Seattle is famous for many things: Microsoft, grunge, rain, the Seahawks. But when it comes to food and drink, there are just two enduring images: a fish, flying from hand to hand, at Pike Place Market and a cup of coffee (Seattle, some studies say, consumes the most in the country—on average, there's a coffee shop per city block).
Renee Erickson, the chef and restaurateur, has a broader vision. Driven by her love for the ingredients she grew up with in the Pacific Northwest as well as discoveries from her European travels—Rome, Paris, Normandy, London—she has opened a half-dozen remarkably diverse spots around the city. They include The Whale Wins, a restaurant with outstanding wood-oven-cooked vegetables and seafood; Bateau, a modern steakhouse featuring beef that Erickson raises on nearby Whidbey Island; and the adorable, amaro-focused Barnacle bar. Here, Erickson shouts out eight of her passions and explains how they have influenced her cooking at her restaurants and at home. Take oysters, the inspiration for The Walrus and the Carpenter. She grew up devouring the shucked bivalves but didn't realize how special they could be until she tried them on the half shell in France. When she came home, she thought, Here I am in a place with arguably the world's best oysters, and we aren't celebrating them—let's change that. Another highlight of The Walrus and the Carpenter is the French-focused wine list. "At my restaurants," Erickson says firmly, "the wine has to play well with the food."
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One of my first restaurant jobs was at Boat Street Cafe in Seattle. I was hired as a server, but I felt like a fake because I knew nothing about wine. So I asked if I could cook. I started with baking and made my way to the line. A few years later, when I was 25, I bought Boat Street Cafe. I became good friends with a wine salesman, David Ostler. On Tuesdays, I'd sit with him out on the restaurant's Adirondack chairs, and he'd teach me about Rioja, rosé, Riesling: He blew my head open. Most wine lists are created with customers in mind; I write my lists with food in mind. I've always loved French wine; Washington wine, not so much. But palates change. Plus, our Pacific Northwest wines have improved dramatically, and there's a lot more variety. Now I particularly like Anna Schafer's wines at áMaurice. I love her Sparrow Viognier. And the wines from Syncline—their rosé is awesome!