Joule and The Whale Wins, Seattle, WA

Filling Two Beards With One Zone

I only had one night in Seattle, as logistics dictated we’d make it a layover on the way to Canada (logistics being that the *entire* city was booked, save for an overpriced airport Doubletree), so after one very long day of travel, the day got even longer and more exhausting by trying to fit in a 2013 James Beard nominee.

We were deciding between several places, two of which were Joule and The Whale Wins, with chefs Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi, and Renee Erickson being nominated as 2013 semifinalists for Best Chef, Pacific Northwest. The Whale Wins was also long-listed for a national award for Best New Restaurant.

The problem is: they both had the same address. Huh? For about twenty minutes, we had a genuine, out-of-town, WTF moment. Then, this from “The Power Of Two: Joule and The Whale Wins,” by Allison Austen Scheff. Apparently a growing trend in the Pacific Northwest, sort of like it is in Springfield, is sharing of space by two distinct restaurants under completely different ownership.

Think about it: The Fremont Collective – which probably had pretty low rents – instantly turns from nothing, into a dining destination. Our dining choice(s) became a no-brainer.

Twice, we needed to call Joule and apologize for pushing back our reservations. A long walk, then a light rail, then a cab, took *much* longer than we thought it would, and I was exhausted – cranky exhausted – the type of exhausted where you just want to go home, curl up, and do nothing. (Little did I know that our train to Vancouver the next day would take 8.5 hours. The definition of “suck?” Yep, that’s it.)

As we waited for our table in Joule, I sipped a Fremont Brewing Summer Ale ($5) – we were, after all, in Fremont – while Matt had at his delicious-but-way-too-iced-down Sweet Roasted Corn Tea ($3).

Five minutes later, we were seated at the end of a community bar table (no privacy issues – the spacing was fine), and went light on Part One of our Diptych Dinner. More and more, I’m letting Matt pick our meals so he becomes more comfortable with taking control (he is, after all, going to college in a couple of years, and needs to impress the ladies). 

Salmon Caviar Dip ($6 for a small) with yuzu crème fraîche was the consensus favorite of the trio, and quite frankly, it’s hard to believe this was a small (a large is $10). Well, the square bowl it came in was fairly small, but the amount of roe was quite generous; the crispy bruschetta were decent dipping chips, but we only got four of them – our server offered another order of them which I suspect happens often. If you enjoy bagels with cream cheese and lox, this is the starter for you.

Actually, now that I’m typing, I take it back: Matt’s favorite was the Beef Tartare ($10), with Asian pear and spicy cod-roe aïoli. He was pretty hungry, and this dish came with a good portion of clearly hand-chopped steak. I backed off a bit and let him plow through it because I saw he was starving.

I thought sure the dish of the night would be the Smoked Tofu ($6) with “honshimeji confit,” (quotes explained in a moment), and soy-truffle vinaigrette. The tofu didn’t have much smoked flavor, and there was almost nothing I could discern that should have been termed confit – the honshimeji were placed atop the tofu, and there was some oil at the bottom of the dish, but that’s about it. 

The dessert menu was tempting, but we had, after all, another restaurant about twenty feet to our right (the building is pictured in the article I cited in the third paragraph, but the setup was similar to Radius and Tonic in Mount Pleasant). So after paying the bill, and taking a five- or six-second stroll across the corridor, we found ourselves in The Whale Wins.

It’s hard not to instantly fall in love with a restaurant featuring a drawing of a Moby Dick-like whale severing Captain Ahab’s ship in half, especially when you’re instantly seated outside on a gorgeous evening (both of these restaurants are nearly identical in design, and both are open to the sky in the front end).

Matt started with a delicious mocktail – I don’t know what it was, but it had honey, ginger, and was probably gin-based when served high-test; I started with a local beer, “brewed right across the street” - Hilliard’s Chrome Satan (only $6 for a 20-ounce draft).

An important ordering strategy at The Whale Wins is that, according to our server, the “large plates” are double the size of the small plates, even though they’re only about 30% more expensive, so *always* get the large plates if you want the most value for your money – because of this, we ordered two entrées and nothing else.

Well, okay, one other thing, and it was money well-spent, too: a basket of Columbia City Bakery Bread & Butter ($4), about six pieces of two types of bread, one sourdough-based (and fantastic); the other more of a traditional baguette styled loaf. The butter was both creamy and salty, and you should get this to swab (get it?) up your sauces. 

Hama Hama Roasted Clams ($20; a “small” was $14) with sorrel, tarragon, crème fraîche, lentils, and urfa biber were good, fresh clams in a *great* sauce, perfect for ye olde bread dunk. These clams weren’t quite good enough for me to order a second time, but I have no regrets trying them once, and you won’t either.

Around this time, I ordered an Interurban IPA ($6 for a 20-ounce draft) which I slightly preferred to the Hilliard’s – this, even though I’m not a huge IPA fan in general. These beer prices are amazing, and this was yet another beer brewed right in Seattle.

Carlton Farms Roasted Pork Shoulder ($20 for two pieces; $14 gets you one piece) with Willowood Farm Braising Greens, drum roll please … ROCKWELL beans (always in good taste, and a must-try for anyone serious about food), anchovy butter, and lemon peel was, at first taste, extraordinary, with a crispiness to the exterior of the pork shoulder that made our eyes as wide as saucers. However, as we got further into the dish (and began to get absolutely stuffed), we began noticing that the interior was fibrous and tough, and that the exterior was the highlight. The menu said “roasted” and I believe them, but this is the type of toughness you get with sous-vide cooking of certain meats, easily enough concealed by a high-heat searing at the finishing step. Still, while this wasn’t “the perfect meat,” it was a very fine value for the money, an interesting combination of flavors, and boy was that finishing sear close to perfect. 

It wouldn’t be fair to choose a favorite, based on ordering appetizers at Joule, and entrées at The Whale Wins, but the combination of the two restaurants, side-by-side, makes the trip irresistible. You won’t regret going, but *do* call for a reservation, and I recommend Joule first, The Whale Wins second, due to the lighter-to-heavier nature of the cooking.

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