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Another Bainbridge Outing

Bloedel Reserve

I was going to call this Bainbridge Outing, but then I did a search and discovered that I already wrote a Bainbridge Outing post, recounting our visit at the end of last December. I even featured the same house shown, once again, above. But last time I provided the front view. Here you see the rear view from below.

The impetus for the trip was an email to members from Bloedel Reserve* informing us of their evening walks a couple of weeks back and last night. They close at 7:00 PM in the summer, but on these special evenings, they remain open (for members only) until 9:00 PM.

*I have written about Bloedel before. This time, let me remind you of what the reserve is by quoting from their home page: “The Bloedel Reserve is an internationally renowned public garden whose primary mission is to provide a tranquil and refreshing experience of nature. The Reserve’s 150 acres are a unique blend of natural woodlands and beautifully landscaped gardens, including a Japanese Garden, a Moss Garden, and Reflection Pool, and the Bloedel’s former estate home. We invite you to visit this Northwest treasure.” The reserve is on the north end of Bainbridge Island, which itself is just across the sound from Seattle, a 40-minute ferry ride away from downtown.

Our plan was to head over to Bainbridge in mid-afternoon, have some time to wander around before dinner, then have an early dinner in the downtown area before heading up to Bloedel for our evening walk. This is essentially what we did, except for taking into account that one can’t expect to simply show up and drive onto the next ferry on a sunny, warm, summer Friday afternoon. Between peak tourist season, the best weekend weather of the summer, and the end of the week for commuters, the downtown ferry terminal was mobbed. We approached the terminal a little before 3:00, imagining that maybe we could be among the last to drive onto the 3:00 ferry, only to realize it would take 10 minutes just to turn into the the pay booth area and buy our tickets. We then drove into one of the waiting lines while the 3:00 ferry boarded, some 15 minutes late. To our right were column upon column of cars that also weren’t making the 3:00 ferry. Well, okay, we’ll wait for the 3:45, which we did. But when that started boarding, there were columns of cars to our far left who went first, and I realized we were at risk of waiting for the 4:40, which would totally mess up our plans.

It was pretty suspenseful, what with boarding being stopped just before our column of cars so that the ferry staff could figure out how much more room they had. Then they let us on. We were maybe the fifth-to-last car to make it. Phew!

We got into town and parked at around 5:00, giving us just enough time to visit one store before dinner and Bloedel. On to Churchmouse Yarns and Teas, always our first stop in town. I don’t knit, and I don’t drink much tea, so it’s a bit of a puzzle why I love the store so, but I do. The layout, the staff, the displays. It’s a most warm and welcoming haven. Right away, Gail saw a scarf (Churchmouse designs and sells many patterns as well as yarn) and discussed it with the saleswoman while I checked out the tea. Then we looked at the Emma Bridgewater bird mugs. And dog mugs. And flower mugs. And back to the teas, at which point the saleswoman joined us to explain what some of the more interesting teas were.

We talked over what to buy, at which point, John appeared from the rear and began to tell us more about the teas. John is co-owner, with his wife, and we had a good time talking with him about the store. (You can read more about John and Kit here.) We then selected several teas, headed to the counter, paid for the teas and yarn, and spoke more with our saleswoman. By the time we left the store, it was dinnertime.

On many of our trips over to Bainbridge in the last year and a half, we have eaten at Cafe Nola, a fine restaurant at the far end of the commercial strip. But yesterday Gail wanted to try another place, Hitchcock, which she said she had read a good review of. What she had failed to explain, or I failed to understand, is that she had just read the good review. In fact, it had appeared that very day, yesterday, in the Seattle Times.

Each Friday, the Times has a weekend entertainment section with movie reviews, theater and concert reviews and listings, and so on. Plus, a featured restaurant review and a short cheap-eats review. When I open up the Friday paper, I often turn first to the restaurant review, just to see if it’s a place near us or out in the suburbs, and whether we frequent or already know about it. Of course, if the review excites me, I make a mental note not to eat there for at least a month, since it will be too crowded.

Normally, finding the restaurant review in the weekend section requires turning to page 5 or 7. Not yesterday, for the restaurant was featured on the cover, with a full page picture of the chef exhibiting a dish of food and the words “From Farm to Fork.” I put it aside for later reading, not bothering to turn inside since I could already see what the place was. And then I never got back to it. Nor did I pay attention to the full wording on the cover: “Hitchcock: From Farm to Fork.” The restaurant name hadn’t registered.

No wonder, when we entered Hitchcock at 5:30, the hostess asked if we had a reservation. I hardly thought that would be necessary. Only when we sat down did Gail mention the review again, at which point our waitress, overhearing us, headed over to the door to grab a copy from the mound of Seattle Times in order to pull out the Weekend section and show us the cover. Sure enough, it said Hitchcock, the very restaurant we were now sitting in. And we were lucky to get a table at all.

