The patio at Westward still hovers on Lake Union’s northern bank; water glitters, boats churn a low wake, and the skyline shows itself at an angle that’s criminally underrepresented on postcards. Even now you can sit here—white port and tonic in one hand, the other never far from the housemade chips—and feel an unfamiliar absence of worry. At least until the preponderance of masks and hand sanitizer socially distance you from that notion. In a town of great patios and even better waterscapes, Westward is peerless.
To the envy of all humanity, Westward got to sit out much of 2020; it closed January 1 so Renee Erickson and her business partner Jeremy Price could overhaul both dining room and menu, both of which they had acquired from Josh Henderson in 2018. Their intention was to remodel the oyster-and-patio mecca to better accommodate seasonal crowds. By the time they finished, of course, Covid restrictions allow only a fraction of the usual number of customers, and lots of people are staying home anyway. But to have this caliber of outdoor space is as much of a win as a restaurant can hope for in the summer of 2020. Westward reopened in late June with a new menu that broadens its reach down along the Pacific shoreline, from the cold, clear flavors of Washington oysters (now with optional topping of Idaho sturgeon caviar) to a brisk scallop ceviche layered carefully in a pool of aguachile, with basil oil and a literal cherry on top in the form of glowing wedges of pickled Rainiers.
A few staples remain from the Henderson era, given deft tweaks to reflect more southerly Pacific climes. That clam dip got spicier (and still comes with housemade chips); the half chicken sits atop chimichurri after the wood oven works its roasted magic. The menu’s a smidge bigger, and a bit less snack-y than in previous years, its influences equal parts Erickson canon and sunset beach campout—the kind with great wine. (In the lean Covid economy, Erickson wrote her own wine list, including bottles from Baja’s vaunted Valle de Guadalupe region.)
This chef, obviously, is a champion of pure, fresh-shucked local oysters, but she’s almost never served them cooked. In the past, says Erickson, she questioned whether such a dish was too simple. “Now I’m old enough not to care.” (Not that anybody would accuse Westward’s version, which involves roasted garlic–ancho butter and an optional topper Iberian lardo, of being too simple.) She credits chef de cuisine Mike Stamey for prioritizing delicious food over the ego of fancier dishes, and for the beautiful tartines on the brunch menu.
Right now brunch, dinner, and great late afternoon agave cocktails mostly happen outside on that patio; like everyone else, Price and Erickson are watching daily stats and pondering what to do next. Covid sent the water-facing Adirondack chairs, one of the most alluring parts of Westward, into storage, but the spaced-apart tables should retain their umbrella-strewn charm even as cooler temperatures loom, for folks comfortable with patio dining. (The summer surge of socially distanced boaters appreciate the restaurant’s dock and takeout menu.) Hardly anybody sees much of the dining room. Which is a shame because the credits have rolled on the Steve Zissou décor inside.
Westward’s remodel centered mostly on prosaic matters of feeding crowds, stat—more bathrooms, a bigger dish pit, sturdier surfaces. But Erickson and Jeremy Price also replaced bro whimsy with structural shelves and sand colored tile. A friend with his own tenure in restaurant interiors loaned a collection of art, including lots of black and white photos that make for a moodier beach theme, less Bill Murray in a beanie, more opening credits of Big Little Lies. The oyster bar, previously a satellite across the room, now anchors the end of the long open kitchen; the swiveling counter seats before it should be awfully pleasant, once counter seats are a thing again.
Price powder coated the dining room chairs in a surprising jolt of neon orange that reminds him of fishing lures. “We didn’t want to go too on the nose with the nautical stuff,” he says. Which is funny, because noses were precisely where my mind landed when I first glimpsed the chairs through the window, against those sandy tiles. Specifically the protective coat of Zinc-oxide lifeguards apply. Either way, it's a nice reminder that the unexpected can be a good thing.