Monday 16 April, 2012

Making The Leap: Woodinville’s Barking Frog

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Running the breakfast-lunch-dinner venue of a destination hotel is not exactly a marquee job for a chef: you have to make a lot of different people happy 18 hours a day. If you have any energy or budget left over for creative or adventuresome cooking after that, you’ve already beat the odds. So, despite a name which makes it sounds like a corporate pub (it’s actually a tribal native reference), Barking Frog’s Exec Chef Bobby Moore couldn’t have impressed me more if he tried.

Well, actually, he did try (and I’m flattered by the attention), but I upended the somewhat standard decadence of the menu his staff planned for me, and ordered more intriguing locally-inspired dishes instead.

That only seemed fitting. From the moment I walked into the warm, open room, walled with cubbies of Washington wine and centered around a communal circular hearth table, I could tell it was as popular with well-heeled locals as it was with the captive guests of Willows Lodge. While the latter might have limited options in tiny Woodinville, Washington State’s burgeoning wine-tasting town, locals are only a half-hour from Seattle and even closer to Bellevue. They have plenty of good choices.

Service began with slices of rosemary bread accompanied by a sun-dried tomato and deep-fried caper tapenade. It was a tart and textured palate teaser.

My first wine was 2010 Cadaretta SBS, a Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion blend from four Columbia valley vineyards, with a light straw color and mouth of tart, salted melon.

It set my palate nicely for the first course I chose instead of foie gras (I’ve had enough of foie gras), Penn Cove Mussels & Chorizo, with smoked onions, Piquillo pepper and Spanish chorizo sauces, and big swords of grilled housemade foccacia drizzled with an herb pistou. Tomatoey-sweet and smoky flavors surrounded the tiny tender and mild white mussels in this hearty and rustic dish that could’ve made the heart of a wonderful meal in itself.

Second wine was 2010 Alexander Nicole Viognier Crawford Vineyard. A creamy pear and custard nose on this yields to a mouth of pear and lychee with a little acid crispness.

That paired well with a Warm Dungeness Crab Salad, morsels of buttery crab meat stacked with silky Beluga lentils and butter-poached leeks, with kumquat puree giving an offsetting sweetness, and baby frisee for some crunch. It looked a little retro, but the flavors and textures delivered.

Broadley Vineyards’ 2010 Pinot Noir was poured next, a prototypically racy Willamette Valley red, not that I had any complaints. Even the proud Washington wine scene is wise enough to admit that Oregon does Pinots better.

Before they brought the Anderson Ranch Rack of Lamb they were eager to serve me, I asked as well to taste the Steelhead Trout, a cousin of Northwest salmon (which becomes rainbow trout when it’s landlocked) that you rarely see on menus elsewhere. Underneath the buttery, surprisingly mild fish was a tart sauce of (again) piquillo peppers, some grainy soft seared polenta, a bit of Bloomsdale spinach and wood ear mushrooms, making a very satisfying symphony of flavors and textures. I still regret not finishing it.

Ribbons of fennel, dill, shallots and creamy Israeli couscous provided an equally nice balance to the juicy, savory but mild lamb, though I wasn’t entirely sold by the fennel confit, and brussel sprouts have officially jumped my personal culinary shark.

Afterward, I was somehow convinced by my sweet server that a dessert shouldn’t be missed, so I chose a maple bar layered with raisins and apple, which I somehow managed to half-devour, even after all those calories. I can’t think of a higher compliment to the pastry chef, because there was literally no space left inside me.

What struck me overall about the menu was that it bucked the current trend of austere a la carte dishes, instead applying French technique to Northwest food with finess but not fuss. Moore’s menus are even more impressive when you consider the fact that he’s literally next door to the intimidating Herbfarm, one of the area’s most highly esteemed destination dining rooms. Nobody could blame him if he just choose to serve safe comfort food.

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After ten years in the job, the locally-raised and trained Moore hasn’t lost any enthusiasm either. He offers weekly cooking classes in the Lodge’s lobby bar, he organizes a popular annual cook-off between local winemakers, and next week, on Earth Day, he and sous chef Josh Delgado are presenting a special demonstrational farm-to-table dinner at 21 Acres, Woodinville’s new Center for Local Food and Sustainable Living. Courses will be paired with sustainable wines from Amavi Cellars. If interested, you can make a res HERE.

Barking Frog Restaurant Willows Lodge, 14580 NE 145th Street, Woodinville, WA (425) 424-3900

 


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