Polenta Lasagna at Alder Wood Bistro in Sequim
It’s very simple, really. Besides the minimal exercise involved in actually walking (or rolling) out one’s door and the social benefits of being elsewhere than holed up at home, one of the best reasons for leaving the house is to eat something less ordinary. No matter how fine a cook you are and how much you love preparing food, there are times when it’s a great pleasure, if not relief, to let somebody else do the cooking for a change, and perhaps doubly so when that somebody prepares things you wouldn’t or couldn’t at home. I am ever so fond of letting others make and clean up the mess from time to time, but much more than that, of having delicious food of the sorts that might be a little complicated to fix, more esoteric of ingredient than my nearby shopping can unearth, and especially those I either don’t know how to prepare so well–or haven’t even met yet.
Our trip last week to see family and get our feet [literally] wet in the old stomping grounds of the Pacific Northwest was a perfect excuse and motivation for such dining. We took care of the get-out-of-the-house and social aspects immediately enough by merely flying up to Washington and seeing our parents and some of our siblings’ crew. The food itself was kept simple that night, since everyone was dashing between work and school, traffic and travel and had places to go in the morning, so having pizzas delivered was the perfect way to share a pre-Thanksgiving gathering without enslaving anyone to the cookery. After that, however, we were less chaste in our taste, so to speak, being inclined to enjoy the opportunity for a little road food.
After a morning appointment, the three of us who were doing the road-tripping (one of my sisters joining my husband and me for the jaunt) headed yet farther northwest, aiming for the towns of Port Angeles and Sequim (pronounced skwim) that sit up on the Olympic Peninsula and overlook the Strait of Juan de Fuca, facing toward Victoria, BC. Seafood heaven, as we grew up knowing it. Since the PNW sits on the Ring of Fire that unites the US west coast and Japan, among other places, we also know that it’s a great place to get all sorts of Asian-influenced foods. But we’d learned, much to our chagrin, that two of our favorite Thai restaurants in the PA/Sequim area, and even our favorite old-school seafood restaurant (the venerable Three Crabs) had closed since we’d last been up that way.
Planked Salmon at Alder Wood Bistro
Thankfully, we got a dandy kickoff to the trip by eating at a serendipitously discovered pan-Asian eatery en route. Nothing fancy, just solid Asian-American eating, including some nice and tasty, very fresh sushi in the collation. It helped to take the edge off of our sorrow over the Thai places’ disappearance. As for seafood, I had been longing for some great fresh Dungeness crab, not least of all since we were going to be staying mere minutes from the eponymous Dungeness Spit, but with the Three Crabs (always reliable for a massive crab Louis salad in its heyday) gone and not being in town at a peak time, I satisfied my crab longings with some nice, if unspectacular, crab cakes that evening at a good local Italian restaurant. The true highlight of that meal was, fortunately, a local dainty too: chanterelle bruschetta. The mushrooms, sautéed and presented simply on the toasts with a smattering of goat cheese, a quick grind of black pepper, and a handful of fresh arugula, were the silkiest and butteriest mushrooms I’ve had in a long, long time.
That was Wednesday, and on Thanksgiving Thursday we three didn’t know exactly what to expect in an area where the towns are small enough (and the median age of the population high enough) that most restaurants were closed. Fast food fish sandwiches may not sound very holiday-like to some, but lunch is lunch (or brunch, as we’d not broken our fast) and since we weren’t even sure anything would be available for dinner, it seemed smarter to smile and enjoy it than otherwise. As it turned out, the oldest Fine Dining place around was open and had room for us. Now, I will be kind and not mention the name of the place lest I offend, but there was a reason there was room for us on Thanksgiving day. And by ‘oldest’, I don’t mean only that it’s been around the longest, though I think that part’s true too–more so than the ‘Fine Dining’ designation nowadays. When the highlight of the meal is the owner coming by for a boozy, rambling greeting, eventually taking orders and–on my requesting the Soufflé au Crabe (silly me)–blurting out, “Seriously?” and dashing to the kitchen to assure himself that the chef would, as he guessed, flat-out refuse to make something so “difficult” after a long day (of drinking, I can only assume, since we were practically alone the whole time in the dining room, and even I have not found a souffle all that hard to make)–I think you can correctly interpret that as Weird Entertainment rather than Fine Dining. We left having eaten, not exceedingly well, but laughing all the same.
The next day was more rewarding. We had read online, while bemoaning the loss of the several old favorite eateries, of the arrival of a promising new one, and it proved just right at lunchtime: Kiwi’s Fish & Chips. It’s just what it says, classic fish and chips prepared pub style by a true Kiwi (and easy-peasy to spot the owner when he popped by our table, given the music of his New Zealand accent), and the halibut was about as moist and sweet as any battered and fried filets could be. (I’m told the cod was as well.) Dinner was by reservation at a place my spouse and I had enjoyed in the past (Alder Wood Bistro), and thankfully that one was every bit as good as we remembered, from the featured wine to the savory dishes and right on through the final sweets. My sister and I did as we often do, sharing so we could try several different things, and I would be fairly hard pressed to state a favorite; my husband’s Steak Frite looked fully up to the bistro standard too. I enjoyed my ‘lasagna’ of stacked slices of fried polenta sandwiched with mushrooms, cheeses and roasted vegetables and topped with fried capers very much. Even better, perhaps, was my sister’s planked salmon, but that might possibly be my prejudice for gorgeous, fresh wild Pacific salmon talking. We had had tastes of salmon in a couple of meals before that, but none so perfectly prepared.
I suppose it’s almost superfluous to say that the food was so good, the atmosphere so warm and welcoming, and the memory of that dinner so fresh in mind that we decided to return for our going-away lunch the next day as we hit the road. After all, even when one is dining out, being well fed while feeling quite At Home is a very fine thing indeed.
Chanterelle Bruschetta at Bella Italia in Port Angeles