White Swan Balances Highbrow and Lowbrow

The menu at the lakeside public house is perfect in its scope.

In late summer I wrote about 100-Pound Clam, the walk-up fish-and-chips shack on Lake Union run by Dan Bugge (Matt’s in the Market, Radiator Whiskey), which managed to open just in time to take advantage of those perfect late-summer Seattle days. Meanwhile, adjacent to it, his larger restaurant, with an expanded menu that still includes fried fish and oyster sandwiches, the White Swan Public House (1001 Fairview Ave. N., 588-2680), was gearing up for a fall opening.

I’m happy to report that the new pub is worthy of its location, with a menu that emphasizes seafood, from oysters on the half shell to sautéed scallops. And it may very well have what could become a Seattle signature dish: Poutine o’ the Sea. Poutine, the Canadian gut-busting feast of fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy, here takes the form of fries piled with chunky littleneck clam chowder, bacon, and scallions, the latter two ingredients conjuring a loaded baked potato. Of course, if the clam dip happens to be on the menu that night too, well, you’ll just have to make a tough choice—or order both.

Oysters are also represented well here, with local selections on the half shell and a lovely fried-oyster Lyonnaise salad: frisée topped with flaky crusted bivalves and the richness of bacon lardons tempered by the lightness of a miso mustard vinaigrette—all of it silkily incorporated by the mixing-in of a soft egg. It’s a nice alternative to a heavier fried-oyster sandwich.

While I’m not typically a huge fan of albacore tuna, the salad here with a sizable piece of the poached fish is an inspired, refreshing dish, covered in black-eyed peas in which hide a pop of sweet-sour pickled raisins and shaved braised celery. It straddles a line between summer and winter with aplomb. So do Hawaiian blue prawns, four meaty crustaceans, tail on, dressed decadently in an onion soubise (a play on a béchamel sauce, in which an onion purée brings the creaminess) and butter made from shrimp-shell stock and burnt lemon that adds an exuberant citrus note. A fist-sized salad of fennel and parsley balances.

Scallops are cooked exactly as they should be, with a slightly yielding center and a toasty exterior, coated in bonito crumbs. They are served with dainty roasted carrots resting in a pile of the bonito shavings, and mint and lime, a flavor play that was unexpected but memorable. My only complaint was the rather lackluster carrot purée painted on the plate, which somehow resists the actual essence of the vegetable.

While there aren’t many non-seafood items on the menu, the short rib is an excellent diversion, cooked in a pecan gremolata and served with smoky baked beans that get their sweetness from sorghum, a grain that grows like corn and is used frequently in the South. It imparts a deeper flavor that is sometimes compared to honey or molasses, but lies somewhere between the two.

Bugge has managed to create a tightly curated menu with just the right mix of rusticity and refinement, and the clean interior, with lots of reddish-blonde wood and a simple blue nautical stripe running through it, mirrors that palette. Succulents are potted in tiny wood boxes with the blue stripe as well. Though far less designed, it recalls another restaurant on Lake Union, Westward, and I couldn’t help wondering if they’d taken a little too much influence from it. There are, at least, no odes to popular culture, a move that would truly render it derivative. The music playing the nights we visited was all classic rock, which seems fitting with the overall vibe. There is nothing pretentious or too precious about the restaurant, yet you’d feel comfortable bringing your friend from, say, New York who’s curious about Seattle’s increasingly famous food scene. But you’ll also want to come here with a local friend to just hang out by the lake and eat good seafood. These days, managing both is no easy task.