Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dinner | dinners & drinks in Ballard

My first day in Seattle involved exploring Ballard (thanks again to Linda for the enthusiastic recommendation!), where I was very much looking forward to a casual evening of small bites, delightful drinks, and plenty of oysters at The Walrus and the Carpenter (The W&C), but even getting there before 5:30 on a Wednesday night, I was met with a two-hour waiting list. Determined to dine at The W&C, I put my name on the list and gave the hostess my phone number so she could call me when my table was ready.

On my walk to The W&C, {1} I passed by this nifty restaurant/bar called Percy's & Co. so I decided to pop in there for a cocktail and a tiny bite while I passed the time for a table at The W&C. Located in the former home of the Old Town Alehouse, Percy's promises all of the charm the over-115-year-old historic building has maintained throughout the years. Originally built in 1898, the corner location "played host to liquor purveyors for much of its time -- even during Prohibition, the dry goods store that occupied the front of the building opened its backdoor as a speakeasy." The bar program is manned by cousins and best friends, Kyle Taylor and Joe Peterson, both who were born and raised in the Pacific Northwest as well as honed their skills at Apotheke in NYC. Along with Percy's other owners Jeff Ofelt and Wade Weigel, the duo has spent over six months restoring the space, including a back patio, the original fixtures, and a revamped kitchen. The kitchen is run by Chef Dave Lamping which will put forth "made-from-scratch" plates focused on the seasons and locality of Ballard.

01D - Percy's
{5,6,7Percy's is inspired by the old school apothecary, both in its décor and drink offerings. {2} Also, how can anyone resist exposed brick walls as part of your dining experience?! I know I can't! :P The bonus was also that Percy's had only officially opened on Monday (with a soft opening the weekend before), so I got to really see this new up and coming joint before it becomes seasoned with regulars and press. My guest and I got really chummy with our bartender, JB, who made our experience very welcoming and that much more enjoyable with his natural congeniality.

It was still happy hour when I arrived, so I got a small plate of beet-cured gravlax crostini with herbs and pickled onions for $4 (normally $7) which was quite phenomenal -- the smoked salmon cured in beets tasted so different from all of the varieties of gravlax I've had before. It had a nice earthiness to it that was simultaneously refreshing. I also had a chance to enjoy two different cocktails:

  • {4} Wild Ones with basil-infused tequila, orange liqueur, strawberry purée, and an incredible housemade sour mix: Hands down one of the best cocktails I had while I was out visiting the Pacific Northwest. The strawberry purée gave the drink a little extra fruity, viscosity, while the housemade sour mix added a whole other dimension to the drink -- a dimension that could never be accomplished with any of that pre-made crap found at the grocery store. The cocktail captured the summer's bounty as well as a bit of its heat in color and with tequila.
  • {7} Cilantro G&T with cilantro-infused gin, tonic, fresh cucumber, and a cilantro garnish: Essentially an herbaceous gin and tonic with a vegetal yet sweet twist of cucumber.

Nearing the two hour mark, {1} I was heading back to The W&C in hopes that our table would be ready when I received a phone call from the hostess, notifying me that my table for two was ready. They're pretty good with their wait time estimates! {3} The restaurant's moniker is eponymous to the famous Lewis Carroll poem that was part of the Alice stories (namely, Through the Looking-Glass) that narrates a story about a Walrus, a Carpenter, and a bed of oysters. The sign outside the restaurant pays a cheeky homage to one of the lines of third stanza: You could not see a cloud, because / No cloud was in the sky.

01E - WC 1
Chef Renee Erickson opened The Walrus and the Carpenter with partners Jeremy Price and Chad Dale, the long-time vision she has always had for an oyster bar. {2,4,7} The W&C "blends the elegance of France with the casual comfort of a local fishing pub -- a space that is stripped of pretense and feels like home whilst serving  the highest quality food and drink." The restaurant sits in the newly restored Kolstrand building on the south end of Ballard Avenue with a heated outdoor space.

{4} We started the evening with a Moscow Mule with vodka, ginger beer, lime, fresh ginger {6} along with a side of bread and Vicky's butter. And I couldn't survive the evening without sampling four of the oysters the restaurant had on ice that day, which mind you, were some of the best oysters I've ever had:

  • Eld Inlet (Eld Inlet, WA):
  • Treasure Cove (Case Inlet, WA):
  • Amai (Discovery Bay, WA):
  • Glacier Point (Kachemak Bay, AK):

01E - WC 2

zucchini salad with cherry tomatoes, pine nuts, Jersey ricotta, and basil vinaigrette (10)
smoked trout with lentils, walnut, onion, creme fraiche (12)
manila clams with chickpeas, chorizo, peppers
house-smoked fish

My last night in Seattle ended as it began, here in Ballard, {1,5,7,10} where I started with drinks and small bites at Essex, a craft cocktail bar started by the folks of Delancey (incidentally right next door, sharing a kitchen), where I dined at later that evening. Just like there's a wait at The W&C, there is also a bit of a wait at Delancey, which is why grabbing a drink at Essex during your wait for dinner is key and quite necessary.

Our first round of drinks at Essex were both sparkling cocktails that they had on tap (how cool is that?!). Essentially, the bartenders make the drinks in large batches ahead of time and run them on tap later. {6} I had the Elderflower Spritz (the dandelion-colored drink with the twirly lemon rind) with gin, elderflower liqueur, citrus, and sparkling Grüner, which was absolutely delicious -- fizzy, tart, lightly floral, and refreshing. My guest had the Paloma Herrera (also sparkling on tap) with tequila, grapefruit, lime, and housemade Campari -- which had the rounded punch of a tequila cocktail with a bubbly finish. We shared {3beer-boiled pretzels with housemade mustard and {9roasted cauliflower toasts with harissa aioli and pine nuts. The pretzels were quite good with a little twist of childhood nostalgia coming through. The roasted cauliflower toasts were very smoky (mostly attributable it to the harissa) with the fantastic touch from the burnt bits of bread and browned crowns of cauliflower. The pine nuts were an excellent addition, as it really came together. However, I probably should've specified that I wanted the smaller portion size (at $4 compared to the full portioned $7).

