To put a seemingly hundred century-long debate on the subject of oysters and aphrodisiacs to rest, one cook asks another cook, “what, besides an oyster, is that perfect, comes in a convenient little package, and has its own sauce?!”. It is over.
Oysters, the sea’s little gems, were not always my favorites. I know, I’m crazy! Up until a couple of years ago, I still had a dislike for a couple of foods that fell under the “its a texture thing” category. Well I got over that, along with mussels, and now they are one of my favorite foods! Because of this newly found love for these bivalves, we will go to distances to find each other. So I call up Tyler, my oyster-shooting partner in crime, to join me on a trip to Ballard, down the up and coming far end of Ballard Avenue to The Walrus & The Carpenter.
Chef Renee Erickson of Boat Street Cafe teamed up with Jeremy Price and Chad Doyle to put their vision of an oyster bar to life. They state, “The idea is to serve the highest quality food and drink in a space that is stripped of pretense and feels like home”. This feeling was mutual and concreted as I saw a couple of acquaintances dining as well. Yes, in my future fantasy life, in my day dreams, this kitchen and dining room is in my home.
We sat at the bar after a short wait and ordered drinks and oysters right away. I chose a cocktail called “Death in the Evening” off their extensive list, containing vodka, sparkling wine, pastis, and lime. I anticipated the pastis going well with oysters, which we ordered a dozen of. They have a generous selection which they receive from Marinelli Shellfish, Taylor Shellfish Farms, and Penn Cove Shellfish. We chose two of each Kusshi, Fanny Bay, Hama Hama, Treasure Cove, Blue Pool, and Penn Cove, all of which very approachable; small to medium in size and sweet to slightly briny in flavor. They arrived on a giant platter filled with ice, on a metal stand, to put them on display as well as conserving space at the counter. Our friendly oyster shucker explained each with a notecard of our selection. Accompaniments included fresh grated horseradish, red wine mignonette, and fresh lemon. I was relieved by this because I don’t care for “creative” sauces or granitas on my oysters as many places feel the need to do. This tends to overpower the taste of the oyster to where it is difficult to discern the sweetness of the oyster from the flavors of the garnish.
What impressed me most about The Walrus was that they put just as much care and attention into other menu items as they do the oysters. Based on mixed reviews, I was expecting to get a plate of great oysters and some other decent dishes. The menu is a good size, with categories such as ‘garden’, ‘pantry’, ‘meat’, and ‘cheese’ including house made ricotta served with honey from Ballard Bee Co. The service staff was knowledgable about all of the menu items, especially the oysters flavor profiles.
Our first dish was the steamed clams, perfectly seasoned with fennel seed, mildly spicy, with an ample amount of chorizo and grilled bread. The steak tartare was prepared traditionally, with shallot, caper, mustard, chive, cornichon, fresh farm egg yolk and crostini. Even though it could have used a little more seasoning all around, it was good. Many dishes on the menu looked amazing but I wanted to save those for our next trip. It was hard to not order the kale salad when the guests next to us on the counter did..
We ordered the coconut milk rice pudding with fresh mango and mint syrup for dessert. The rice pudding was a little too stiff. It should have a porridge or risotto consistency, instead it was like that of rice pilaf. The flavor was very good though; perfectly ripe mango with a syrup light on mint so not to over power the other flavors.
Overall, we were very impressed. Renee and her team were successful in putting their vision of a fun oyster bar that makes you feel at home to life. Creative dishes, well-crafted cocktails and the knowledgable staff will keep us coming back. Next time, I’m ordering the kale salad!!