2014 Zeitgeist Award/Restaurant
This year we came up with a totally new award category, the “Zeitgeist.” It originated from my desire to call attention to a restaurant that embodied the current pulse of Seattle in the best of ways—the most quintessential Seattle restaurant, if you will. To that end I chose Westward. My reasoning: The new restaurant from Josh Henderson is situated right on Lake Union, but in a quiet manner, wedged between marinas and boat shops. It celebrates that location with views from both inside and outside, with long communal tables and a firepit, fashioned from oyster shells, where you can kick back in an Adirondack chair with friends, slurp some bivalves, and sip cocktails.
It even has its own oyster bar—part of the Little Gull Grocery, where boaters can dock and grab an oyster knife, a blanket, or a charcuterie plate. The oyster bar is manned by Davin Rowe-Grout, who makes sure that the daily-changing menu delivers the freshest product and varieties not often seen on other menus, like Treasure Coves and Sea Cows.
The rest of the menu is dynamite too. With former Madison Park Conservatory chef Zoi Antonitsas at the helm, seafood gets an inventive and tasty Mediterranean homage, and is often cooked in the wood-fired oven. Seafood aside, the lamb shoulder with an herb salad and tzatziki sauce is probably one of the best pieces of meat you’ll eat in the city, and the red-wine-poached duck egg with foraged wild-mushroom sugo and Dinah’s Cheese toast is the kind of singular item you’ll plan a whole brunch around.
Then there’s the decor. It’s no wonder it was nominated for a James Beard award for outstanding restaurant design. Its smart nautical look is evidenced by brown leather bar chairs that resemble boat seats, large red-and-blue-striped canvas lampshades and big dividing beams throughout that look like dock pilings. But it wouldn’t be truly Seattle if it didn’t have a little fun with that theme. Hence oil paintings of Captain Stubing and Steve Zissou hang alongside serious portraits of weathered sea captains. The bar, inspired by The Life Aquatic, is backed by a carved-out wooden boat hull with dioramas set into it: for instance, one with an Abominable Snowman and a mini-wrestling match. The service, too, is commendable; a true reflection of the restaurant in its polished yet completely approachable style.
Most Innovative Local Producer/Drink
It’s always safer to let someone else innovate. Why should you try that strange-looking mushroom when you can get your buddy to do it? Yet without intrepid, fearless, and quite possibly reckless sorts, we’d never know that, say, morel mushrooms are amazing. So it is with Cody Morris at Epic Ales. Not every single experiment might work, but when they do, it can be a revelation. Using sake yeasts to make beer; aging sours in a solera, like sherry; using just about any sort of locally available produce as a flavoring agent—it’s clear that Morris is willing to risk failure in the pursuit of something new, interesting, or just plain different.
Yet his biggest contribution to Seattle’s food and drink scene might not be a specific beer, but the idea of synthesizing beverage production and cooking into a cohesive whole. His brewpub Gastropod could serve as the foundation for a new kind of dining experience—you’re not just having a beverage paired with food, but a drink specifically created to go with a dish. It’s a strange and daring model—one that insists that you can’t really judge a beer outside the context of the dish it’s meant to pair, and also heightens the potential payoffs for the willing diner.
Failure is the currency of innovation. It’s with failures that we buy progress, and Epic Ales is taking us to strange and new dimensions of beer. Time to buckle in and enjoy the ride.
Westward and Epic Ales will be honored at the Fifth Annual Voracious Tasting and Awards at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 24. Tickets at stgpresents.org.