The Ballard-based eatery The Walrus and the Carpenter offer a great selection of oysters and lots of other menu items that deserve a try.
“A loaf of bread,” the Walrus said,
“Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed —
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Now if you’re ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed.”
So says The Walrus to the Carpenter before that devious duo gorges on dozens of gullible young mollusks in the Lewis Carroll poem from “Through the Looking Glass.”
The Walrus would find everything he wished for — and more — at the new Ballard oyster bar and restaurant whose name this whimsical verse inspired. An outsize wire basket holds loaves of rustic bread from Columbia City Bakery. Three dollars buys a generous portion, thickly sliced, dense and slightly tangy, plus a ramekin of butter doused with olive oil and salt.
Nearby, in the curve of the zinc-topped bar, more wire baskets hold ice and oysters, nearly a dozen varieties harvested from local bays and inlets (market price $2-$3 each). The oyster shucker performs his rituals solemn as a monk, oblivious to the boisterous joie de vivre that percolates through this narrow, whitewashed, often-crowded kitchen and bar.
He unhinges shells with a decisive thrust, salvages the liquor as he loosens the mollusk’s grip and nestles each on shaved ice. Then he portions mignonette (pepper and vinegar, with onion, too), grates horseradish and adds a lemon wedge to the plate.
Order three, six or a dozen; they taste so cold and so fresh you almost expect them to shiver. But don’t be as greedy as The Walrus and the Carpenter; save room for something else.
Make it a bowl of sunchoke soup and marvel at the transformation of knobby brown root to pale liquid, smooth as cream, bolstered by robust chicken broth, salty bits of speck ham and sweet, crisp apple batons.
You’ll find the soup in the “Garden” section of the often-tweaked menu. It’s really a collection of haute bar cuisine, backed by an impressive roster of craft cocktails, high-end spirits, lagers and ales, plus wines available by the glass, pichet or bottle.
Two or three plates should fill you up — if you’re sharing, add a fourth — but caveat emptor; this will not be everyone’s idea of dinner.
If you spy fried Brussels sprouts, I order you to order them. Brown as mahogany, with a fragile crunch and a sprinkle of sea salt and chives, they achieve a nutty sweetness that is completely irresistible.
Fried oysters are another treat. Plump and squishy under a light cornmeal crust, they need just a dab of pale-green cilantro aioli. They reside under “Fish & Shellfish,” along with white anchovy tartines and smoked mackerel salad.
The tartines look like a trio of Ducati motorbikes ready to vroom. Built on a toasted baguette chassis with a body of mashed avocado freckled with smoked paprika, they sport pickled onions and a silver-skinned anchovy racing stripe. They taste pretty racy, too, rich and oily with a hint of smoke.
Salty smoked mackerel adds a similar pungent allure to apple-and- celery salad. The fruit is sliced tissue thin, the celery crunches and horseradish sharpens the crème fraîche dressing.
Choose steak tartare and revel in a classic rendering served with lacy toast rounds. Dijon mustard, onion, capers and parsley play accompaniment, but the vocals belong to the beef, rosy and raw under an egg-yolk gloss.
Casalinga salami is among charcuterie, its bold flavor matched by Castelvetrano olives, celery leaves, chopped fresh mint and house- pickled cauliflower and chanterelles scattered around the plate.
Walrus and Carpenter co-owner Renee Erickson is Seattle’s own pickle princess. Her Boat Street Café spawned a retail line of pickled condiments, including the pickled raisins that accompany the creamy French bleu cheese fourme d’ambert, one of several imaginative cheese plate pairings here.
Erickson partnered with Jeremy Price (of Boat Street Café) and developer Chad Dale to create the Walrus, which backs onto Ethan Stowell’s Staple & Fancy Mercantile. A wall of leaded glass both connects and divides these two very different restaurant worlds; a fascinating juxtaposition one imagines Lewis Carroll, especially, would appreciate.
Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol