Thursday, June 16, 2016

Dungee Jumping

June 3rd

The seventh of eight ferry rides on this trip. Peter bore the queue with the stance of a seasoned commuter, and tourists constantly approached him for information. He is the Fairy Godfather.
Anyway, we drove off the boat and through US customs and ended up with lunch in Port Angeles, WA.

Rock crab hush puppies. Having never had a hush puppy, I asked Peter if they're supposed to be super dry. He said "kind of... kind of", as if saying it warily twice would somehow count as an affirmative answer. He crumbled one over his coleslaw. 

I proceeded to guilt-eat the rest and get hiccups.

Bay shrimp cocktail. People are really into these wild bay shrimp, and anyone who's ever met a Gulf oyster knows that bigger isn't always better.  These underachievers were both tiny and tasteless. Cute, though.

Fried cod sandwich of road trip nirvana. Really tasty, exactly what we both wanted.  Asked for pickles on this because I'm a genius. La Petite Fleur from Harbinger Winery to drink. It was one of those wines that I love and Peter does not; so floral it almost tricks your brain into thinking it's off-dry, but it's not. 

The pen and mints that came with the bill were OCD salvation, two peas and a pod, then I ruined the shot by not getting the weave of the the placemat parallel to the pen and mints, and now I hate myself.

Back in Seattle and staying in Queen Anne this time. 

Our air bnb host was someone I knew through food stuff, but we had never met. He invited us up for a few fantastic bites of brisket, and we brought him Santa Fe Spirits Slow Burn smoked gin liqueur, which by now had survived several duty-free passages through Canadian customs.

Then Peter and I walked to How To Cook A Wolf.

 Peter vs the Wolf.

He suggested we order conservatively to avoid the sadness and sticker shock that have grown par for the course. 

While neither of us minds spending good money on good food during these annual fat-fests, this trip has cost a lot of good money for bad food, leaving us to digest sour thoughts like "I can't believe we paid that much for that".

Peter can't not order oysters. I can't blame him. 

Charred broccoli and bagna cauda butter. I like my broccoli nonagenarian-soft; Peter likes it crunchy. He found this a little too crunchy. My tender sensibilities found it *a lot* too crunchy.

At any rate, I'm biased in favor of anything bagna cauda and will always order it. 

Hamachi with a beguiling sweet and sour cherry granita.

Black pepper panisse. Wow. One of the best things we ate on the trip- the greens and Parmesan on top were ideal accompaniments. Superb. Every bite was perfumed subtly with garlic, but we couldn't figure out the source; it wasn't in the dressing, nor in the savory cakes of chickpea flour. Such a fun game of hide and seek. I hope they never take this off the menu so we can come back and order ten of them.  

Asparagus with chicken skin, hazelnuts, radishes. Peter had perked up over "chicken skin" so we ordered this in spite of it sounding like a dish generated by a hipster robot who doesn't need food to survive. 

If there ever comes a day when my opinions actually matter, I will devote half of my first TED talk to asparagus as the most symptomatic food of our time- and the most overrated member of the vegetable kingdom. People malign the green bell pepper but let asparagus get away with murdering otherwise pleasant meals. These people are wrong and must be stopped. 

Please, pepper-haters, consider reserving your antipathy for the sparrowgrass instead.

Bread, butter, roasted garlic, mussels with 'nduja, and a reappearance of the Gilbert Cellars laser-crisp rosé. Is 'nduja ever not the best? Even when it's too much, I love it. Like a warm slap in the face from the most beautiful woman in all of Southern Italy

We were curious about the polenta fritters with ricotta, sage, and chestnut honey that nearly everyone else was ordering - they looked like doughnut holes- but we were full, and for the first time ever, decided not challenge it.


June 5th

Lunch at Taylor Shellfish Oyster Bar, because our Samish Bay experience was such a highlight that we wanted to try one of their less outdoorsy urban enterprises.

Macrina bread. Everyone in Seattle charges extra for bread. Our server brought ours for free, probably because he was worried we'd go hungry without it. (LOL.)

They were out of "Fat Bastard", so Peter got one of everything else: Shigoku, Taylor Grand Cru, Kumamoto, North Bay,  and big momma Virginica at 4 o'clock.

Geoduck sashimi. I had some qualms- it tasted oystery to me and to Peter too- maybe some contact juices from being handled on the same workspace- but the real reason I avoided it was that it smelled like low tide.

Fries because we missed having some with the mussels last night. Served with tartar sauce. Swoon. 

OMG. Killer. Server's favorite dish, so we went for it. Manila clams with an arugula and almond pesto cream sauce with roasted tomatoes. Everything about this dish screams "80's 'CLASSY' ITALIAN", but it was perfect. 

And then, because they were around 3 lbs each and so fresh and a steal per pound, considering, and life is short and Santa Fe is landlocked etc. 

The 1.84 lb Dungeness crab we had at Taylor in Samish Bay was so remarkable it didn't need (or get) any help- no lemon, no butter, no condiments. I appreciated the work they did here to compensate for a slightly lesser crab- lesser only because  it wasn't as spanking fresh- the carapace was filled with a cold, rich crab bisque for dunking, and the claws had been cracked for us. 

It was chilled, as I feel all crabs should be unless the restaurant has a live tank.

Taylor basically slays the lunch game. Again. 

Wanted to try Copperworks gins in the house cocktails at Lecosho. So Peter had his beloved Corpse Reviver #2 and I had the Sazerac made with New Barrel gin instead of rye. 

Then we were done, but our sweet bartender from Dallas comped us Negronis using the New Barrel gin. 

Went power-shopping at Pike Place for an hour, then cooled off at Rachel's over extra-strong ginger beers with gin and lime. They threw in a strawberry-watermelon ginger beer with vodka for us to try. Gin for the win.

Uptown to Ballard for the final dinner of the trip. 

Barnacle is an aperitivo bar, made official by potato chips. Huge selection of amari. I would have like to try the snack of Saltines with anchovies, butter, and Calabrian chili, but we were saving room for their sister restaurant next-door, The Walrus and The Carpenter, which "marries restaurant to fishing pub. Tallboys, muscadet, piles of chubby oysters and smart plates are served in a lively, approachable space in Old Ballard."

"Chubby oysters"- loved that. 


A half dozen came swiftly. 

Peter called one of the chubbies "creamy", and over the din, I thought he said "creepy". 

My beloved was waving a red flag without even knowing it, and I dismissed it- and I did it again after noticing that the kitchen favors a brand of sardines I find abhorrent. 

And I ignored the signs once again when the cocktails were lousy.

And then food began to arrive, and I stopped averting and just let my heart do its sinking thing. 

Disappointing meals are emotional. I'd wanted to come The Walrus and The Carpenter since I was a child (30), and I have the Chef's cookbook on my desk and her pickled cherries in our fridge. 
But... Pilgrimage meals are a little like falling in love with someone over email. Unite in real life;  the scene is decorated with nerves, expectations and the perils of hope. 

 A flurry of dishes that all tasted clammy- and by that I do not mean "infused with delicious clams", but cold-blooded, amateur, and damp.

It was the intersection in the Venn diagram of calculated risks where thin ice meets a hot potato.

We swallowed what we could and left in haste. At some point, I thought I had left our joint credit card there, which felt less like adding insult to injury than the coup de grâce the fates delivered to stop us from doing any more damage to our stomachs or souls. Enough.

June 6th

Packing up the party. 

 But with time to stop at Macrina Bakery on the way to the airport. Not risking any last offenses as I have always loved this place.

Spinach and cheese bun- the gooey center was ridiculous. We fought over this.

Breakfast bialy with egg and roasted veg. 

Saved the roast beef banh mi for the second flight.

And shared it with a bag of these. 

Brought a piece of North Vancouver home for the goats. They missed us. We missed them too.


June 2nd

Last night's million-dollar lifehack was that standard is the new exceptional. We ordered safely at Shelter on the way out of Tofino.

Fried lingcod and chips. Try this at home using fishsticks and funnel cake batter. Actually, don't! 

The fries were pretty good but the tartar sauce was top shelf, flush with herbs and shallots, like the enigmatic remoulade served with the grilled artichokes at Houston's. The server kept it coming; we piled it on like savages.

A serviceable kale and romaine Caesar with fried capers and pan-fried lingcod. Lacked smack. This had that vegan "tastes like the real thing" quality, which is why nobody ever believes vegans. Anchovies and garlic. Use them. Abuse them.

Meares Island chowder with Manila clams, Arctic surf clams, smoked salmon, and mussels. No discernible seafood here; instead, pink clots that made me think of canned cream of chicken soup, or the liquid diet of a cat. 

Must admit to not loving the roux-thickened chowders of today and yesterday. They wobbled like loose pudding, and tasted murky, like gumbo you'd get in an airport. 

Drove five hours all the way back to Sooke (with a stop in Port Alberni for every last box of licorice gum from the award-winning gas station where I discovered it two days ago). 

We had come all the way back because of dinner- one I had plotted so eagerly that I booked the nearest lodging. The restaurant wasn't open on the days we were already in Sooke, so we shoehorned in a return.

Over drinks in the hotel bar, we tried to get excited about another potential heartbreak. The duds my research had so far yielded almost moved us to cancel the booking and drink dinner instead. 

But under the spell of hunger- and a menu that reads like a love letter to some of my most cherished ingredients- we scraped together our appetites and our idealism and forged ahead to a restaurant named Wild Mountain, to which I felt drawn with the force of a calling. 

And it was the best move we made on the whole trip.  

The greatest meals are never just about the food. But food helps- and Wild Mountain's was as faultless as any I've had, and the people behind it are among the finest we've ever had the good fortune to meet. 

A faith-restoring, life-affirming night. 

We ordered everything under "Snacks" (6), all the appetizers that weren't soup or salad (3),  and the lingcod main course. And two Diet Cokes. 

Yeah, not really. 

To begin, g&ts. Peter's had Ampersand gin from Duncan, BC and Phillips cucumber-mint tonic and mine had smoked rosemary gin from Legend Distilling in Naramata, BC.

My spirit animals


Snacks at sunset. Crispy Saamich polenta with Grand Fir aioli was Last Meal level, shout-it-from-the-rooftop great. 

We drank a sparkling Gamay Noir from Bella, BC's only house of exclusively bubbles. 

Wild Sidestripe shrimp. Sublimely sweet and rich and a bit like crawfish in that slinky dark-meat way.

Clams. Pickled bull kelp says "ooooo" and so will I. Soooo gooood. 

Favorite things: food, view, and you.

Duck rillettes, smoked duck breast, and the most voluptuous duck liver mousse with quince mostarda, pickled asparagus, and cornichons. Pure dope on toast, all of it. 

Lingod with red quinoa in a prawn and kombu broth- with sea beans and radishes and spinach and sweet cicely. 

The whole experience will be filed squarely under "Best Of' in multiple categories.

We floated home at 2am. 

Thank you.

June 3rd

Order Everything, Regret Nothing. A policy suspended just 24 hours ago, now back in service. 


Lunch at Uchida, thanks to Wild Mountain. <3

Grilled mackerel.

Beer-pickled daikon. 

Goma-ae with more than just the usual spinach, and root veg in a miso and tomato sauce.

Pressed sushi with mackerel made me tear up, like when you encounter an amazingly special puppy that you know you'll never meet again. 

Salmon donburi.

Cold ramen with chicken and the finest kinshi tamago (shredded egg) ever, almost like savory cotton candy. 

Reliving Italy, getting sunburns. Potato chips (these were homemade) with an Aperol Spritz is my idea of a happy Happy Hour.

Stopped in for a drink at Clive's around 8, before our planned dinner at Fishhook. And this was my only legit muttonhead moment after weeks of exhaustive planning... the sun sets so late up here... that I forgot to check my watch until 9:08pm. Eight minutes after Fishhook closed. Oops.

Guess we're drinking, then. 

Fried calamari steaks with tons of mayo hit a spot, not sure where.

I had planned to introduce Peter to his first poutine with more ceremony ie. in a Montreal greasy spoon at 2am, but nothing accompanies a sloppy order of poutine better than poor impulse control. 

Good sense, we hardly knew ye. 

Final cocktail was our server's rec, and from now on, I'm saying no to fat-washing booze. Or anything else. 

Combined, our cholesterol at this point is definitely > 1,000.

Parliament lit up like a party.