A Sunday morning in December. Temperature: 24 degrees. Sunlight skitters across Lake Union like a thousand laser beams. The blue-gray mosaic of downtown Seattle looms in the distance. I’m at Westward clutching a quince hot toddy, smelling cloves and lemon with every sip of the brisk, whiskey-laced drink.
We could have occupied one of the Adirondack chairs surrounding the outdoor firepit, the best place to enjoy the view. But on this frigid day, inside is more inviting. So is such tummy-warming fare as a hot-from-the-oven bagel, a sturdy kale and potato frittata (a little short on the promised Taleggio) and, best of all, a red-wine poached duck egg with an herby braise of wild mushrooms and Dinah’s cheese melting on thick toast.
About half of the 75 inside seats are at a counter, including the stools at the oyster bar/shop in the corner of Westward, called Little Gull Grocery. At the oyster bar, icy cold bivalves are expertly shucked and served on the half shell. (They are also wonderful fried, on a crusty, remoulade-cushioned roll, or poached in an invigoratingly tart soup of puréed white root vegetables.)
I’m partial to the well-padded swivel chairs fronting the kitchen counter and the bar. There you can watch the cooks shuffle sizzling pans around the massive wood-fueled oven, or marvel at the bar back: a ship’s hull in cross-section exposing whimsical dioramas in each tiny chamber. It could be a playhouse for Popeye the sailor boy.
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I didn’t notice any anchors among the tattoos on the waiters’ forearms, but their hip body art suits their blue-striped French seaman shirts and knit caps. (Similar caps, with Westward’s logo, are among Little Gull’s eclectic merchandise, along with beard soap, oyster knives and fancy foodstuffs.)
From sailcloth light shades to decorative cordage to dock cleats used as coat hooks, it seems no maritime motif was missed in Westward’s design, but it comes together in a fresh way that feels uniquely Seattle. Opened only since early September, this handsome, contemporary boathouse already has become a gathering place for a youthful, moneyed cohort.
Westward isn’t all about style. There’s substance, too, as we’ve come to expect from Josh Henderson, the man behind the Skillet brand and founder of the Huxley Wallace Collective. (Woodinville’s Hollywood Tavern is another of his projects.)
Henderson hires chefs he trusts and lets them strut their stuff. Here Zoi A previous version of this story misspelled the name of chef Zoi Antonitsas, former chef de cuisine at Madison Park Conservatory, puts a Greek slant on the Mediterranean menu, which, despite the nautical setting, divides equally among seafood, meat and vegetables.
Marjoram brightens gigante beans (some softer than others) baked with tomato and feta. Bite-size potatoes taste of lemon, oregano and smoke.
Lemon and Aleppo pepper added snap to the crackling leaves of fried Brussels sprouts. Pickled kumquats and cashews provided tart counterpoint and crunch for a slab of warm haloumi cheese crisscrossed from the grill. (Get the whole jar of house pickles to appreciate the wide variety of fruits and vegetables they put up.)
Pickles were part of a well-appointed charcuterie board. It included Tuscan prosciutto and two fine salamis from Portland’s Olympic Provisions, but the highlights were made in-house: delicate mortadella and lamb testa, a deliciously gamy head cheese.
Braised lamb shoulder, finished with a swagger of pomegranate syrup, was a hunk of meat so yielding they gave us a spoon to cut it with. It anchors a Hellenic feast-for-two that includes grilled pita, tzatziki (finely chopped cucumber in thickened house-made yogurt) and an herb salad studded with pomegranate seeds.
Two could easily share the whole, roasted dorade. Dusted with fennel pollen and paired with oven-burnished slices of fennel bulb, the delicate Mediterranean fish comes with a small pitcher of avgolemono sauce, as rich and frothy as sabayon.
Cod and mussels were just as carefully cooked in a Moroccan fish stew roused with ras el hanout. That complex North African spice rightly rims the Casablanca, a gin, soda and lime cocktail bristling with pickle brine. I can’t wait to have one sitting in an Adirondack chair by the fire on a summer night. (Here’s looking at you, kid.)
Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic. Reach her at email@example.com.