Archives for posts with tag: seafood

Last night I finally, finally, finally went to The Walrus and the Carpenter, after pining for the place for truly almost a year. Beautiful Ballard oyster bar, tucked behind Staple and Fancy and a bike-slash-coffee shop. Went with my dear new friend Madeline, a smart oyster-loving gal with a bourbon drink named after her. We kicked things off with a dozen oysters, all tiny and perfect and tasting of the not-so-faraway sea.

Four each: kusshi, malispina, and effingham. From not-so-briny, small and soft, to big, brackish, and just chewy enough. Shallot vinaigrette or fresh horseradish (or nothing at all) on top. Delight. We slowly ate them, savoring and discussing the goodness, making it all the better. (And deriding those who have dismissed the oyster…)

After the oysters, duck prosciutto with pickled huckleberries. You had me at duck, you really had me at prosciutto, you really truly had me with huckleberries, the sweet gem-berries of my homeland. See-thru-thin prosciutto, bright sweet berries; a great earthy counter to the icy oysters. Then a mound of swiss chard marinated in lemon and mingled with feta, topped with a soft sunnyside egg. Hearty in the exact right way. Then the very best bit of all: white anchovy tartine. What is tartine? We don’t know. A baked thingy? Anne suggests. The toast and jam French kids eat every morning? says Madeline. Yes, toast. Thinnest of the thin rye toast, with a slab of butter (served like cheese– see, I’ve been saying butter is a cheese and should be eaten in quantities as such all along), one perfect anchovy, more of that buzzing fresh horseradish, and a few glowing orbs of salmon roe. Pure Scandinavian-ish bliss.

And long, leisurely savoring and sharing of it all, chatting with our Vancouver table-neighbors about the restaurants I loved (and the ones I sadly missed out on). Chatting about the weird girly joy of putting dry goods in mason jars and being poetry-reading college students and all the good things we love to cook and eat and share.

It seems like a good many of my posts are half about food, half about loving food and loving people and loving eating with those people. Which is kind of the more important part anyway. Food is great, people are better. At the magazine we have a grammatical policy of referring to restaurants as singular (Canlis’ new pastry chef, not their new pastry chef) and that just feels a little odd to me. Plates don’t materialize from some mystical place, they aren’t brought to the table by some silent force, the whole thing isn’t a self-sustaining concept–-a restaurant is a big bunch of people making something happen. And we’re a big bunch of people enjoying it. In my interdisciplinary degree-carrying way, I’m finding myself more interested in the spaces between us and food, in the ways that we understand food and invite it into our lives, than just the food or the eater itself.

This past weekend I was lucky enough to get an all-expenses-paid (unless you are a foodie with awesome foodie friends) trip to Ottawa, Canadia’s lovely capitol, to hang out with a bunch of other college students who are odd enough to be doing a study abroad in our upstairs neighbor country. I somehow finagled myself a nice little fellowship from the Killam/Fulbright people to come hang out in Vancouver and “foster international understanding” along with a bunch of other students shuffling across the border to Montreal and Los Angeles and all over the place, and this was our orientation. Sadly, as it once and for all confirms my ultimate nerdiness, going to an academic conference was shockingly fun. It’s actually is pretty fascinating to compare the States to Canada, and living in a place that’s so similar to home while being so different at the same time (it’s a whole ‘nother country, as it turns out) makes you notice the differences all the more. Like… the Queen is still in charge of this place, technically. And… they call their money “Loonies” and “Toonies.” Anyways, so here I am in Ottawa. Long-time readers might remember Jackie-Bari-Chelsie, the Canadian trio I met in Bali, where we kinda built a house and ate some very good and some very bad food. We sadly sadly sadly parted ways in Bali, hoping to see each other again somewhere, sometime in the great big world. And somehow, we have! We’ve all ran into each other, in New York, in Miami, all over. And luckily enough, Jackie lives right there in Ottawa and Bari only a train ride away! And the best part of all: these two lovely, much-missed girls are huge foodies. Though they fed us at the conference (surprisingly good food too, thanks Fulbright folk) I held off at most of the dinners because I had a much better dinner coming my way each night. Friday night was Whalesbone Oyster Bar, the most popular little seafood restaurant in Ottawa right this second.

Tucked into a long long skinny little space, the restaurant was jam packed with Ottawa-ites, chowing down on oysters. Seated right next to the open kitchen, our mouths kind of might have started watering right away. Then they brought us the best bread ever with (get this) brown butter. A big ol’ serving of nutty, caramely, brown butter. This may have rivaled the Campagnolo bread experience last week. This butter…. this butter. I can’t say anything else. If there is heaven, it is made out of brown butter. We finally narrowed down our order and got: chefs choice of 4 oysters, octopus, calamari, and sea bass. First the oysters, two simply raw and simply perfect, two poached in butter, nestled in a big hot pan of corn and prosciutto and… butter. Goodness.

