Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Restaurant review: Whitehouse-Crawford, fine dining with the folks

schierl-08fa-cm20081009-web01.jpgThere are a few restaurants in Walla Walla that are simply beyond the price range of the average Whitman student. My dad was planning a visit, however, so I decided I would take the opportunity to visit one of these pricey joints: one of Walla Walla’s elite eateries, White-House Crawford.

The Whitehouse-Crawford is located at 55 W. Cherry St., a five-minute drive or 10-minute bike ride from campus. Situated in a historic 100-year-old mill, the building has been aptly converted for restaurant use. The original 2×12 red fir floors and high ceilings still remind patrons of the structure’s milling heritage, but sparkle lighting and some partitioning in the dining room help create a pleasurable atmosphere –– appropriate for any group social event and any but the most intimate of dates.

The dishes of Head Chef Jamie Guerin’s establishment are not extremely complicated – not overly flamboyant, spiced or sauced. He, instead, lets the farm-fresh raw ingredients of the region speak largely for themselves. According to sous chef Chris Teal, the restaurant contracts with six local farms to deliver the freshest local produce. All beef is local, and pastas are made in-house. Much of the same produce found on a W-C plate can also be bought at the farmer’s market downtown.

From my seat I could see and smell the dishes simmering at the open-viewing kitchen, and to my left was a well stocked bar. What drew my interest at this point, however, was the menu. Seven seasonal entrees and four salads are offered at W-C as well as a full complement of appetizers. My group settled on a basket of crispy fried onions ($5) (nobody can resist Walla Walla sweets).

The fried onions were light and crispy, shredded very thin, but tasting exactly as I had hoped. A classy touch also came in the form of the complimentary amuse bouche, a tidbit selected by the chef as a prelude to dinner. Our amuse bouche was apple chutney on a house-baked cracker, a most sufficient taste bud interest-piquer.

My group took this momentary pause in foodstuffs to make a wine selection. Wine service is, in a word, impeccable. Wait staff were knowledgeable and helpful guides. In an area known for great wine and great wine restaurants, Whitehouse Crawford takes its place in the top echelon. The wine list includes local wines from top producers, including lesser-known varietals, a strong array of Oregon wines, and well-chosen international offerings that show no fear of going off the beaten path.

The salads that followed proved only more mouth-watering. I knew I would love mine the moment I saw it on the menu: preserved duck with jonagold apples, fresh figs, walnuts and fig vinaigrette. It came ungarnished on a plain white plate, but its sublime taste combination of fruits, duck and vinegar made up any aesthetic shortcomings.

At Whitehouse Crawford, when entrees are ready, the wait staff descends on your table with all the dishes simultaneously, leaving no hesitance before diving in. I ordered grilled king salmon with locally grown summer vegetables ($28). This northwest-caught delicacy was one of the best fish I have ever eaten.

The filet was incredibly delicate and the serving size quite substantial, easily filling me after the salad. The real winner of the order, however, was the summer vegetable mix. The assortment of sweet corn, squash and tomatoes were wonderfully complementary. Teal told me that they were cooked in lemon olive oil with garlic, balsamic vinegar, and some emulsified butter –– a combination I will have to try at home. The sweet corn was more like candy, almost too sweet by the end of the dish but saved by the vinegar. The tomatoes and squash were heavily flavored by the lemon oil and became both sweeter and more nuanced in their flavors under its influence.

I also sampled the dishes of others at my table. On my left, I was offered lamb ragout ($26) –– an on-the-night creation of Guerin –– and was pleased to find it similar to my mother’s stroganoff or a spaghetti Bolognese. On my right, I sampled roasted Hawaiian Opah ($28), a meaty fish touted as similar in taste to swordfish. I enjoyed both, but still believed myself to have made the best dinner decision of the night with my salmon.

Perhaps only out of a desire to prolong my W-C stay, I asked for a dessert menu. I felt adventurous and ordered pear poached in orange Muscat with mascarpone cheese. This was by far the prettiest dish of the evening. The pear arrived skinned whole with stem, surrounded by chocolate drizzle and inviting raspberry dotting. The taste was equally fine, and I had nearly forgotten about the mascarpone when I found it lurking like a sumptuous core in the middle of the pear.

Though a bit jealous of my dessert, my group was unanimous in their opinion: this had been one of their best dining experiences in months.

Whitehouse Crawford is one of the premier dining experiences of Walla Walla; you will almost certainly need a parental visit or a very special event to occasion your visit there. But if you do make it to W-C, be warned: you might find yourself wanting to return again very soon.

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