If you happen to be wearing a hat—hold on to it. Chef Renee Erickson, who first charmed Seattle with Boat Street Cafe and Kitchen, then charmed pretty much the entire universe with The Walrus and the Carpenter, is planning a third restaurant.
The Whale Wins will open late this summer in the Fremont Collective, the converted warehouse space at 3506 Stone Way N that’s also home to Joule’s new location.
Erickson says her new place will have the same approachable neighborhood vibe as Walrus, but it won’t be an oyster bar. A wood-fired oven, rather than raw delicacies, will be the big draw here. That oven will certainly come in handy for roasting meat or whole fish, but Erickson is especially excited to coax some showstopping vegetable dishes from its fiery environs. “We are lucky we can grow so many things here, and I think there needs to be more attention paid to them,” she says. “Plus, they’re good for you.”
Though her ingredients will come largely from local farms and shores, flavors will be inspired by Erickson’s travels, drawing from food cultures of southern Europe and northern Africa rather than a specific corner of the world. She’s also promising—no surprise—some beautiful pickled items.
The menu will be highly shareable, including family-style plates and smaller composed salads or vegetablecentric dishes, many of which are cooked, but served room temperature. This, says Erickson, is her favorite kind of food. It’s casual, gracious, and reminiscent of cooking a big family meal in your backyard: “Every last element isn’t cooked a la minute; it has this flowing way about it.”
The space, which Erickson describes as light-filled and cottage-like, will seat 40 in the dining room, 15 at the bar, and another 20 on the patio when the weather cooperates. Like Walrus, the room will have an open kitchen—"it’s a really honest way of showing people what we do—and the slightly larger space hopefully means shorter waits for a table. The Whale will serve lunch and dinner, and its bar area will be no stranger to good beer, wine, and booze.
The chef’s nautical theme was an accidental one, she says. Erickson’s mom had to point out the common theme running through Boat Street, Walrus, the Whale Wins, and her upcoming oyster truck the Narwhal. The naming inspiration for her new restaurant came from a painting by American folk artist Mary Maguire, in which a whaling ship encounters the business end of a giant gray whale, causing all the fishermen to go flying. Erickson’s partners in this venture are Jeremy Price and Chad Dale, the same duo as Walrus (Dale happens to be a partner in the group that owns the Fremont Collective).