Then the octopus, grilled with big hunks of melon and prosciutto. I’m a sucker for octopus (get it? ha. ha.) so I loved it. Cause I love everything. But good, and especially good with the sweet-salty melon-ham classic alongside. Then the calamari, old-school crispy with tart marinated zucchini and a crazy-good curry sauce. Mmm. And lastly the bass, with a big ol’ buttery braised leek, a pile of sweet corn, and a handful of salty chantrelles. My god, I love Ottawa. Eating really good food rocks. Eating really good food and talking about really good food while you’re eating the really good food? Aw yeah. So full and happy, we all made our way home, Bari anxious to get online and scope us out another restaurant.

The next day: Play, a rad little small-plates spot right next to Jackie’s apartment. After a painful deliberation process, we finally settled on the arctic char gravalax, bean and potato salad, zucchini gratin, rainbow trout, and meatball sub. Gravalax goodness, especially with the kickin’ little apple-ginger slaw and wasabi dressing. Purple potatoes and snappy beans plus bacon equals warmth and delight and yum. The zucchini tomato gratin, as simple as it was, might have been my favorite. I’m a major zucchini fan, and it was pretty perfect. (And served in a tiny little American Girl doll-sized cast iron pan…!!) The rainbow trout… I have a weird relationship with trout, post-trout-murdering. It was good, for being trout, but the caramelized carrots along with it were the stars. Meatball sub, mmm. Bread, eggplant, meatballs, barbecue chip bits. Then to top it all off: gelato. Ginger, raspberry, and oreo gelato. Delicious, heavenly, creamy gelato.

The next day, if you can believe it, we managed to squeeze in one more: Benny’s Bistro, touted as Ottawa’s best brunch. You walk in through a beautiful, aromatic little French bakery and your stomach instantly starts growling. Another good thing about Jackie and Bari: they are share-ers. I hate eating just my own dish. I am plagued with the worst order envy on earth. Sharing means: not having to decide on one dish, not coveting thy neighbor, and being able to all gush about how good every single little thing is. And: it lets you get french toast annnnd salmon for breakfast. French bread, French restaurant, all signs pointed toward The Best French Toast Ever. True. Topped with a little cinnamony cream, peach compote, and tiny little blueberries. Alongside our other bfast: fingerling potato salad, arugula, salmon gravlax, sunnyside-up egg. Sweet joy, salty joy. Then we walked it off in the the Byway Market (Ottawa’s less nuthouse-y Pike Place) and kept right on talking about food.

There was one more food experience of note (yes, really.) Another perk of the smart-kids-go-to-Canada deal: cocktail party at the American ambassador’s (gigantic) house. We all dressed ourselves up and went out to the fancy diplomat ‘hood. Everyone filed in and shook Mr. Jacobson’s (that’s Mr. Ambassador to you) hand, and I think I might have gotten a tiny bit nervous and thus a tiny bit ultra perky and said something like “Potato state!”

(Of course I saved my invite, I’m treasuring it forever.) Aside from the interesting conversation and awesome house gawking, there were some stellar hors d’oeuveres. (I definitely just had to google that spelling….) A few other ultra-clever girls and I camped out all nonchalantly beside the kitchen doors, assuring our first pick of the snick snacks. One of the best: Jack Daniels shrimp. Sounds so weird, was so good. Spicy, sweet, roasty, creamy shrimp. Probably the Americans’ signature thang for all the cool Ambassador shin-digs I’m sure they have. “Invite the Americans, they always bring those awesome shrimp.” Also: salmon atop petite little purple potatoes, crab cakes perched on cucumber rounds with tiny basil leaf hats, surprising salt and pepper tofu, and perfect little steak cubes wedged between bright onion. The perks of nerdiness. Ottawa: A plus all-round.

Once the coffee shop people started giving me the funny “are you homeless or do you really have this much homework” look, I scooped up all my scribbley papers and scuttled across the street to Yume Sushi to meet the other two A’s for dinner. Starving me had (really good) miso soup and (pretty ok) gyoza while everyone else patiently waited for their meals like big kids. Alex had fried rice, Ariana an assortment of pretty rolls, Anne a bunch of little bits and pieces because I like marking a lot of boxes on the fish form. Flying fish roe (which I think I really freaked out Alex by eating), spicy tuna (my favorite), regular maguro, and “sweet shrimp,” which I’d never had before. Usually shrimp sushi is cooked (training wheels sushi), but this was raw and really quite good (and accompanied by a decorative bug-eyed, antennaed tempura-d prawn head, always fun). And the tuna was awesome, I just tried not think about it too much- sorry Greenpeace. Pretty good sushi, pretty good little sushi bar. Full of misplaced Ringling hipsters and confused ancients trying to be cool, eating their sashimi with knife and fork. Even complete with the chatty posse of sushi dudes behind the bar, smacking around knives and rolling up delicate little crazy-named rolls for the masses.

Plate of sushi, boat of sake.

And after dinner, A & A finally agreed to go to White Berry (knock-off Pink Berry, yes) with me, much to my delight. I’ve been wanting to go to the overpriced, mod little yogurt joint all year, and Coldstone always wins out. But at last, I got my plain-and-green tea swirled yogurt with blackberries and fruity pebbles, which I happily  devoured, perched in my little space-age orb chair in the shockingly pink shop.