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All You Can Eat

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May 6, 2008 at 11:35 AM

Anybody know this guy?

Let me give you a Hint:

Long before Seattle got the word about what to eat and where to find it — via internet web sites, blogs and chat-rooms, chef-celeb radio and Food TV — there was Seattle Times restaurant critic and columnist John Hinterberger. For 25 years, he reigned as Seattle’s voice of food and restaurants. When Hint talked, people listened, and believe me, his was a hard act to follow — something I did nearly a decade ago when I took the job as lead critic for the Times.

I remember, back in the day, reading his reviews, chatting him up about his work when he’d come into Saleh al Lago where I was a waitress, and even (be still my beating heart!) getting a mention in his news column once when I challenged his opinion of a local Thai joint.

I’ve kept in touch with John off and on since his retirement (actually, he retired twice, returning to work as the Times’ freelance critic six years before he stopped reviewing for good), but haven’t seen him in way too long. So when Sally McArthur arranged a lunchtime rendezvous at Chinook’s — where, back in the (opening) day nearly 20 years ago, she was chef-exec — we, of course said, “Oui.” So we went, we ate (oysters, natch), schmoozed and got caught up. Sally. . .

. . . who now spends much of her time in France, told a hilarious tale about Chinook’s, where, two days after its opening, Hint showed up with his pal and colleague Alf Collins. According to Sally, she was busy in the back overseeing an enormous crew, putting out a brand-new menu with 120 items in a brand-new kitchen, and in her spare time hand-rolling schiacciata — the precursor to the focaccia Chinook’s serves today (“It was much flatter than this,” she said, holding up a square of herb- and salt-bedecked bread). Upon hearing the Seattle Times critic was in the house, she says she came thisclose to running out of the kitchen, heavy Italian rolling pin in hand, to beat Hint over the head.

But yesterday a good time was had by all — including, apparently, a couple dozen international journalists from England and Japan who toured Fisherman’s Terminal before dining in the semi-private room in back. There, they ate local seafood with members of the Seattle-based fishing crews of the Northwestern and the Time Bandit: guys whose dangerous escapades catching crab in the Bering Sea made them stars of “The Deadliest Catch” and the subject of two books, “Deadliest Catch: Desperate Hours,” and “Time Bandit: Two Brothers, the Bering Sea and One of the World’s Deadliest Jobs.”

Which explains why, as I was walking into Chinook’s, I spied a clutch of hard-core looking dudes catching a smoke outside and discussing, “$#@!$% journalists.” (And when I left later, one of them was attempting to do wheelies in the parking lot with his flashy red sports car):

Anyway, in case you were wondering how Hinterberger’s been doing, it’s worth noting that he, too, is tooling around in a flashy new car — a Honda coupe — spending time with his daughters and three grandchildren (two more are on the way), planning a visit to see his 96-year-old mother, reading like a fiend (he’s presently working his way through “Inside the Third Reich”), and generally enjoying his retirement. Here we are, smiling for the camera:

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