Recipe: Washington Cherry-Rosemary Pork Loin, the straightforward dish from his new summer menu is typical of the fresh approach to Pacific Northwest dining taken by Jason Dallas, executive chef at the Hunt Club in the Sorrento Hotel.
As weather permits, I like to walk from my office at the Seattle Culinary Academy on Broadway Avenue to the Colman Ferry Dock on Alaskan Way. The route takes me through the core of downtown and, depending on where I cross Interstate 5, I can wend my way through the streets in almost any number of ways. If I play my cards right, I can walk down Madison Street past the Sorrento Hotel.
A hundred years ago, every American city of a certain size boasted a world-class hotel like the Sorrento, with a great dining room to match. But many American cities have seen these grand, old hotels disappear. In 1993, I drove into my own hometown and saw the broken facade of the Hotel San Carlos in Pensacola, Fla. Roughly the same vintage as the Sorrento, that venerable hotel gave way when the age of motels with air-conditioned rooms sent it into a downward spiral from which it never recovered.
Seattle was definitely of a certain size and growing like gangbusters when, in 1906, architect Harlan Thomas, fresh on the heels of a European tour, settled in Seattle and set about designing two hotels, the Chelsea on Queen Anne Hill and the Sorrento on First Hill. The Chelsea was eventually converted into apartments, but the Sorrento remains.
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Dining at the Sorrento when it opened in 1908 meant a trip to the Top of the Town on the seventh floor. But since a big remodel circa 1980, it’s meant a visit to the Hunt Club, a cozy, wood-paneled room in the northeast wing of the L-shaped building — a room that helped shape Seattleites’ understanding of what was then emerging Pacific Northwest cooking. Some might say the place was a little too cozy. Draped in dark wood paneling, the room was originally the hotel’s livery stable, and not much thought was given to the view.
A more recent makeover has replaced the old booths with a flood of light from north-facing windows that bring the outdoors in. Along with the light has come executive chef Jason Dallas, who is putting his own glow on things while following in the footsteps of his predecessors.
Those footsteps are pretty good ones to follow. Much-loved Tulio chef Walter Pisano was a member of the opening crew. And not long after it opened, the room came under the command of David Pisegna, who went on to foment a revolution in institutional food service when he reworked the menu at Swedish Medical Center. (He’s now executive chef at Seattle Pacific University.)
From the start, the menu at the Hunt Club relied heavily on local seafood, but close to the backbone of the menu was game — elk, venison and duck — establishing those items as the kind of fare that folks would eventually come to expect from every Northwest dining room. Next came one of Seattle’s first superstar female chefs, Barbara Figueroa. Then Brian Scheehser wielded the whisk and added a sustainable twist to the menu with his own locally grown produce. (He’s still farming, and cooking at the Heathman Hotel in Kirkland.)
A real chef’s chef, Dallas — who is Scheehser’s former sous chef — worked his way through the Restaurant School in Philadelphia with a job at Susanna Foo, the eponymous restaurant of one of the most respected Asian fusion chefs in America. He found his way to the Sorrento via another of Seattle’s grand old hotels, the Fairmont Olympic. With its palm trees and Italianate facade, the Sorrento might not be the old San Carlos in Pensacola, but with Jason Dallas behind the stove, I have to admit it could be even better.
Greg Atkinson is an instructor at the Seattle Culinary Academy. He can be reached at email@example.com. Dean Rutz is a Seattle Times staff photographer.
Recipe: Washington Cherry-Rosemary Pork Loin
This straightforward dish from his new summer menu is typical of the fresh approach to Pacific Northwest dining taken by Jason Dallas, executive chef at the Hunt Club in the Sorrento Hotel. “Keep the heat in the sauté pans fairly low,” says Dallas, “because you want to keep the brown bits in the bottom of the pan from getting too dark; you’ll need them for the sauce.”
4 (10-inch) rosemary sprigs, divided
6 rounds (about 4 ounces each) cut from a large pork tenderloin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 to 4 tablespoons canola oil
2 shallots, peeled and minced
1 cup red wine
1 cup chicken broth
1 pound Washington bing cherries, pits removed
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set aside two whole rosemary sprigs. Strip the leaves from the other two sprigs and chop them fine. Sprinkle the chopped rosemary over the pork with a generous sprinkling of the salt and pepper.
2. Heat two large sauté pans with enough canola oil to form a 1/16th-inch layer on the bottom of the pan. Sear the pork medallions on both sides; reduce heat to medium if the pan gets too hot during the process.
3. Transfer the browned pork to a baking sheet with raised sides and bake until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness.
4. While the pork is in the oven, pour off the leftover oil from the sauté pans and return them to the heat. Add the minced shallots and sauté until they look translucent, about 2 minutes; use a heatproof silicone spatula or a wooden spoon to scrape the golden brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the red wine and chicken broth and continue to reduce until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes; add the cherries and swirl them in the reduced pan juices until they are warmed through, then add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Distribute the cherries and the pan juices evenly between 6 plates. Plant the browned pork medallions on top of the cherries and garnish each portion with leaves from the reserved rosemary sprigs.
— Recipe courtesy of Jason Dallas