We've vaguely known Lisa for a little while now, but, knowing she was opening her own place, we knew we had to get out to see it. We've loved her food at The Herbfarm and wanted to see how she was doing out on her own.
We both needed a vacation away from life, so, we set up a little Thursday night reservation so we could see the Island, have dinner and explore Orcas a little bit.
Orcas is a beautiful little island. We managed to do a little exploring in our 28 hours, including forcing our lovely little smart car to climb up to the top of Mount Constitution from which, on a clear day, you can see all the way to Mt. Rainier, some 136 miles to the south by southeast, although on our day, we saw a great big hazy bank in that direction, but had a nice view of Mount Baker just the same, not to mention lots of the surrounding islands.
But enough about the island, though I didn't really say all that much about it, I want to talk about our dinner (and subsequent lunch). That's what this post is supposed to be about, not babbling. But really, if you're going out to Orcas for the day and don't know what to do: Drive to the top of Mt. Constitution. Trust me, the view is worth it. If you're going for longer, hike up it. It's only a 4 mile hike by that guide, but with a 1000 foot gain in under a mile, you'll probably want a shower before dinner. If its a day trip, you could always go use the campground showers and gussy it up for dinner.
Which isn't to say that Allium is a particularly fancy restaurant. It is really Seattle fancy. Lunch, I don't think I'd feel out of place in a nice tshirt and shorts. Dinner, I might be a little more dressy in a tropical shirt, but even then, I'm not suit and or tie-ing it. Neither am I wearing my Kochalka CBLDF Fancy Froglin shirt (may be NSFW).
But, enough of that, lets talk about food, huh?
We had looked at the menu and, we really like putting ourselves in a chef's hands, especially with a new restaurant, and especially with a menu where everything sounded so good. So, we told her before we got there that we were going to just let the kitchen decide what to serve us.
We thought so. Until, it seems, they decided to serve us a small plate of everything that was on the menu that night.
To start, nothing out of the ordinary, albeit very, very tasty: The bread course. What we have here is house made focaccia, seen here peaking out from behind the napkin, and tiny, extensively flaky biscuits.
Now, the biscuit in and of itself was perfect. Flaky, layers able to be pulled off easily, and, best, not too big. Like two inches square, just the right size for a treat, but not so huge as to ruin dinner.
But what set the dish on fire, and caused me to send this message to twitter:
If our surprise @alliumonorcas is just a two gallon bowl of the caramelized onion jam, I'm still happy.
That caramelized onion jam was excellent. I could easily have just spooned it into my mouth for the rest of dinner, bread or no. Caramelized onions are one of the things that I just can't seem to get right. I can sauté them down until they get nice and brown and sweet, but they never seem to really be caramelized like I can get from real chefs... There was a pizza place way back in Quincy, MA. Had what I now call the holy triumvirate of pizza toppings: caramelized onions, roast garlic and roast peppers. I can usually find two out of three, but all three are usually unattainable. Such is life. Anyways. Bread. Good. Next course.
How many of you are Red Dwarf fans and just laughed?
Anyways, cucumber gazpacho soup. With white wine poached oysters. And a glass of prosecco on the side to dump over the top.
Fizzy fantastic. It was what you want a gazpacho to be, cucumbery, cool, clean. But with the added bite and fizz of the prosecco and the briney oyster just rounded it out and brought it out of vegetarian enjoyment into carnivore (ok, fine, pescatarian) delight.
Anyone else wonder what happened to Bruschettina at the Ballard Market? She made an awesome cucumber gazpacho. She's living it up large in Italy now, it looks like, and is now an Italian citizen! Rock on!
But, still, this was an excellent gazpacho. We were there on a hot day, and this was a perfect sunny day treat. It makes me really want to go back in the dead of winter, on a chilly day (or just wait a week, I'm sure Winter might just rear it's head again, like it's been doing almost non-stop since January).
Next up... The cold roasted vegetable plate.
Probably the easiest dish we had to describe.
A bunch of roasted veggies, now cold, served on a plate, with more of the caramelized onion dip and a creamy, herby dip. Peppers, onions, potatoes, mushrooms. It tasted exactly like it sounds, assuming it sounds really good. I'd be hard pressed to say it was outstanding, because yes, at heart, it was a plate of roasted vegetables. Good, strong peasant food. Simple, straight forward, to the point. Something that you don't see enough of in today's fusions of cuisines. Don't get me wrong, I'm all about kalbi tacos, fried catfish sushi rolls or... uhh.... let's say pulled pork poutines. But sometimes you want something simple. You want something that isn't pretentious, that is what it is. And this is what it is. And it is, yes, tasty, tasty and light.
After that delightful little snack, which was almost an amuse bouche, albeit larger, to carry between the soup and the main course..err...courses, came what may have been my favorite dish of the evening, the lacquered salmon.
Salmon is a great fish. In all but the most inexperienced hands, you will almost always end up with a flavorful, tender bite of fish. It is strong enough flavored that it stands up well to marinades and rubs, but is still flavorful enough to stand on its own. It is amenable to grilling, poaching, pretty much any cooking style you want to try.
We love cooking it. Do it almost every other week during fresh salmon season.
But I've never been able to get salmon to do what this dish.
Sweet, savory, rich... I almost can't put into words how well this dish just plays upon the palate. Just before you think it's about to hit cloying, the salmon hits and swats it back. The color was... what dreams are made of.
Served atop a nice fried risotto cake (another thing I'm not sure we've ever been able to perfect as yet) and some sugar snaps, this dish would easily be my goto dish whenever I couldn't decide what I wanted to eat at Allium. And with an ever changing menu, I'm not sure I'd ever be stuck like that, let alone always have the opportunity to get the the salmon.
