November is National Novel Writing Month. Several of our lawyers have tried (and failed) to finish a November novel in past years. Each time we found ourselves procrastinating. This year, we give up.
We will not write the great American novel. Instead, we decided to explore five steps to celebrate National Novel Writing Month by doing what we do best (besides lawyering): dining out.
Step 1: Find a Dark and Stormy Night
Any fan of Peanuts or of bad-novel competitions knows that this column must start out with "it was a dark and stormy night." Well, we will start out with dark and stormy as a drink of choice. We tried Elliott's Oyster House (1201 Alaskan Way, Pier 56, Seattle; 623-4340; elliottsoysterhouse.com) located on the waterfront, where this cliche novel opening line was made with dark rum and made-on-site ginger beer, plus lime. It was a hit, and others at the table decided they had to order it. It tasted much like drinking a ginger snap cookie, but went very well with the seafood that we were enjoying.
Just as one should not actually start a novel with "it was a dark and stormy night," one won't be able to start November that way either. You heard it here first Bar Bulletin readers: Seawall construction has closed Elliott's Oyster House until June 30, 2015.
Step 2: Read for Inspiration
Every author is told to read the works of others as often as possible. If one is inclined to listen to conventional wisdom, The Elliott Bay Book Company is a perfect place to search for new and classic works sure to inspire. But an unconventional dining choice is also inside of this book Mecca.
We could have filled our entire article with literary references by limiting it to our visit to the Elliott Bay Cafe (1521 10th Ave., Seattle; 436-8482; elliottbaycafe.com) ensconced in the new Elliott Bay Book Company location, in the very happening part of Seattle's Capitol Hill. Located in the rear, first-floor corner of the bookstore's beautiful, refurbished warehouse location, Elliott Bay Cafe is really a coffeehouse with food more than a primarily food location.
The cafe sports literary references for most of its fare, from the Hemingway sandwich to the Curious George dessert crepe. We tried two savory crepes: the Edward Hopper with bacon, egg, spinach and white cheddar, and the Mona Lisa with two eggs, spinach and gruyere cheese. We followed with a "simply lemon" crepe for dessert, which was just slightly sweet and an excellent finish to the meal.
Elliott Bay also has soup and baked goods, but overall it has a very limited menu well suited for sitting and reading or working on a computer. The cafe is adequately spacious, but it was full. Nevertheless, it was very quiet, more like a library than a bookstore, as most people were reading or working on their computers. Elliott Bay Cafe almost felt like a sanctuary given the hustle and bustle of that very busy portion of Capitol Hill outside. We plan to go back to try the rest of the menu.
Step 3: Make a Classic Theme New with Character
There is nothing new under the sun. According to many literary critics, the well-known saying fits the plots of most novels: All the stories have already been told. If the story can't be new, then the challenge is to tell the story the best it has ever been told. The creators of Chippy's Fish & Drink (4741 Ballard Ave. NW, Seattle; 257-4390; ethanstowellrestaurants.com) faced a similar task - preparing "classic fish & chips" and "old-school seaside specialties" in the best way possible.
The two things needed for a great meal at Chippy's are: (1) an appetite, and (2) a yen for deep-fried fish, chips and potato chips. Chippy's, an Ethan Stowell restaurant, is the latest eatery in the renovated Kolstrand building (former marine supply business) in Ballard, joining another Stowell restaurant, Staple and Fancy, as well as Renee Erickson's The Walrus and the Carpenter, and Barnacle.
The juxtaposition of the restaurants is creative and intriguing; it also seems to confuse the newcomer as at least one-third of the customers who walked into Chippy's walked back out because they were looking for one of the other restaurants. Nonetheless, the place was full, but not packed. A small, cozy, brick-lined space with a row of tables along one side wall and the front window as well as seats at the bar make for a comfortable setting. We sat at the bar and the bartender was friendly and engaging without being overly intrusive.
Our meal began with potato chips - handmade when ordered - and dip. Had we thought it through a little more carefully, the more judicious approach might have been to begin with a salad or something else green as that would have avoided our delightful spiral into all courses deep fried. The chips were substantial and fresh. The crab-and-avocado dip was rich as it should be.
