Hitchcock on Bainbridge Island is a restaurant that belongs on the must-try list.
“Are you restaurant critics?”
That startling question came from two women seated on the opposite side of Hitchcock’s cozy back dining room. My companion and I were nearing the end of a multicourse tasting menu. The women had noted the chef personally delivering each course, taking time to describe the ingredients and their origins, like a dad bragging about his kids.
But I was incognito. We weren’t getting special attention, we were getting the royal treatment because we had ordered the chef’s tasting menu.
Thirty-one-year-old chef/owner Brendan McGill invites all comers to name their price and he’ll devise a tasting menu just for them. Many take him up on it, and you should too.
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At first glance, Hitchcock looks like a casual neighborhood bistro. Lace curtains shield the front window; the kitchen is on view in the rear; in between lies a mix of tables, booths and a small bar exceedingly well stocked with wines and spirits. Old family photos underscore the link to the Hitchcock-Williams family, among Bainbridge Island’s earliest homesteaders and the forebears of McGill’s wife, Heidi.
McGill prints his menu daily and makes the most of the bounty of Bainbridge Island and points not far beyond. He and his crew churn butter, culture cheese, stuff sausages, cure meat and fish, craft pasta and pastries. (Coming this fall: an adjacent mercantile where shoppers can purchase those and other local products.)
What he puts on the plate is often spectacular and scrupulously detailed. A single small turnip is unforgettable. Soft and sweet from its olive-oil bath, it’s set like a pearl in a swag of bitter turnip greens alongside a swipe of garlic and anchovy sauce. Cheeses each merit a different garnish. So do oysters: citrus granita for Baywater Sweets; peppery horseradish mignonette for Amai; simply lemon for tide-tumbled Blue Pools.
Bites like these leave you hungry for more. Move on to lemon-dressed arugula rampant with raisins, pine nuts and leaves of grana padano cheese. Or to crostini topped with gravlax: pale, lush marbled salmon cured with dill and dabbed with crème fraîche. Or to lonza — near-translucent rounds of salt-cured, dry-aged pork loin circling a scoop of grape granita that sends out tendrils of sweet-tart juice as it melts into fruity olive oil.
For something heftier, try grass-fed hanger steak, pink and juicy beneath a fire-blackened crust, splendidly supported by crisp seabeans, thin, golden rounds of oven-roasted panadera potatoes, and a pulsating Pedro Ximenez sherry gastrique.
But the ideal way to eat here is to leave all the decisions up to McGill. He’s devised $15 tasting menus of just three courses, and $100 menus that included wine pairings. Thirty dollars to $50 is typical; $75 buys scaled-down portions of most of the menu.
Tasting menus don’t include pasta because he says it tends to slow things down. But he’ll tweak those dishes. For example, he omitted pappardelle from a bowl of pecorino brodo bathing sautéed morels, chanterelles, English peas and sugar snaps; the result was deeply satisfying. He served intensely flavored asparagus broth in a demitasse cup topped with carrot foam; what normally sauces gnocchi became a dazzling intermezzo “macchiato.”
Those pasta dishes were a little clunky when sampled a la carte on a subsequent visit. The pappardelle, cut as wide as lasagna noodles, clumped together despite the brodo. The asparagus sauce was a thick purée that clung to sautéed gnocchi; the tide of carrot foam had ebbed. I also tried delicious dark-shelled Salish Blue clams baked with charred garlic scapes and bacon with, and without, pearls of fregola sarda pasta. I preferred them fregola-free, but only because the pasta absorbed so much of the briny, smoke-haunted broth.
Service flowed more smoothly when the chef paced our meal. The wait staff is responsive, but not yet instinctive. Never mind. Succumb to the food and drink; cede your wishes to the chef, who cooks with enough finesse and imagination to put Hitchcock on the must-try map of local dining destinations.
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