03J - Essex
After this, we headed back to Delancey, where I had no idea that there'd be a crazy wait, mainly because when we arrived at Essex, it was pretty quiet on the Delancey side. Man, I really should've asked because they would've probably been able to seat us after our first round of drinks at Essex. Who knew there was already a waiting list going at that time?! Anyhow, we put our names down for a 45 minute wait, making our way back to our table at Essex for a second round of drinks (d'oh!).

{7} This time, I had the remaining cocktail available on tap that we hadn't tried -- Pink Drink with Lillet, Cocchi rosso, Dolin blanc, spiced brine, and sparkling Grüner. When I had asked about what the "spiced brine" was, our server told me that it was going to sound wacky, but that it in fact made the cocktail that much more dynamic and punchy. It was pickled shallot juice. Yes I agree that it sounds pretty unappetizing when you put it that way, but she was right in saying that it adds a really interesting dimension of flavor and texture to the drink, in the same way that olive juice makes a dirty martini. It's biting and refreshing all at once, while having that puckery vinegariness to it. It's unlike any cocktail I've ever had, so it's something you must try if you happen to see it on the menu at Essex. {4} My guest had something a little more tame -- the Little Rascal with Espolón blanco, Burg's extra-special orange, Campari, Avery white rascal, and lemon.

About 35 minutes passed, and {1} we checked in with the hostess to see about a table at Delancey. We were seated shortly after, ready for the made-to-order pizzas firing up in the kitchen. {2-3,7} The interiors are minimal but warm -- can't go wrong with white walls and wooden tables/fixtures! Delancey, along with Essex, was opened by famed food blogger Molly Wizenberg of Orangette and her husband Brandon Pettit. Delancey is "focused on Brooklyn-style wood-fired pizza" as Mr. Pettit is originally from New Jersey and has been "obsessed with pizza since he was a kid." In fact, Mr. Pettit makes every single pizza served here, for which he uses a two-day fermentation process for the pizza dough (it has "an intense, slightly sourdough-like flavor") as well as basic topping combinations that "use the freshest seasonal ingredients available." Additionally, I love the subtle hat-tip to New York City in the restaurants' names, as they're both streets in the Lower East Side neighborhood.

03K - Delancey
{4} Marcus had the pepperoni with fresh and aged mozzarella, Grana, and Zoe's pepperoni, sans tomato sauce, while {5} I had the bacon and onion with tomato sauce, fresh and aged mozzarella, Zoe's bacon, and thinly sliced onions. Mr. Pettit does a phenomenal job bringing the Brooklyn-style of wood-fire pizza to the other coast here in the Pacific Northwest. I'm not particularly snobby about pizza or anything, but I don't usually go seeking pizza outside the Tri-State area (that is, when I'm traveling out of town). But when Linda raved about this spot, I knew it must have something special, and now I know it truly does! The pizza dough/crust is the perfectly calibrated thinness yet can hold the entirety of sauce, toppings, etc. without becoming a sorry slice of soggy, yet is loose and crusty when you bite into it.You can also tell that the ingredients were really fresh and well-curated. Plus, the blend of fresh and aged mozzarella adds that something extra that makes these personal pies stand out.

{6} I totally fell in love with dessert that was created by the restaurant's executive pastry chef Brandi Henderson -- nectarines and honey with Bill's nectarines, honey mousse made using Ballard Bee Co.'s honey, and bourbon caramel. Holy moly, I loved it so much, in fact, that I made sure to order some honey from Ballard Bee Co. so I can enjoy its sweet, nectary goodness back home. I might even dare say that if I were ever to pick my last dessert on earth, this would be it. Pair the ripest slices of nectarines with some beautiful honey and the smoothest mousse, and you will be dancing on cloud nine. So heed this warning seriously -- save room for dessert, no exceptions!

Findings: Ballard was easily my favorite neighborhood that we visited on this Seattle excursion, thanks to Linda's stellar recommendations! The atmosphere is relaxed and casual without an ounce of pretension -- your truest self is invited and welcome. For each of these four places, the quality of the ingredients and the execution in these kitchens and bars left a meaningful impression on me. I had some of the best oysters I've ever had at The Walrus and the Carpenter, some of the most unique cocktails I've ever had the pleasure of sipping (e.g., sparkling cocktails on tap and one with housemade sour mix) at Essex and Percy's & Co.; one of the best made pizzas (that dough!) at Delancey as well as the best simply prepared dessert (OMG that nectarines and honey dish!) over which I continue to salivate. Ballard has some wonderful restaurants and bars popping up, and these four certainly highlight that captivating charm that makes you want to return on your next visit. Ballard has a special place in my heart, and I'll always think fondly of our time here -- and hope to return soon!

Price point: $7-10 for each cocktail at Percy's & Co., $4 for each happy hour small plate; $2-3.50 for each oyster at The Walrus and the Carpenter, $10 for each cocktail, $10-12 for each plate, $4 for each side; $10 for each cocktail at Essex, $6-7 for each bread; $14 for each pizza at Delancey, $8 for each dessert.

--August 21 & 23, 2013

Percy's & Co.
5233 Ballard Avenue Northwest
Seattle, WA 98107

The Walrus and the Carpenter
4743 Ballard Avenue Northwest
Seattle, WA 98107

1421 Northwest 70th Street
Seattle, WA 98117

1415 Northwest 70th Street
Seattle, WA 98117

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