The next plates placed on the bar in front of us were the main courses: a fried oyster sandwich, Dungeness crab roll and rock fish and chips. The rock fish was amazing - fried fish made as best we have tasted. Not only was it lightly breaded and crispy on the outside, it also looked like a complete half a fish. It arrived with fries and a selection of dipping sauces in addition to the requisite and necessary (and delicious) tartar sauce.
The Dungeness crab roll with lemon aioli, tomato and avocado was served on a baguette and summoned memories of childhood seaside adventures. The fried oysters were slightly battered, lightly fried, and satisfyingly crunchy on the outside with a tender, briny oyster on the inside. Tartar sauce and pickled red onion rounded out the flavors imbedded on a baguette that was fluffy on the inside with a flaky crust, paralleling the textures of the oysters. It also had bacon. Once again from a judicious perspective, the better approach would have been to save half the sandwich. Good judgment did not enter the picture; the meal was controlled by taste buds.
The bartender recommended a few of his creations. We tried Craig, the Merman and "Monkey Knife Fight" as much for the creative names as the ingredients. The Merman was a riff on the dark and stormy, with rye instead of rum. The taste was tart, refreshing with a citrus (lime) emphasis. Monkey Knife Fight, bourbon-based, was a smoother drink from the egg white and still a little tart from ginger syrup and lemon. Both were good suggestions.
We walked as if we had sea legs and rolled out of the bar, appetites completely sated. Like a good book with a story well told, Chippy's meal keeps bringing back good memories and thoughts of revisiting.
Step 4: Include a Plot Twist
No article for National Novel Writing Month would be complete without mentioning Bookstore Bar & Cafe (1007 First Ave., Seattle; 624-3646; bookstorebar.com) at the Alexis Hotel. In most regards, we would have described this as a perfectly good place for happy hour and to be surrounded with a book-inspired ambiance. But Bookstore added a plot twist recently when it expanded and hired Caprial Pence to shake up its image. If Pence's name sounds familiar, it is because she was the first James Beard Award winner in 1990 while she served as executive chef at the Sheraton's Fuller's restaurant. She left Seattle for Portland where she started Caprial's Bistro.
When we visited Bookstore Bar and Cafe for lunch, we were happily surprised to find a daily brunch that now runs until 3 p.m. With everything from light salads through buttermilk waffles and house-made pork sausage to house-cured pork pastrami Reubens, it's a fun menu for a casual business lunch. After 3 p.m., in-house smoked and cured meats, scratch-made pasta and craft ketchup complement the more than 130 single-malt whiskies. This was a plot twist we won't soon forget - this is now being added to the unique lunch list.
Step 5: If All Else Fails, Add a Clown
It worked for Stephen King. Since the news has been talking about a scourge of stalking, scary clowns wandering the streets of Bakersfield and Wasco, California, doing creepy things, we are going to give the only compliment to Stephen King that we have ever given: Way to instill a fear in America that keeps on giving. I mean, this has gotten pretty weird - people in clown costumes staring at people in dark shadows in parking lots or holding balloons and machetes. So, if you are out of plot devices, add a clown.
For our favorite places to eat with non-scary clowns, consider stopping by Unicorn & Narwhal (1118 E. Pike St., Seattle; 325-6492; unicornseattle.com) on Capitol Hill. The two carnival-themed bars are in the same location and come with fun food like deep-fried Snickers, fried Oreos and cream, and the "Magical Unicorn Burger," complete with onion rings, slaw and Sriracha cream cheese.
Or stop by the Luna Park Cafe (2918 SW Avalon Way, Seattle; 935-7250; lunaparkcafe.com) and have an "Amusement Park" - eight scoops of ice cream with hot fudge, caramel, strawberry, butterscotch and chocolate, topped with Oreos, chocolate chips, sprinkles, bananas and whipped cream. If the clowns won't scare you, the calories might.
Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt is a multiservice, Northwest regional law firm with offices in Seattle, Vancouver, Portland and Bend. For comments on this article or to share your favorite places to eat or drink with the Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt attorneys, contact Jamila Johnson at 206-407-1555 or at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Mary Jo Newhouse at 206-407-1526 or at email@example.com; see also www.schwabe.com/dining_out.aspx. Follow us on Twitter @schwabedinesout.