But still, just getting started here. Oh no, that salmon wasn't enough, no siree bob. Let's talk about roast squab with braised beef tongue and potato gnocchi (with truffle oil in there somewhere).
Now I'm sure at least one of the things in that list have turned off some of you. Likely not the potato gnocchi, either. Well, not the gnocchi alone, anyways. I'm sure maybe one of you doesn't like gnocchi. We'll just get this out of the way now: You're a freak.
Annnnnyways, from the bottom up. The gnocchi were exactly what you'd think. Little puffy potato balls of goodness. Mellow, mushy, but still solid. Imagine the smoothest mashed potatoes you can, but then wrap them in a nearly unnoticeable skin that does nothing but hold it all together and keep it solid. A bowl of them, drizzled with oil, cracked salt and pepper, some pecorino cheese... That would make a very find side, or even a main, but here, they are but admirable cameos in the film that is this dish.
Our supporting character, the beef tongue, is... difficult to pin down. The texture.. I'm reminded of, I'm almost scared to say, a Violet Crumble bar. The tiny cubes of beef fall apart as you eat them, crumbling into dainty pieces as you go. The taste is beefy, meaty, strong. The braise carries into the beef (red wine, I'd imagine) and just.. wows. Add them to the bowl of gnocchi too, just to get the protein in there.
The lead in this plated performance, tho, is the squab. Crispy skin, a slightly gummy texture, gamey taste, it was the different I was hoping to find in asking for the Chef to get creative. That isn't to say that squab is that rare of an item, but it isn't that common either.
It takes a little getting used to as you tuck into it, for those of us whose exposure to the class Aves is limited to the Genuses Gallus and Meleagris (Chicken and Turkey), but there is a reward for the daring. Crispy skin, delicious flesh (I'm sure that phrase will get me some PETA comments bashing me), if I had to classify it as similar to something, it is very close to the dark meat found in a good heritage turkey. You may just have to trust me on this. This is a fine dish for someone who wants to expand their dietary horizons.
Continuing on our culinary adventure, Painted Hills strip loin with Black Dog braising mix and Rogue Creamery blue cheese and porcini mushrooms.
On the one hand, much like the cold roasted vegetables, this is a very straightforward dish. A grilled piece of beef, a rich, brown, sauce, cooked cabbage and deeply sauteed mushrooms.. oh, and the blue cheese sauce beneath it all. But I think I'm going to have the most trouble describing the dish.
It definitely is a dish for the less adventurous eaters. There's nothing daring in the dish, but it is rich, beautiful, flavorful.
Tender too. A tenderness that I'm still unable to coax out of the steaks I cook myself. So, start with that. A tender slice of strip loin, cooked just right.
Add some porcini, cooked up so as to explode flavor upon the tongue.
Add a rich brown sauce that must have been forged on an anvil of awesome. The braised greens were good, albeit almost window dressing. I'm not going to call them an after-thought, by any stretch. This dish, much like the others, was beautifully plated. This dish serves to give the unadventurous eaters the same level of quality that the daring will feast upon, while remaining in a safe frame.
But now, it is dessert time. Lets go with the Chocolate Puddin’ Cake with Bourbon Sauce and Chantilly Cream first...
I'll be honest.
I like chocolate. But I don't like lots of chocolate. I like chocolate with things in. Let's put it this way, in standard candy bars:
Hershey's? No. Butterfinger? Sure.
Chocolate cake? No. Yellow cake with Chocolate Frosting? Sure.
Chocolate Ice Cream? No. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough? Sure.
I think too much chocolate in one dish can be overwhelming. So, take this bit of the review with a bit of a grain of cacao.
Was it good? Yes. I'm a sucker for a cake/pudding mixture. Bread puddings, molten cakes, things like that. This has that in spades. A dense chocolate cake, a pudding interior, topped with a chantilly cream and bourbon caramel sauce artfully displayed upon the plate.
Those of you who are chocoholics, and you know who you are, you'll be in heaven with this dessert. I mean, just look at the picture. You can tell. It is, in fact, as good as it looks.
It just wasn't me.
The other dessert, the Mango Cheesecake Semifreddo, was right up my alley.
Creamy, fruity, sweet, rich, this hit on all points. Light, cool perfect for the end of a hot summer's day.
I wish there could be more to share about this, but, I ate it so fast all I can say is it is incredible.
Imagine a mango milkshake, merged with a cheesecake, and crossbred with a pudding. And that might be descriptive enough.
So, as you might have guessed, we liked our meal.
We enjoyed the food. The location is incredible. Sitting on the deck, overlooking the sound, sun setting, really there isn't much wrong with it.
The best dish was the lacquered salmon, by far. The 'worst'... well, before I even say something here, let me say that I would order every single thing we ate again. There wasn't a bad dish. There was just a dish we (or I) didn't like as much as the others. So, seriously, don't be afraid to order the cold roasted vegetables. Heck, even as I say this, I could actually go for an order right now. I think it'd be perfect for a lunchtime meal, or as a quick bite before a movie or show.
Or to pass around a table of 4-8 people.
Ok, fine, I take it back. The veggie plate is great.
Probably the worst thing about Allium is the 3-4 hour trip to get there. IF it weren't for that, we'd likely have a new bimonthly stop. As it stands, every half marathon (or marathon) we run, we're rewarding ourselves with a trip to the Island and dinner... and probably lunch too.
In fact, this meal really made me want to buy a boat (this time with an engine, as the housebarge didn't have one) to head up to Orcas regularly, and to more easily bring friends with us.
Speaking of lunch, we did enjoy our dinner so much, we went back the next day for lunch... we'll talk about that a little later. But, if you'd like to see what the Mrs has to say about Allium, go over to Cook Local and read this post. I guarantee you it'll be a lot more poetic than mine.