The small, stay-home 2020 holidays might seem sad, but in this long, dark winter, the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel is finally a glimmer (knock frantically on wood). Those of us healthy and wealthy enough to splurge have so much to be thankful for, and our celebrations should be as great as we can make them. For that, we’ve got the help of many marvelous restaurants, and they all need our love now. Get takeout — lots of it, along with plenty to drink. Tip big. Tell them how happy you are that they’re still with us. Here are a few places that I had the joy of partaking in recently — ones that made everything at home merry and bright. Best to all of them, and to all of you.
Brand-new and already beautiful, Communion awaits
2350 E. Union St., Seattle; 206-257-4227; communionseattle.com
Communion was originally set to commence right about when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and only now has Kristi Brown’s restaurant dream been realized. She’s the chef/owner of Seattle catering/community kitchen That Brown Girl Cooks!, known for the superlative black-eyed-pea hummus she came up with while working at the late, great Kingfish Cafe. Now open in the Central District’s new nonprofit Liberty Bank Building — the site of the first Black-owned bank in the Pacific Northwest — Communion is airy and contemporary, warmed with old-fashioned coppery pressed-tin ceiling panels, elegant button-tufted banquettes and a custom wood-and-mirror back bar. Fun will be had and memories made here, it’s clear.
But with the second COVID-19 dining-in shutdown, we can’t commune at Communion yet. For now, takeout’s the way to celebrate its existence, and from a big feast on just the fourth night in business, Brown’s “Seattle Soul” cuisine is a fabulous celebration of global cross-pollination.
Let your first bite of Communion be Brown’s corn chowder — roasted corn sweetness with a full supporting cast of other vegetables in a thick, velvety, faintly spicy broth, it’s magnificent and, shockingly, vegan ($6/8 ounces, $11/16 ounces — go big). Adorable, tender, almost pudding-y corncakes came with a trio of dips ($12): Brown’s rightfully famous hummus; a creamy roasted-collard-green delight; and zhug, the vivid green sauce from Yemen that here starts innocently fresh, then delivers a mighty hot wallop. The half-chicken ($28), perfectly grilled, gets a nuanced berbere sauce, while five huge shrimp lolling on a bed of grits ($22) make the best kind of mess per Brown’s menu exhortations: “Buttery Sucking Goodness!!! There are heads in this house! So Suck’em!” As for her crispy-fried catfish version of the po’boy-meets-banh mi found around New Orleans: Anybody who says $16 is too much can leave theirs for me.
Brown recommends getting your party started with the Hey Auntie! ($25/16 ounces), a happy-holiday combo of vodka, ginger, pear and lime. And if the peach cobbler ($10) is sold out, festive macarons from also-Black-owned, local Black Magic Sweets come in bourbon hot chocolate, caramel horchata and more.
This is food that gives the gift of an immense sense of gratitude, tons of comfort and all the joy. It’s good to be home. Feel the love. Communion’s waiting.
Now is the time for The Walrus and the Carpenter
4743 Ballard Ave. N.W., Seattle; 206-395-9227; thewalrusbar.com
Now is the best time for local oysters, little briny-sweet bright spots on the half shell for a dark, cold, probably rainy Pacific Northwest night (which starts around 4 p.m., so we can, too). This time last year, that generally meant a bundled-up journey through the wetness to a warm, festive favorite spot to enjoy the expert work of an experienced shucker arrayed on a sparkling bed of ice. During the 2020 holidays, as we’re all painfully aware, staying home is safest, and we could all use a project — so, shuck it.
Ordering oysters online from Ballard’s beloved The Walrus and the Carpenter gets you dealer’s choice, and mine proved to be a baker’s dozen of Baywater Sweets from Hood Canal ($18): prettily tiger-striped, promisingly deep-cupped and just-right midsized. If you don’t have an oyster knife, chef Renee Erickson’s premiere seafood spot will throw one in for $20, and the right tool for the job can help prevent a hand-stabbing requiring a COVID-times trip to the ER. New (and rusty) shuckers: YouTube is your friend. Then, be patient and persevere: Once you pop a few, it gets easier.
The Walrus packs them in ice pebbles with mignonette, fresh horseradish and lemon, and the satisfaction of making your own arrangement — working for it — is much bigger than the bivalves themselves. You’ll want the martini for two ($25), adorably bottled with a handwritten tag attached by a striped string, tasting slightly saline and lightly lemony. Slurp, sip, repeat.
Then to the rest of your celebratory feast. I chose sweet, silky scallops ($17) and drank the tart crudo broth right out of the container, because home; spot prawns ($18) in a pistachio-green coconut cream with tiny hits of serrano chile; classic steak tartare ($18) with a glowing egg yolk and lacy rye-bread crackers for some turf; pretty beet salad upgraded with melty burrata and za’atar ($17); and a big slice of chocolate cake ($10), because 2020 needs all the cake we can stuff into it. Onward, with brighter spirits — then, please, upward!
You deserve a stellar steak from FlintCreek Cattle Co.
8421 Greenwood Ave. N., Seattle; 206-457-5656; flintcreekseattle.com
If you eat meat, you deserve a steak right now, and if you’re going to eat a steak, you ought to make it a very good one. Chef Eric Donnelly’s FlintCreek Cattle Co. in Greenwood chooses only from small-scale ranches that raise animals with care, grass-fed and antibiotic-free. A to-go splurge here, perfectly cooked to your specifications, seems reasonable for the season.
A 12-ounce slab of rib-eye from the big sky country of Meyer Company Ranch, Montana, was impressive, its exterior salted exactly this side of too much, imbued with delicate smoke all through, rare at its heart as online-ordered even after a ride in the car. A gorgeous cut, it had troves of fat melting throughout and crisped all along one side. But a bison hanger steak, from family-run Durham Ranch south of Gillette, Wyoming, possessed surpassing beauty, cut into ruby-red-centered hunks. The taste both deeply satisfied and slowly amazed: rich-edged to a boozy degree, but also slightly gamy, each bite softly yielding but with a chew that let you know this beast lived with room to roam. With a bit of the accompanying onion jam, it got better yet, an unlikely love match between sweet allium and big bison. And bites with cashel blue cheese, borrowed from the unexpectedly spectacular walnut-shallot-parsley salad, matched meatiness with tang superlatively.
The bison was the kind of steak that makes eating less meat entirely worth it, the kind of meat that stays in your memory as a special occasion. A side of potatoes Dauphinoise ($11), by my count 15 exceptionally thin slices tall, was its own kind of spectacular. FlintCreek’s online list of red wine surprisingly tops out at a DeLille 2017 D2 for $45 — a local favorite Bordeaux-style blend, ready to go toe-to-toe with a bison. There wasn’t any dessert on offer, but 16 ounces of Holiday Nog, made with bourbon, rum and cognac, played that part like a creamy dream: sweet but not stickily so, the boozes kept in balance, nicely spiced without being like eating a Christmas candle. Sprinkled with nutmeg and cinnamon and taken to the couch, it led ideally to a long winter’s nap.