For those of you who have read my post on The Walrus and the Carpenter, you probably know that I think everything Erickson touches turns to gold. Fresh, rustic, simple, delicious gold. Well, fortunately for me (and the citizens of Seattle), The Whale Wins is no different.
Erickson does with her restaurants what I aspire to do with this blog, which is create great food presented in beautiful spaces, infused with genuine elements of her personal life and experiences. There is something so unique to each of her restaurants in that you feel like you’re coming home when you’re there, and while it feels effortless, you just know that all of the details were very thoughtful and deliberate. At The Whale Wins, you get the sense that if you came over to Erickson’s house, these are the things she would whip up for you while you relaxed at the counter with a glass of wine.
If you’re seated in the front dining area, all you have to do is look up to see the amazing lighting installation that reads “Hello, Hello,” created by Erickson’s close friend, artist Jeffry Mitchell. I looked into the origins of this piece and found in Seattle Met’s review from earlier this fall that “Hello, Hello” is how Mitchell always greets his family and friends. Again, another brilliant, yet subtle way that Erickson weaves little bits and pieces of her life into the space.
Anyway, I should probably get to the food. We started with some cocktails and I went with the Freightliner, made with scotch, applejack, lemon, and cinnamon syrup. Bright, spicy, and still refreshing. A perfect, versatile winter cocktail that warms you up without being too heavy. Audrey went with the Smoking Jacket, made with Vidal Mezcal, dry vermouth, and Averna (an Italian disgestif). It was so uniquely smoky and smooth, it was like being bundled up in front of a blazing bonfire. Great for sipping.
We began our meal with staples of any Erickson restaurant: cheese, Columbia City Bakery baguette with whipped butter and salt, and house-made pickles. The cheese was an incredible blue variety from Neal’s Yard Dairy and was served with tangy pickled plums. Erickson is a master at the art of pickling and our plate was a gorgeous rainbow of every type of pickled vegetable you can imagine: cauliflower, daikon, plums, onions, carrots, these small amazing peppers, and more that I can’t even remember.
What arrived next might have been the unexpected highlight of our meal. The Caviar d’Aubergine (eggplant) with Roasted Cauliflower, Pine Nuts, Thyme and Lemon Peel. The eggplant was velvety and the dish was earthy but lightened by the lemon peel and herbs. Many of the dishes are done in the wood-fired oven here and then served at room temperature which was a surprisingly lovely touch. Definitely order this dish if it’s on the menu.
We moved onto the meat and fish portion of our meal and shared the Matiz Sardines on Toast with Creamy Curried Tomato Paste and Shaved Fennel. Briny, creamy, and crunchy with the toast and crisp fennel. Also notable was the Whole Roasted Yakima River Farmed Trout with Roasted Lemons and Walnut Sauce. I didn’t know how good a walnut sauce could be and definitely could’ve licked the plate. Let me also say thank you to Audrey and Scott for letting me be greedy and eat all of the roasted lemons (sorry, guys). They’re like candy, I can’t help myself! I think we were all surprised at how much we enjoyed the trout with its tender, moist flesh and crispy skin.
I guess I continued to be greedy because I managed to take a gorgeous slice of the Painted Hills Filet Mignon before I had even managed to snap a picture. (Quelle horreur!) It was served with a sauce verte, fingerling potatoes, and a fresh horseradish cream (for those of you who have had the oysters at Walrus, yes, it’s that horseradish). The filet, too, was served at room temperature and melted in your mouth. Steak and potatoes, taken to a more interesting, sophisticated level.
We also ordered the special, an Oyster Mushroom Gratin that we ate while we enjoyed our filet. The slender mushrooms were substantial and smooth in texture with a light crunch from the breadcrumbs. Again, the vegetables were the star here, not overpowered by other ingredients.
By this point in the night, we were sinking into food coma status so decided to table the spot prawns, roasted chicken with preserved lemons, and bone marrow for next time (if you’ve had them, I’d love to hear your thoughts!) But of course we saved a tiny little spot in our stomachs for dessert and shared the Butter-Roasted Zucchini Bread with Creme Fraiche, dusted with salt and powdered sugar. Most of the desserts here are out on display on the kitchen counter, but our server suggested this one because they roast it in a skillet beforehand, crisping up the edges. It wasn’t quite as mind-blowing as the bread pudding at Walrus, but it was still the right amount of sweetness to wrap up our wonderful meal.
Erickson describes The Whale Wins as a ‘lively, light filled, cottage-like space’ and it’s really matches that description to a T. It’s the spot that you’d like to be eating at any night of the week with friends, laughing and fighting over the last bit of cheese. She makes eating out approachable and casual, but still special. My three takeaways from the night? One, dining out is always better when you’re sharing food in good company. Two, I need Renee Erickson and her team to design my house when I grow up. Three, most things are incredibly delicious when served at room temperature. I’m definitely looking forward to the next time I can say, “Hello, Hello” to The Whale Wins.
The Whale Wins, 3506 Stone Way North, Seattle, WA, (206) 632.9425, http://www.thewhalewins.com, Open Wednesday-Saturday from 11 am – 10 pm, Sunday from 11 am – 9 pm, Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Reservations only accepted for groups of 6 or more.