seattle with the fifth highest percentage of non-Hispanic whites of any major U.S. city: 66%.  Washington State reported an even higher 72.5%.  Like the State as a whole, Madison Park showed a significant increase in the minority population since the 2000 census. The current figure of 10.3% is actually a big increase over the 6% reported at the time of the 2000 census.  This growing diversity is primarily attributable to increases in the Asian and Hispanic/Latino population groups.

Unlike Washington overall, however, Madison Park does not show any significant difference in diversity between the under-18-year-old and the 18-and-over population.  For the State, the under-18 population is much more diverse (only 61% white) than is the older demographic (over 75% white).  For Madison Park, 90.8% of the older residents classified themselves as non-Hispanic white, versus 89.7% for the population as a whole.

This first batch of statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau is limited to ethnic/racial identification and housing occupancy. Madison Park actually lost population since the 2000 census, with 44 fewer people reported as residents since the last census (4,962 in 2010 versus 5,006 in 2000). There were 2,829 separate housing units in Madison Park in 2010, up slightly from the 2,822 reported in 2000. Almost 11% of these available residences were, however, vacant at the time of the 2010 census, which may explain our slight population decline.

The Census Bureau will be releasing additional demographic information from the 2010 census over the next several years, and we will keep you posted as these data dumps occur.

[Notes: Madison Park (including the Washington Park and Broadmoor enclaves) is almost--but not quite--wholly contained within Census Tract 63.  A very few Madison Park residences, primarily in the area of 39th Avenue E., just north of Denny Blaine, are excluded from this census tract.  However, their inclusion would not change the demographic mix reported above, though it would perhaps add another 100 or so people to the neighborhood's population total. Also, note that the census allows those who are ethnically Hispanic or Latino to separately classify themselves as white, black or mixed race.  If all Hispanic/Latino residents of Madison Park were simply classified by race rather than ethnicity, the neighborhood's white population would be 91.6%, based on the 2010 census figures.]

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Spa del Lago about to return

Let no one say that you can't get your hair coiffed or your feet pedicured in Madison Park.  By our count there are already eleven salons and spas of one kind or another operating here.  But they are apparently about to become an even dozen. The "For Sale" sign came down and the "Under New Management" sign went up the other day at Spa del Lago (1929 43rd Avenue E.).  The reopening is scheduled for sometime in June.

Spa del Lago, full-service day spa, was a Madison Park mainstay for many years; but in late December it shut down.  Part-owner Tom Walsh and some of the crew decamped for space across the street, opening in January as Terzo Salon in the Villa Marina building.  The old Spa del Lago space, a first-floor retail condominium unit, has been dark since that time.

Whether the Spa has now been sold or the space just rented out to a new tenant is unclear.  The King County Assessor's on-line reporting system does not show a sale of the unit, as of today.  But there is often a delay in recording property sales. Spa del Lago's website also offers no clues. It has been up and running all along, indicating that the spa is open for business. It appears that that disconnect is about to be rectified.

Photo courtesy of Spa del Lago.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

New Washington Park play area? Fuggetaboutit

It was with some fanfare that our friendly garbage company, CleanScapes, announced last year that a project submitted by residents of Madison Valley was the winner of a competition between several contiguous neighborhoods (Madison Park and Madison Valley included) for a $50,000 project grant.  A proposed new play area at Washington Park, near the ball field, was chosen over projects submitted by the other neighborhoods in the Thursday garbage-collection area.  The project competition resulted from the fact that the Thursday-is-garbage-day neighborhoods had shown a greater reduction in waste over some specified period than the neighborhoods whose garbage was collected on other days of the week.

CleanScapes announced last week, however, that the whole project at Washington Park is now dead.  The idea had been to replace the existing swings (shown above) with a "integrated play area" very much like (if not identical to) the one privately paid for and installed a couple of years ago at Madison Park.  The Washington Park play area was a great idea whose time has, unfortunately, not yet come.  It seems that the project cannot be implemented within the $50,000 grant budget, even though volunteers were going be used for installation labor.

What happened?  Well, that's something of a mystery.  CleanScapes in its press release stated, "Seattle Parks determined that the original proposal would not be approved, as they did not want the swings removed from the existing containment area to make way for a new playground structure." The winning project presupposed the replacement of the swingset with the new play area. Once the City balked at that plan, other problems arose. The play area would have needed to be placed in a different location, one that proved unstable after soil testing.  Properly preparing the new site for the installation would have cost well in excess of the budgeted amount, causing CleanScapes to give up on the Washington Park scheme.

