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Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

This week's review of The Walrus and the Carpenter was contentious, to say the least. There are people who love this

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Friday Food Porn: Through the Looking Glass With The Walrus and the Carpenter

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Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

This week's review of The Walrus and the Carpenter was contentious, to say the least. There are people who love this place--who seem to have sworn some kind of personal blood oath of allegiance to the few bar seats and handful of tables that make up its dining room and will turn on anyone who says it is anything less than the greatest restaurant in the city.

And I get it. I understand that kind of loyalty, and have felt it before myself. To a certain extent, I can even agree with them: The oysters here are outstanding, the vibe so rustic and vital that there are moments where The Walrus and the Carpenter can feel like the new, warm, and juicy center of the Ballard restaurant scene.

Unfortunately, I also had some problems with the place, which is where me and the acolytes diverge . . .

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Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"He orders carefully, in a pattern that makes sense only to him--bouncing around among the 10 or so different varieties on offer, pairing this with this and that with that. He talks to the server working the bar, asking her about the different properties of the Kusshi, the Eagle Rock, and the Olympia--which are sweet, which are metallic, and which carry the sharpest, most flooding sting of the sea. To her credit, she is able to answer most of his questions. She helps him pair wines with them, and goes into detail about the home addresses of many of his selections.

The Blue Pool oysters are from Hood Canal, grown in bags and tumbled clean. They're small, salty in the liquor, and briny in the meat. The Sweetwater are from Lopez Island, the Kusshi from Deep Bay, B.C., with long, deep shells and a delicate, clean flavor. With them, a bottle of white, a French petit Chablis, or a Pouilly-Fumé."

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Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"I order fried brussels sprouts, which come burnt and bordering on impossible to eat. The potato gratin is thick and heavy, with leeks adding a vegetable greenness but no savor and the Cantal cheese béchamel overpowering the delicate, layered slices of potato. It too is burnt, the surface having gotten the worst of the salamander's heat--bubbling up into a brown crust, shading over to black--that does nothing good for the flavor. Just a touch of burnt cheese, like a whisper of scorched garlic, will ruin even the most carefully conceived dish."

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Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"An order of fried oysters is huge: six or eight, of all different varieties, cornmeal-breaded and fried golden, served with a pale green cilantro aioli. And the slip of Delice du Jura, with a lace of balsamic vinegar and brandied cherries from the bar's stock of upscale garnishes, is excellent. Both of them arrive as no more than they absolutely need to be, but every other dish seems to have at least one too many ingredients or hands involved in its creation."

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Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"Grilled sardines are excellent, and the ones off the grills at The Walrus and the Carpenter are finger-thick, fat with meat and cooked to a warm, greasy, and flaky perfection. The shallots add a spike of acid to cut the fattiness of the fish, and that's fine. Parsley tempers the sardines' fishiness a little. But then there are walnuts (more fat) and melted butter (even more fat). And where any two of these things would've been good, four additional flavors are just too much."

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Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"It's the same with the smoked trout (served with pickled red onions and crème fraiche, which is fine, but then with lentils and walnuts on top of that) and the salmon tartare with apple and mint and horseradish and crème fraiche. But what kills me across all the plates I try is not just the overcomplication of things best kept simple, but the simple mistakes in execution that keep tripping up dishes that could be good. The fried oysters, for example, are mostly done perfectly--except for a couple little ones at the bottom of the plate which spent too long in the oil and came hard and dry and overdone. And a dessert order of warm banana bread was excellent, except for the part right in the middle which was still pasty and undercooked.

"Right now, The Walrus and the Carpenter might simply be going through a bad patch--the stress of handling overflow crowds night after night will eventually start to wear on any crew. But also, something about the construction of the menu speaks to an inability to find the middle ground between the austerity of the oyster and the complications of goose paté and white-anchovy tartine. For a restaurant which does its best work while doing nothing at all, I would hope that bringing the other side of the menu back into equilibrium would just be a matter of pulling back and simplifying."

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Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"Two plates down and I catch myself glancing longingly at Staple & Fancy on the other side of the glass."

To read the full review of The Walrus and the Carpenter, click on through to this week's restaurant section. And to see more beautiful pictures of the food, the room, and the cooks hard at work, we've got the full slideshow right here.

 
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