Monday, July 6, 2015

FoodTrek: Edible Artistry at Salish Lodge's Chef's Studio

Summer in the Northwest isn't all backyard barbecues and camping trips, we can shirk our Birkenstocks for a lovely sit-down dinner that takes advantage of the precious growing season that gives this region such a noteworthy culinary reputation. I had the pleasure of previewing a new dining space at Salish Lodge and Spa, their freshly-minted Chef's Studio, that offers a unique, hands-on approach to eating and drinking locally.

Setting the table for an edible show at Salish Lodge's Chef Studio - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I'll keep this post high on photos, low on lengthy content, mostly because it's truly written in the heat of our record-breaking summer. Anyone who scoffs at the Seattle area being an endless cold, rainy wasteland for sparkly vampires has not looked at the weather report in our region -- 90 degrees. For serious. And yes, this flower is wilting. But even more of a reason to escape the heat and have a forest-shaded weekend stay-cation in Snoqualmie. Of course the picturesque Snoqualmie Falls are a can't-miss view, and if you were as much of a nerd as I was/am/will always be, it's a kick to visit Salish Lodge, the real-life "Great Northern Lodge" of the famed cult series, Twin Peaks. Viva la 1990s, yo. 

It's all in the details, and Salish dresses a table beautifully - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I sadly have no inside scoop on the Twin Peaks remake -- the on again/off again reports remain as inscrutable and mysterious as the Log Lady, but I don't need nostalgia to get excited about a visit to Salish Lodge, especially when they have such a beautiful new dining space. Their Chef's Studio is a unique area separated from their main dining rooms. It has a picturesque dining space that can seat up to 12, a vegetable and herb garden overlooking the Falls, and a separate full-sized kitchen, fully-stocked and ready to rumble for their summer-long Culinary Adventures series of dining events that range from wine/beer dinners to culinary education classes. You can have an elegant multi-course, wine-paired dinner, or you can roll up your sleeves and learn how to preserve summer berries or break down a chunk of beef into a perfectly-trimmed tenderloin. 

Chef's Studio herb and veggie garden, and Chef Snook with a mortar and pestle that rocks - Photos by Wasabi Prime
We (and I don't mean the Royal "We," it was a group of media folks invited to peek at the Studio right before it officially opened) were treated to a "dress rehearsal" similar to the Full Moon Dinners at the Falls, a seasonal-themed menu that remains a secret until the night of the dinner. It's a dining experience I can get behind, as it encourages guests to really get involved with the meal, like wandering through the new garden for fresh herbs, lining up in the kitchen, gloves-on, to help put together courses for their fellow diners. True to its name, the Full Moon Dinners take place the next several full moon evenings: July 31st, August 29th, September 28th, and the final one is October 27th

It's totally okay to play with your food! Plating a caramelized pain perdu with berries - Photos by Wasabi Prime
It's an intimate dining experience, only 12 seats, and very similar to our dinner, it's wonderfully interactive, encouraging people to use all the senses to engage the meal. It was so nice to have the lingering scent of fresh mint on my hands from the first cocktail of the night, which we had the option of putting together, tearing fresh mint leaves and a few squeezes of lime, muddled with some rum, simple syrup and local Treveri sparkling wine. It was like a Northwest mojito -- so simple but incredibly refreshing. Don't worry if you're not feeling up to being a mixologist, local wines are paired with each meal course, and all you have to do is sip and savor.

Refreshing herbal sparkling wine cocktail, as well as local wines paired with each course - Photos by Wasabi Prime
As for the food, I let the photos speak for themselves, but bear in mind, the theme of these Culinary Adventures events is to let the season guide the palate, which I think is a necessary step in being truly a seasonal eater. 

Veal loin Tramezzini getting final touches - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Summer and fall are of course bountiful times, which is why these seasons of plenty serve to inspire us even in the chill of winter -- celebrate all ingredients (yes, even kale), and they will serve one's appetite well, especially in the skilled hands of someone like Salish Lodge's Chef Steven Snook. He was a wonderful culinary ringleader, guiding us through the meal being put together, explaining the ingredients used, and letting the dishes really speak for themselves in regards to why food that's in season is so delicious.

Eating one's greens has never been so beautiful! With cheese, please. - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Another nice thing about intimate special event dinners like these is that it allows the chef to play with the menu and try new things. I had my produce world rocked by a tart, tangy apricot salad. A take on the traditional panzanella, it had the requisite toasted chunks of bread, tomato, fresh cheese and herbs, but the addition of apricots, cucumbers and briny olives made it a beautifully complex starter. I'm not a huge raw apricot fan, but after having this, I've discovered my new favorite way to enjoy them.

Ingredients from the land and sea on our table at Salish Lodge - Photos by Wasabi Prime
There was audible joy around the table at slicing into a tender halibut filet and having a luscious, golden hen yolk ooze out from within. Fish and eggs, simple enough ingredients, but turned magical when given the opportunity to be presented in a unique way that may not be feasible for a larger restaurant-sized crowd. The idea of poaching a halibut filet with a yolk sealed inside was inspired -- I admit, it makes me want to try a sous vide version of that at home!

Culinarians' weapons of choice - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Like I said, I'm not getting into too much detail over each course we experienced, because it's all supposed to be different. Every meal will be a surprise, not because it's a gimmick, but because the menu will follow Mother Nature's lead. And I think that's a direction dining habits and restaurant-goers can benefit from. Not only will methods of preparation become more imaginative, ingredients will continue to have seasonal value. I look forward to more meals that are less about me choosing what to eat, and more about the menu educating me on how to best enjoy what's thriving. Beetroot marshmallows and smoked salmon cones, anyone?

Savory takes on sweet-looking treats - Photos by Wasabi Prime

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