To start, we shared a small plate of Marcona almonds, pimentòn. Then Gail had one of the cheeses by the ounce, the Big Boy Blue with bing cherry compote and lavosh while I had the Persephone Farm baby greens, cava vinaigrette, and pickled strawberries. Gail’s main course was the egg fettucini, which I see on the online menu as coming with pork confit, chanterelle mushrooms, and mustard greens, but I don’t remember the menu last night mentioning pork. Maybe I mis-read it, or maybe they changed the menu. I had the pork chop with creamy farro, mustard greens, and rainier cherry compote. Everything was superb. We passed on dessert, regretfully, both because we had eaten plenty and because it was time to get to Bloedel.

Oh, as for that Seattle Times review, which I still haven’t read, let me take a look and see if there are any quotes worth sharing. Well, it describes the reviewer’s experience with a tasting menu, very different from our dinner. Here’s one excerpt:

What he puts on the plate is often spectacular and scrupulously detailed. A single small turnip is unforgettable. Soft and sweet from its olive-oil bath, it’s set like a pearl in a swag of bitter turnip greens alongside a swipe of garlic and anchovy sauce. Cheeses each merit a different garnish. So do oysters: citrus granita for Baywater Sweets; peppery horseradish mignonette for Amai; simply lemon for tide-tumbled Blue Pools.

Bites like these leave you hungry for more. Move on to lemon-dressed arugula rampant with raisins, pine nuts and leaves of grana padano cheese. Or to crostini topped with gravlax: pale, lush marbled salmon cured with dill and dabbed with crème fraîche. Or to lonza — near-translucent rounds of salt-cured, dry-aged pork loin circling a scoop of grape granita that sends out tendrils of sweet-tart juice as it melts into fruity olive oil.

On to Bloedel Reserve at last. We arrived punctually at 7:00, parked, and walked the standard route outlined on their map. For a while, as we crossed the meadow and entered the wooded bird reserve, we saw and heard no one else. The reserve was tranquil, just as described on their home page. We soon crossed paths with others, as we walked through the woods and out toward the visitor center (the old Bloedel mansion). From the visitor center’s rear, we had spectacular views down to the lawn pictured in the photo above, out to the little inlet of Port Madison, and northeast across Puget Sound to north Seattle, Shoreline, and Edmonds, with the Cascades in the distance. We headed down the stairway on the side of the house, out to the lawn and the view just above the water, then followed the path through the glen and on to the Japanese Garden.

At the garden, the Guest House was open to visitors. We had never been inside before. Coffee and lemonade were available, and we could sit and relax or explore the guest bedrooms and bathrooms. (I believe the Bloedel grandchildren would stay there decades ago.) The self-guided tour booklet has this description of the house:

The Guest House was designed by Paul Hayden Kirk, a Seattle architect recommended to the Bloedels by Tommy Church, and completed in 1964. The structure is made of vertical grain, clear, Western red cedar (Thuja plicata), supported by Douglas fir posts that came from Mr. Bloedel’s timber property in Bellingham. The rest of the wood came from MacMillan-Bloedel Ltd. in Canada. The floor inside is teak from the battleship U.S.S. New Jersey, acquired from a government surplus property disposal sale. The chairs and coffee tables were hand-made by master furniture maker George Nakashima of New Hope, Pennsylvania, and were a gift to the Bloedels from the architect. Mr. Nakashima was a classmate of Mr. Kirk at the University of Washington. Paul Kirk once commented in an interview that this building attempts to combine a Japanese style with Northwest Native American.

As this suggests, it’s a wonderful structure, and we were glad finally to enter it.

From the Japanese Garden, we walked through Gail’s favorite, the moss garden, then past the reflection pool, around its far side to the meadow, and back across the meadow to our car. It was 8:15 and we figured we could make the 8:55 ferry.

As we got closer to town, I began to think, with the ferries running late, that maybe we could even make the 8:15 ferry. But no. As we pulled up to the booth to pay, it was pulling out. We would have a while to wait. Having done so much waiting already, I decided to make good use of the time. While Gail stayed behind in the car, I walked up the hill and back into town in order to shop for food at the island’s principal supermarket, Town & Country Market. We needed some items, and this seemed preferable to stopping back in Seattle. Plus, I got to explore the offerings, even as I worried that I might have mis-calculated and Gail would drive onto the ferry without me.

No such problem. I descended to the ferry waiting area just as the ferry approached the dock. Some 15 minutes later, we were on board. We pulled out around 9:15, in dusk. It was a beautiful crossing, with the Olympics silhouetted to the west, above Bainbridge, and Seattle’s downtown slowly growing and resolving to the east. A perfect ending to the day.

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Categories: Garden, Restaurants, Travel
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