For me, there are only a couple of chefs in Seattle that are showcasing what Seattle dining and cuisine is really and truly about. In a place and time where the hype-machine glorifies mediocrity it’s easy to confuse glitz for good food and celebrity chefdom for good cooking. There are, however, two chefs worthy of praise and recognition, and Renée Erickson is one of them. (It’s no surprise to anyone who catches my weekly favorite recaps that Chef Matt Dillon of Sitka & Spruce and The Corson Building is the other.)
You’ll recognize Renée as the name behind Boat Street Café and The Walrus and the Carpenter, and while those are some of the best that Seattle has to offer, there really is nothing quite like her latest venture, The Whale Wins.
I was lucky enough to be able to join Andrew for a little sneak preview on Friday and I can’t even begin to describe the setting or the food. For day three of a secret soft opening it was nothing less than stellar.
Located in the newly renovated Fremont Collective building on Stone Way, The Whale Wins is one part of a quadplex of sorts. To the left you’ll find the relocated Joule, to the right you’ll find the relocated Evo ski and snowboard shop, and downstairs you’ll find an indoor skate park.
When you take your seat be sure to look up and check out the warm welcome from the light installations. H-E-L-L-O, H-E-L-L-O.
Then marvel at the open ceiling with exposed beams that purportedly mimics those of a ships internal lateral hull structure. Regardless of what they are, it’s gorgeous.
Like both spaces before, the setting Renée has cultivated here is gorgeous. I have too many favorites to mention, but to name a few there are the marble top tables dressed with butcher paper, sea green/blue thonet chairs, ship lap panelled walls, Blue Willow china serviettes, killer lighting, and an enormous vintage sink at one of the server stations. Oh, and the vintage brass pepper mills? Un. Real. (We now have one coming, by the way.)
Elegant and bright, yet casual and welcoming. I’m just so excited that Seattle has another perfectly Northwest culinary destination.
Real. Classic. Perfectly executed.
Succulent roasted chicken with crisp skin. Perfectly roasted beef tenderloin (served at room temperature) with vibrant arugula pesto potato salad. Roasted radicchio with its tangy bitterness cut by a creamy buttermilk dressing and a burst of poppyseed.
The menu seemed to be structured around classics: perfectly executed staples, seasonal and local ingredients, and Renée’s mom’s brownie recipe! From beginning to end the meal was delicious, comforting, soulful, and endorphin-inducing. The main courses from the Oven section of the menu were elegant and sturdy with SO much flavor imparted from the wood-fired oven. And really, I never order chicken but this one shouldn’t be missed…and neither should the roast beef for that matter. Additionally, one of my favorite parts was the use of herbs: vibrant and refreshing, but not overpowering.
And if it wasn’t already perfect enough, they offer my favorite François Pinon Vouvray Non-Dose bubbly by the glass ($10) and by the bottle ($40)!
Winter Lettuces, herbs, pistacios, and Yarmuth sheepsmilk cheese
Roasted Radicchio, hazelnuts, buttermilk poppyseed vinaigrette, and preserved lemon rind
Roasted half chicken, cauliflower, butter, and chervil
Roast beef tenderloin (sliced thin and served at room temp), arugula pesto, potatoes, and fresh horseradish cream
Shirlee’s brownie (omg!)
Warm, welcoming, perfect. Considering all of the things that float through your head in preparation for an opening the staff was attentive, happy, fun, and relaxed. Pros from beginning to end.
In the end…
It’s likely there will be quite a frenzy when it officially opens on Wednesday (Halloween), so be ready. But here’s my take on it: dinner here is going to be obvious. It will be amazing, but it will also be a spot to see and be seen, and that’s not why I eat out. I’m not a foodie. I seek out and appreciate legitimately good food. So for me, in the end, it’s all about lunching. This is the best opportunity to get to know the staff, the food, the space. And it’s so much more personal. Take advantage of those special days and turn them into special dates by setting aside time to make it a true lunch. Have a glass (or two) of bubbly, sit back and let the kitchen determine your courses, and add dessert (have I mentioned Shirlee’s brownie yet?) with Stumptown Coffee’s Duramina french press.
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