For the latest installment of our "Tell Us Something Good" celebrity recommendation series, we talked with restaurateur and author Renee Erickson, owner of Bateau, Willmott's Ghost, the Whale Wins, the Walrus & the Carpenter, Barnacle, Bistro Shirlee, Deep Dive, Bar Melusine, Westward, and General Porpoise Doughnuts. Her new cookbook, Getaway: Food and Drink to Transport You, will be released on April 27. She told us about some of her Getaway recipes, great restaurants to try in Seattle (like Meesha and Raiz), and what’s going on in her garden, as well as other ways to enrich your life during the pandemic.
So you have a cookbook coming out soon: Getaway.
It's kind of crazy that it's going to happen. I have the first copy from the printer and, finally, I'm mostly done carrying it around like a baby. It was such an insane amount of work.
I thought it was timed to provide relief from the monotony and feed travel fantasies during the pandemic.
It was planned literally two years prior. We finished all of our European travel in 2019. It seems now like I could forecast what was coming, but it was dumb luck.
What has it been like being an author and restaurant owner during COVID?
It's been exhausting, in a word. Yesterday [March 16] was our full year of operating restaurants under these restrictions. I mean, it's been hell for everyone involved. We had to lay off probably three quarters of our staff in two days. Looking back, it feels even more surreal than at the time, because we were foolishly optimistic early on, thinking that we would be back in a month or two and be able to hire our staff back.
It continued throughout the summer with all the social unrest in the country. I was feeling exhausted and saddened by it, but also proud of our city and people fighting and giving a shit about the world we live in.
We're in a position now to try to get back open. Hopefully, we can use the next round of the PPP loans. We're basically opening new restaurants all over again, which is a ton of work under normal circumstances. But with the lack of infrastructure and the cost of it all now, it's just crazy.
We've spent 10 years trying to cultivate a really strong group of people. And just to have to dismantle that...It's disappointing to those that worked so hard this whole time that we weren't able to keep more people employed.
Hospitality is obviously an industry that brings joy to people. Trying to do that under the circumstances has been really grueling for our teams.
On the subject of bringing joy to people, maybe you can tease us a little bit with something from Getaway.
The book's broken down into six chapters that are each about cities or locations that have been really influential to me as a chef over the years: Rome, Paris, Normandy, London, Baja California, and then Seattle. There are recipes for cocktails in each chapter, many intended to be lower-alcohol: lots of sherries and vermouths and spritzes that are not super hard to make and feel seasonal.
The Seattle chapter focuses a lot on summer, because it's my favorite time here. For example, we have this really delicious marinated mussel dish⏤there's a version of it that we serve at Westward⏤you steam the mussels and then quick-pickle them, and then add vinegar and olive oil and lots of shaved shallot and tarragon. You make an aioli and serve it all with Ritz crackers.
There's a lot of seafood, of course, but there's also a good amount of salsas and sauces. There's a tarama or taramasalata, which is like a spread or aioli, but it's made with fish eggs and a little bit of bread. There's a really delicious scallop dish based off one that I had at a restaurant in London called Luca. It's scallops that are just roasted and served with 'nduja, which is a pork- and chili-based meat spread from Calabria.
Again, it’s on the simple side, but real vibrant and pretty easy to put together. There's quite a few things that are deep-fried. In writing this I discovered that, obviously, that’s very common in snacks. So yeah, there's a lot of snacky things to go along with all the cocktails.
Are there any other favorite local businesses or shops or restaurants that you enjoy in Seattle?
There's a new place down in Fremont called Meesha—Indian food. I got takeout from there a few times. I’m definitely no expert, but I really enjoy that they’re making things in a traditional way with super bright, intense flavors. I walk to Rosellini's Bakery, a very sweet bakery that serves pastries and coffee. They have some of my favorite bread. On the other side of me, there’s Kamonegi. I don't know if I'm supposed to say this, but my husband owns Mean Sandwich, and I've been in their backyard a lot eating po' boys this year.
And then Raiz, which is a Mexican spot close to me. [Ricardo Valdes and Kenny Villega] opened right before the pandemic. They’ve been busting ass. They have really delicious dinner kits that you can get with fresh tortillas and lamb birria, or cochinita pibil with guacamole. They also have this really delicious cake that kind of tastes like the middle of an Oreo.
Any particularly great movies or TV you've been watching?
I rewatched Big Night, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. The final scene in the movie is just so beautiful and captures what’s so special about working with people in restaurants.
How about music or podcasts or radio?
It’s completely ridiculous, but I love SmartLess with Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett plus surprise guests. I've been listening to a podcast called Untold Italy, and it's basically stories about places in Italy like Pompei and the Amalfi coast. It’s fun to dream a little bit.
What have you been reading?
This book called Noble Rot, which is a book by two guys [Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew] in London who have two restaurants. They started out with a wine magazine that’s been really cool and fun to read. I'm going to interview them with Book Larder here in a few weeks. I'm very excited!
Do you follow anyone particularly interesting online?
I'm a big fan of David Lebovitz, a pastry chef in Paris. I love Amy Sedaris. Her Instagram is just absurd and funny. I follow a lot of animal welfare things, too, like Seattle Dogs Homeless Program and Dog Gone Seattle.
Have you bought anything during the pandemic that has particularly improved your life?
I bought some fruit trees that I'm pretty excited about. I planted two plums, and then recently an apricot and a couple quince trees. I got plums last year, and the apricots will probably take a few years.
What do you miss most about Seattle from pre-COVID?
I miss my social life, the freedom of just meeting people for a cocktail. I miss bars, I guess, sitting at a counter and talking to people without being afraid of coughing or something.
What are you looking forward to most when we can finally lift all the restrictions?
Kissing my parents, giving them big hugs without being afraid. They're finally vaccinated. I've missed cooking for people, you know, in a not-in-a-box sort of way. I’ve been talking about trying to do a Sunday lunch thing once I’m vaccinated. Just to invite friends and family over to be with each other. I miss that.
We've had really great experiences with guests throughout the year, but we're constantly on edge, you know? So the full experience is really hard to give and, I think, receive. So, I'm really looking forward to that, where you're not constantly checking yourself and checking on what people are doing.
Back to Getaway—are you going to have a public event for the release?
We are! The book launch will be at Westward. Tables will be sold rather than individual tickets, so if you want to come, you'll just be sitting with people in your Covid pod you're comfortable with. I can't wait!