Summer in Seattle is a season of absurd abundance for local farmers -- and by extension, for restaurants focusing on local, seasonal sourcing. But if you’ve looked outside lately you’ve noticed it’s most definitely not summer, and all the gardens in the neighborhood are empty or full of rotting romaine.
So what’s a chef to do in the dark depths of January and February? They get creative.
Renee Erickson, chef at the locally-focused Whale Wins, is the creator of many a seasonal menu. “The great thing is that as the restaurant industry in Seattle has grown, so have the farmers,” Erickson says. “We’re lucky. We’re in the best place in the world to buy produce.”
Still, it’s tough to work with parsnips all winter. “When there’s a little bit of sun and stuff starts to grow again it gets really exciting, even if it’s a flower or a broccoli plant, we’re all like, ‘Yay, it’s the best thing I’ve seen in months.’ It’s like life again. Spring is pretty powerful,” Erickson says.
Seattle diners who eat with a conscious have plenty of opportunities to sample excellent winter menus, where chefs work their magic to transform slim pickings into dishes that are not only palatable but phenomenal. We break down the best bets for catching local chefs at what is perhaps their most brilliant season, given the challenges and constraints. Do note that these menus change frequently.
The Whale Wins
Winter dinner at Erickson’s Whale Wins brings a heartier twist to her signature rustic, vegetable-focused dishes. Roasted fava beans, carrots, radishes, and turnips feature heavily, but Erickson isn’t afraid to bring in an occasional lemon or avocado from California to brighten up a hearty dish. Or, in the case of a lamb dish, tangy red cabbage flecks that tasted bright and tropical, the perfect foil to the rich meat. Erickson also leans on fruit preserves, olives, and pickles to make it through this tough season.
The Wallingford vegetarian restaurant’s prix fixe, highly seasonal menu changes every two weeks. But chef Colin Patterson is as creative as they come, transforming off-beat ingredients in dishes that would make the judges of Chopped swoon. Five course meals include such wondrous creations as “cheese” made of cashews, smoked lentils, candied sunflower seeds, and black garlic drizzle.
A few doors from Sutra is Maria Hines’s Tilth, where brunch and dinner are heavy with root vegetables, meat, and cheese. The January brunch menu features an omelet with a seasonal mushroom and parsnips, and the rich egg in a basket is concocted of brioche, duck egg, and Skagit bacon. Dinner might start with a celeriac soup followed by lamb belly with baby beets, horseradish, and bulgur wheat.
The small plates at Johnathan Sundstrom’s Lark let diners sample an impressive range of seasonal delights. The cheese and charcuterie plates seem especially appropriate this time of year. Vegetable dishes feature sunchokes brightened with hot peppers, garlic, and ginger, or wild mushrooms with faro and mascarpone.
At Ron Zimmerman’s Herbfarm in Woodinville, diners experience the season through a 9-course dinner that changes weekly. An upcoming menu focuses on black and the white truffles, which are in season in the Pacific Northwest from November to March. When he can, Zimmerman plucks ingredients from The Herbfarm’s garden, which sits about a mile from the restaurant and is active year-round.