When it comes to seafood, sometimes we don’t recognize how good we have it in the Pacific Northwest. We get a timely reminder from Karen Gaudette Brewer in her new book, “Seafood Lover’s Pacific Northwest” (Globe Pequot, $19.95,) an exploration of those “edible treasures” — our waterways, our traditions, and how and where to eat.
We talked with Gaudette Brewer, a former Seattle Times food writer (and wife of Times sports columnist Jerry Brewer) who is now a senior editor at Allrecipes.com, about some of her favorite finds, current trends and underappreciated landmarks. She said that she hopes to re-engage curiosity about the region’s food and traditions, to inspire people “to plan road trips, to try new festivals, to go razor clamming for the first time, to feel confident putting oysters on their grill when summer rolls back around.”
Here’s a slightly edited, condensed version of our email Q&A with Gaudette Brewer. For future book events, visit her website.
Q: What are some of your own favorite places to eat seafood in Seattle?
A: 1. RockCreek — black cod so good, we wanted to lick our plates clean. Also, my first time eating whole fried smelt. Such creamy goodness.
2. The Walrus and the Carpenter — such a lovely, bright, stylish space I’m happy just sitting in it. Then the oysters and smoked trout with lentils arrive, and it’s overwhelming contentment.
3. Little Chinook’s at Fishermen’s Terminal — it’s such fun to get fish and chips with my husband and son and eat at the tables outside, just steps from the North Pacific Fishing Fleet.
4. Seatown Seabar — the Dungeness crab BLT is something to write home about.
5. Elliott’s Oyster House — the daily oyster list is like an atlas of Northwest towns and waterways.
6. Duke’s on Alki — there’s nothing more summery than to sit on their upstairs deck, cocktail in hand, with whatever wild salmon special is cooking, and watch the crowds cavort and the ferries lumber past as the sun sets behind the Olympics.
Q: Do you have some good recommendations if we’re looking for a seafood road trip?
A: The Long Beach Peninsula is super fun. There’s Lewis and Clark history galore, birding on Willapa Bay, beachcombing, razor clamming, quirky general stores to poke through, an entire village frozen in time (Oysterville). Then there’s the food: get a Hangtown Fry (oyster) omelet at the Shelburne Inn, the oldest continuously operating hotel in Washington; razor clams at the 42nd Street Cafe, and fresh steamed crab at Ole Bob’s in Ilwaco. For a nice dinner, make reservations at The Depot or Pelicano.
If you’re already heading to Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast, spend an extra day in Astoria en route for melt-in-your-mouth albacore fish and chips at the Bowpicker, a trip to the Columbia River Maritime Museum, and to explore the shipwreck that emerges at low tide at nearby Ft. Stevens State Park. Or, spend that extra day farther south in Newport so you can pilgrimage to Local Ocean, which serves some of the most delightful, soul satisfying seafood I’ve had anywhere. (Dungeness crab Yakisoba, their grilled prawn salad and Tuna Mignon all come to mind.)
Q: What great places are being overlooked or underappreciated?
A: Pike Place Market is underappreciated by locals for sure. Get a cup of hot cioppino at Jack’s Fish Spot. Get some fresh crab from Pure Food. You can’t beat it. People tend to overlook their neighborhood fish market as well. Get to know your fishmonger, and you’ll have an inside scoop on the freshest seafood and expert advice about how best to enjoy it, all year ’round. I also think people stop too early when driving south along the Oregon Coast. Cannon Beach is terrific, but Newport has so much to eat and see and do. Pacific City/Cape Kiwanda is rustic and lonesome and relaxing. Depoe Bay is whale-watching central, and boasts some excellent eats for a range of budgets.
Q: Looking back on all your years of covering food, do you see changes in the kinds of seafood people are eating in the Northwest?
A: Oh, definitely. Just as you see chefs serving just about every cut of beef and pork, you’re seeing similar diversity in seafood species and seafood dishes that go beyond the typical slab of salmon or a bowl of mussels. There’s raw geoduck; there’s pasta with sea urchin roe; there’s halibut cheeks and salmon jowls and lingcod fish and chips and petrale sole specials. Some of that is the aftereffect of the recession prompting chefs to try less expensive seafood and cuts of fish. Some of that is overfished populations bouncing back to the point chefs can cook with them again without fear of backlash from increasingly sustainability conscious diners.
Asian markets have long carried a wealth of seafood specialties, but I see more mainstream grocery stores diversifying as well.
Q: What sets us apart from other regions, as far as seafood goes?
A: The quality of our shellfish, first off. All those years of preservation and cleanup efforts along Puget Sound and other waterways have helped shellfish populations rebound, and the quality is so superb that oyster farms and oyster bars report tourists from as far as the United Arab Emirates and Thailand coming just to try them at the source. I think the willingness of chefs to embrace flavors and seafood preparations from around the globe, especially Asia. What a treat for us locals.