I recently celebrated a milestone birthday by revisiting a couple of iconic Seattle restaurants that marked big-time anniversaries this year. The surf-and-turf feast was a tasty trip down memory lane.
It’s hard to imagine downtown Seattle before the Metropolitan Grill opened its doors in 1983. The now-tiny Smith Tower was still among the tallest buildings in the soon-to-boom city and Amazon was just a river in South America.
Despite many changes to the cityscape, the enduring charm of the Met remains steadfast, especially if you’re fortunate enough to score a seat at the popular bar. Yes, of course, I’ve had many happy meals in the handsome dining room. (Once even took a tremendous amount of heat when lamenting the lack of a dress code.) But the bar’s where it’s at in terms of world class people watching and mighty fine noshing.
On that recent visit, my mission was to get some beefy bites to start the night and the kitchen delivered. While my date sipped an expertly shaken Bombay Sapphire martini, I only had eyes for the heavenly tartare, the juicy Waygu meatballs and the tender steak bites. Nothing fancy, not a bit trendy and exactly what I craved on this nostalgic deep dive.
While savoring those appetizers, I got such a kick out of watching the seasoned waitstaff interacting with guests: pouring a single shot of Pappy Van Winkle for a couple to share, topping off a glass of wine, warmly greeting regulars while making newbies feel as if they were just as welcome. Most of the team has been in place for well over 10 years and that’s the kind of commitment to a place you just don’t often see. Bravo and here’s to many more years, Met Grill!
There’s a special anniversary dinner on Nov. 4 when some of the restaurant’s greatest hits will be featured during a four-course meal.
Now, let’s surf over to Ray’s Boathouse
The moveable feast continued across town over the Ballard Bridge down onto Shilshole Bay for the absolute perfect Northwest sunset. Yes, this is why we put up with months of gray skies.
At our waterfront table, my significant other of four decades and I reminisced about the tradition we had of heading straight to Ray’s when we visited the big city while living in Spokane in the 1980s.
Arriving from our landlocked home in Eastern Washington, it was such a thrill to drink in the view back then, to experience truly fresh seafood like singing scallops – whatever happened to those gems? – and bliss out on the exotic sablefish. Well, guess what? That sublime seafood dish is still on the menu, a mainstay since the restaurant first opened 50 years ago.
Back then, it was truly more of a boathouse, founded on the principle of spotlighting fresh, local seafood.
“Ray’s started with the small kernel of an idea that salmon and other fish could be broiled just like a steak on a beach bonfire grill, after reeling it into the boat from a day of fishing. Then came halibut, lingcod, sablefish, oysters, mussels, and clams. Excellent seafood that could be cooked in a way that made the true flavor of the food shine. Simple, good ingredients, cooked with herbs and salt and pepper,” Russ Wohlers, Ray’s founding partner and chef, said in a news release.
So, who’s Ray? That’s the original owner, Ray Lichtenberger, who had a bait shop and boat rental business way back in the day before opening a floating coffee shop in the current location in 1952. He sold it to the restaurant’s founding partners Wohlers, Earl Lasher and Duke Moscrip in 1973. The ownership has changed over the years: Moscrip left to launch Duke’s, Elizabeth Gingrich joined the owner team in 1975 and former Seattle Supersonics center Jack Sikma joined in 1986. The commitment to showcasing Northwest seafood is still the primary mission of the kitchen, now helmed by Executive Chef Kevin Murray.
The vibe of the boathouse has changed over the years, a rebuild after a devastating fire in the 1980s adding a casual cafe upstairs and outdoor seating. The main dining room has an open feel with soaring windows taking full advantage of the stunning scenery. Those are the Olympic mountains to the west and just down below in the water? Various sea creatures might make an appearance during your meal.
We started dinner by sharing an order of Penn Cove clams, simmered in Tom Kha, bringing on extra heat with pickled serrano peppers and chunks of chorizo. The excellent sausage kind of stole the show from the teeny clams, though.
Onto the entrees, the Dungeness crab cakes were stellar, as was the applewood grilled sake kasu sablefish. However, the plating of the latter was downright sloppy, a long way from the food porn shot of the dish that’s featured on the restaurant’s website. Yes, it was a busy Friday, but the dish was dominated by a mound of white rice and was lacking the finishing sauce described on the menu. Still, and this is a testimony to the black cod’s succulent nature, the signature dish’s main attraction was utterly delicious.
Seattle’s culinary landscape – like its skyline – has changed so dramatically over the years. It’s a thrill to watch the tasty tapestry grow richer, more diverse and for trends to catch fire and sometimes flame out. As much as dining enthusiasts are enamored of all that’s new, it’s also a comfort to know classics like The Met and Ray’s endure.
Oh, and how many candles were on my cake this year? Let’s just say I’m now thoroughly enjoying the Medicare years.
For more, watch this documentary about the history of Ray’s Boathouse: