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Veg Out: The Walrus and the Carpenter

February 5, 2011

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things.

Of TVP, and snacks with flax,

and tofu-filled dumplings.”

True to its shellfish-poaching namesakes, The Walrus and the Carpenter in Ballard is an oyster bar. But Vegetarians Like Me will be delighted that they too can partake of the mustinguished deliciousness that GQ calls one of the 10 Best New Restaurants in the U.S.  It seems almost every male employee at The W&C has a mustache, some waxed to handlebar perfection. I generally am against Ironic Facial Hair (Has anyone seen Portlandia yet?), but here I think it works because of the walrus and sea-shanty tie-ins. That, plus the food at The W&C so good, and the service so warm and friendly, that the staff could wear freaking floor-length fu manchus or renaissance faire braids or Princess Leia buns and I would not care.

I’ve been to The W&C twice. The first time was last year, in October, I think. They had me at hot chocolate: My own personal teapot full of liquid fudge, with a cup of orange-spiked whipped cream that billowed when I poured.

I believe that it took until last week to burn off the calories from it. Just in time for my Jules’s birthday dinner, at which he would invoke his yearly Oyster Exception.

On both visits I filled myself to capacity with meatless small plates. They usually offer 4 cheeses with different accompaniments. Last week I had creamy, bloomy-rind Dinah’s Cheese with tangerine, not candied, but bathed in some kind of liquid that enhanced its tangerineiness. (Cheese paired with citrus? Oh helllooo.) They also offer three or four “garden”-based small plates. They’ll have at least one salad. Other offerings have included “How the hiz-ell did you do that with kale?” kale gratin, sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts; blackened brussels sprouts with chives (those are them below, in the lower left-hand corner); and nutty, end-of-season chanterelles topped with a poached egg.

Plan on dessert (See, e.g., hot chocolate, above. See also lemon tart with a diabolical sliver of chocolate snuck between filling and crust, or perhaps huckleberry panna cotta). And please plan on cocktails. I’m no expert on balanced cocktail flavors, but I think Frank Bruni would approve of the selection at The W&C. I can’t resist anything citrusy-sparkly, so I went with the pamplemousse and le perroquet, made last week with blood orange. Jules loved the bourbon-based mustache ride, which he announced on Facebook to great effect. (My favorite comment: “For my own sanity, I’m going to go ahead and assume that’s a drink …”)

The decor (antler chandelier, creams and pale yellows, candles in mason jars) and music (Decemberists, Neko Case, Flaming Lips, Tom Jones!) made me feel so comfy, and yet also somehow like a slightly cooler version of me, as I sipped my second pamplemousse and chatted with a charming woman at the next table. (The place was packed, and the tables are a bit close together, so I had already basically given her a lap dance while attempting to squeeze into my seat.)

And like I said, the staff is a dream. A cocktail while I wait for a table? Don’t mind if I do. Not an eyelash batted at my request to take the speck garnish off the sunchoke soup. The diners on my left admitted that they were nervous about eating oysters, and their server sweetly suggested that they try just one, and go from there. Our server even let us know that the farmer who makes Dinah’s Cheese just published a book.

I have been struggling to come up with a rating or “starring” system for restaurants because I feel like I would have to give two ratings: one for veggie friendliness, and one for all the rest. Also I feel like any person who can’t resist having a small side of cheese puffs with breakfast (they were right next to the oatmeal!) has no business dealing in absolutes when appraising other people’s food. Check out this review from Allecia or The Seattle Times, and I know you will be in better hands.

That said, if I were rating, or starring, or otherwise thumbs-upping-or-downing, The W&C would set the bar high. It would get The Broccoli of Approval. Certified by Vegisign. Definitely in the running for The Golden Cheese Puff.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
4743 Ballard Avenue NW
Seattle, WA 98107

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