Where to start?
The smoked heirloom tomato soup? The Saltspring Island clams and Mussels? The Petrale Sole? The fresh whole Dungeness crab? The locally-produced Nicole pinot gregio?
We crossed the threshold today as we ferried from Seattle to Vancouver Island and drove “up island” to Sooke and the Sooke Harbor House. We had been here before, maybe 14 or 15 years ago, for a dinner we never forgot. We were supposed to be here two years ago for a stay at the hotel and another dinner but my quadruple bypass surgery got in the way. Today, we finally made it back. We checked into our split level room with a balcony on the third floor overlooking the water, walked outside, looked right into the trees about 75 yards away and saw a bald eagle perched on a tree limb, anticipating its dinner, which still was swimming in the ocean water below.
Here at Sooke Harbour House all ingredients served in the restaurant are either grown on the property or sourced nearby. Some 200 varieties of edible herbs, flowers and vegetables grown on the grounds. The waters of the Straits of San Juan de Fuca and the shores of the island provide the fin fish and shell fish. All meats and fowl come from farms and ranches located on the island.
For me it was the clams and mussels, served in a white wine broth with caramelized red onions and roasted house-made chorizo sausage. Yes, I stepped off my diet just far enough to sample the chorizo.
Next up was pan fried (in olive oil) petrale sole accompanied by a white springer (Chinook) salmon spring roll, Dungeness crab and green zebra tomato relish, grilled sweet peppers, snow peas and sea lettuce ginger and miso calendula emulsions.
Jennifer started with the smoked tomato soup with an arugula sunflower seed pesto, smoked salmon and herbed sour cream. She then also moved on to the petrale sole. We each passed on the fresh whole Dungeness crab. We wanted to give the chef more of a chance to show his stuff and we knew we will have plenty of opportunities for crab as we continue this journey through Vancouver Island and Alaska for the next 10 days.
White springer salmon, also known as white Chinook is so plentiful up here they can afford to serve it as an aside in a delightfully-light deep fried spring roll. Anywhere else, this fish comes enshrined, with trumpets heralding its arrival at the table. I had eaten white springer once before, baked at my son John and daughter-in-law Julie’s home in Issaquah Washington, just outside of Seattle. That time, I picked up two pounds of early catch from Gemini Fish Store in Issaquah at $32.50 a pound. There is nothing like it – soft, moist, rich and oilier than any other salmon I’ve ever eaten. I see white king salmon occasionally at sushi bars in Los Angeles. But I’ve never seen white springer south of Seattle.
Other appetizers offered on tonight’s menu included grilled, smoked albacore, or Berkshire pork duo of a pork terrine and crispy pork belly. Other main dishes were Cowichan Bay Farm duck breast, the aforementioned whole Dungeness crab, or a vegetarian wild rice and quinoa stuffed patty pan squash.
While the menu at Sooke Harbor House changes daily, the breath-taking view of the Straits, the distant Olympic mountain range, and the nearby San Juan Islands remains the same. The City of Sooke and Sooke Harbour House are located about 45 minutes up island from Victoria by auto.
Chapter Four – July 12, 2010 – A FOOD LOVER’S TREK tracks the travels of Table Talk editor Larry Levine and his wife Jennifer as they make their way by auto, ferry, plane and train from Los Angeles to Fairbanks Alaska and back. A new chapter will be published every day as long as they can connect with the Internet. You can read the earlier chapters by clicking on Food Lover’s Trek above.