But why did the City object to removal of the swingset?  Parks spokesman Joelle Hammerstad was unable to provide an answer when we quizzed her last week.  She did give us this statement, however: “Seattle Parks and Recreation is disappointed that we were not able to move forward with the playground renovation at Washington Park. It would have been a great project for the community. We are, however, heartened that CleanScapes has a slate of other great projects that will be a boon for neighbors. We congratulate the community on their excellent waste reduction efforts, and are confident that the new CleanScapes project will add much enjoyment to the neighborhood.”

Unfortunately, the neighborhood that CleanScapes will be adding much enjoyment to will not be ours.  The remaining projects (originally losers to the Washington Park play area) are: Madrona's bid for "historic and directional bronze sidewalk art," Montlake's bid for a new path and information kiosk at Montlake Gateway Park, and First Hill's bid for an SDOT (that's Seattle Department of Transportation) information kiosk at Ninth Avenue and Madison Street.

Gunpoint robbery at Madison Park road end

Two men siting in a parked car at the E. Prospect Street road end were robbed at gunpoint last Friday. The incident occurred during daylight, at around 6 pm. The victims reported to police that they had been sitting in their car when an unknown black male suddenly approached the vehicle, opened a car door, and jumped into the backseat. The perpetrator then drew a handgun and asked the two to fork over their valuables.

After taking about $100 from the pair, as well as one of the victims' iPhone, the man took off running west toward McGilvra Boulevard (which can be approached at this point up a steep flight of stairs).  The gun-wielding assailant was joined in his escape by another man, who had apparently been standing guard while the crime was committed.

Police were called and descriptions were given, but no suspects were found. This, in spite of the fact that the stolen iPhone included an application allowing for GPS tracking. According to the police report, the victim told police that the tracking application showed that the phone was in the vicinity of 31st Avenue E. and E. Madison St., but the criminals were not located at that point by the time the police arrived.

The website SeattleCrime.com reported this story yesterday with this lead: "One man was pistol-whipped during a robbery outside the Seattle Tennis Club in the Central District last Friday."  We asked the Seattle Police about the pistol-whipping aspect of this case. According to Public Information Officer Mark Jamieson, the police report states that the perpetrator "shoved the gun into the victim's cheek, causing a small cut."

The E. Prospect Street Road End, just north of the Seattle Tennis Club, from Google

Monday, May 2, 2011

Real Estate Report: First Quarter 2011

Some good news, and some not so much

A reader took us to task last month for our supposedly gloomy reporting on the state of the local real estate market.  With her house currently for sale, she worried that the drumbeat of negative market information might impact the decision making of potential house buyers, causing them to lower their offers or hesitate to purchase. On the other hand, we also heard from a realtor who said she thought our factual reporting was helpful, since in her opinion many sellers have an unrealistic view of market conditions and need a third party to confirm their need to “price to the market.”

We’re not attempting to be either doom-and-gloom or Pollyannaish in our coverage of Madison Park real estate.  We’re just trying to tell it like it is.  We have a strong belief that having information is a good thing. For markets to operate most efficiently, it’s important for both buyers and sellers to have a realistic assessment of market conditions.  This is only possible when information about what’s happening in the market is freely available.

So with that said, we can categorically report that the Madison Park real estate scene is not as bad as all that--and it certainly could be in a lot worst shape at this point than it actually is. It could, for example, be just as bad as it looked when the New Year began.

At the end of last year, the trend of home sales really appeared positive.  In December there had been 16 homes sold in Madison Park, a monthly volume not seen in several years.  In January, however, that run came to a screeching halt, with only four Madison Park homes sold, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (MLS).  This low level of activity was repeated in February, with another four sales recorded.

Fortunately for our story (and, not incidentally, for Madison Park homes sellers), the glimmer of spring brought renewed sales activity to the market, with ten homes changing hands during March.  Moreover, there are currently 13 homes pending sale in Madison Park.

Just to put these numbers into perspective, we note that the absorption rate (the relationship between the number of homes for sale and the monthly sales volume) is currently 8 (in other words, it would take 8 months to clear the existing inventory).   When the market was at its worst (late 2008/early 2009) the absorption rate varied between 16 and 38 at any given point.  So, in this respect at least, things could definitely be worse.   We’ve seen it.

This is how the Madison Park market (Washington Park and Broadmoor included) looked during the first quarter in terms of sales activity:


Sales:  12
Median Sales Price:  $1,127,292
Average Sq. Ft.:  3,659
Average Price per Sq. Ft.:  $405
Average Days on Market:  270
Average Discount from Original List Price:  9.7%


Sales:  6
Median Sales Price:  $387,700
Average Sq. Ft.:  1,237
Average Price per Sq. Ft.:  $380
Average Days on Market:  178
Average Discount from Original List Price:  13.8%

This picture, as presented by the MLS, is made even brighter when information from the King County Assessor’s Office is thrown into the mix.  No few than six additional houses, three of them in Broadmoor, were listed as sold by the Assessor in the first quarter.  The median sales price for these non-MLS sales was a stunningly high $2.6 million.

If you include all of the sales reported by both data sources, 24 homes were sold in Madison Park in the first quarter of 2011, an average of 8 per month.  That’s in line with sales for the first quarter last year and significantly above the average of only 4 monthly sales at the depths of the market’s doldrums (September 2008 through August 2009).

The most expensive house sold so far this year is a 7,500 sq. ft. brick mansion in Broadmoor, originally listed at $6.5 million but selling in March for $4.7 million, a 28% haircut.  It had been on the market 822 days, according to the MLS.  Four other houses changed hands at over $2 million, and there were just five houses that sold for under $1 million, one of these being a “financial institution resale” for only $419,500.  That was a cute-but-tiny (though well priced) 1926 stucco located north of E. Madison St., which we pictured on the blog in December.  The least expensive house sold during the quarter was a 1,108 townhome, which sold for $364,000.

One of the six condos sold during the quarter suffered by far the biggest discount from the original listing price that we’ve seen in some time, a whopping 42%.  Originally listed at $485,000 481 days earlier, this 1,125 sq. ft. abode in Canterbury Shores finally sold in March for just $279,950.

Two sellers, however, were lucky enough (or smart enough) to sell their homes for an amount higher even than their original listing price. A house in Broadmoor was listed at $995,000 and then sold 12 days later for $1,050,000.  Another Broadmoor house, more surprisingly, was listed at $1,593,000 and sold 489 days later for $1,650,000.

The bottom line on property sales during the first quarter is that homes continued to sell, though it was taking six-to-nine months on average for it to happen, and only after one or more price reductions in advance of the final negotiation, which generally resulted in a discount.

Inventory, meanwhile, seems typical for this time of year, at least compared to the last three years.  What usually happens is that inventory levels rise as summer approaches and the peak selling season begins.  There are currently 77 homes on the market in the Park, but it is likely that the pattern of the last two years (when listing rose to over 100 by June) may be repeated again in 2011.

Here’s a snapshot of the current market, as reported by Redfin, utilizing MLS and owner-listing data:


Listings:  57
Median List Price:  $1,600,000
Median Sq. Ft.:  3,500
Median Price per Sq. Ft.:  $457
Average Days on Market:  136
Percentage with Price Reductions:  42%
New Listings: 13 (last 30 days)
Pending Sales: 8


Listings:  20
Median List Price:  $425,000
Median Sq. Ft.:  1,006
Median Price per Sq. Ft.:  $422
Average Days on Market:  120
Percentage with Price Reductions:  40%
New Listings:  3 (last 30 days)
Pending Sales:  5

The standout statistic here is the percentage of properties currently on the market that have suffered price reductions: more than 40%.  This is in spite of the fact the average days on market for these properties is significantly lower (136 days for houses) than the average number of days on market for recently sold properties (270 days for houses). And the percentage of listings with reductions is trending up.  Last year the percentage generally varied between the high-20s and mid-30s each month.

Let’s end this, however, on a happier note.  The Puget Sound Business Journal recently reported that pending and closed sales of homes worth more than $1 million have surged nearly 63% in King County so far this year.  The article speculates that this trend is the result of stock market gains and rising corporate earnings, which are freeing up cash for people able to afford these more-expensive homes.  Since Madison Park sits squarely in the over-$1 million market, this is good news, if true.

Finally, there’s this bit of encouragement from SeattleBubble.com: The high-tier of the market (the top third in terms of price) has suffered a smaller decline in sales price than the lowest tier.  All three tiers are, of course, down. But we’ll take our good news where we can find it.

[Thanks, as always, to Wendy Skerritt of Windermere Real Estate for providing some of the MLS market data used in this posting.]

Photo above: This house at 1115 McGilvra Boulevard E. certainly qualifies as the Steal of the Month if it sells for its listed price of $587,500, which is unlikely.  The habitable 1,800 sq. ft. structure, built in 1919, has sweeping views and a giant 7,800 sq. ft. lot that is perfect for re-development (though high on a hill with no intersecting alley).  The property recently became bank-owned through foreclosure.  The appraised value, according to the King County Assessor, is $1,264,000, of which $65,000 is contributed by the existing structure.  This is a listing of David Schroeder of John L. Scott, who tells us he expects multiple offers.        CLICK ON CHARTS TO ENLARGE.