The Walrus and the Carpenter is a hidden, quaint oyster bar in the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard. I say “hidden” because it’s actually pretty difficult to find and requires venturing down a skinny hallway of a random building outfitted with the smallest sign out front; however, this little restaurant is very well-known—not just with locals, but with avid foodies everywhere. It has been featured in USA Today, The New York Times, and even earned a spot on Bon Appetit’s Most Important Restaurants in America list. This treasure-trove for glowing reviews is located not more than 10 minutes from my front door, and yet, it took me until a mere few weeks ago to patronize it!
Our friends Helen and Kai (who, lucky for Mikey and me, are also huge “foodies”) had been raving about the place, so when they asked us a few weekends ago if we would like to go there for dinner, we eagerly agreed. After snaking our way down an old brick hallway, past an industrial-type stairway, we arrived at The Walrus—a small space, seemingly randomly placed inside of a large building. Mikey and I agreed that we would have not had the best chance of locating it on our own. And yet, finding the odd location didn’t seem to be a problem for the droves of people eating inside, or the crowds that leaked out into the hallway. The place was packed. Packed, as in, we put our names down, went to a different place to grab a drink and appetizer, came back one and half to two hours later, and still had to wait a good 20 minutes for our table. SO. TOTALLY. WORTH. IT.
On top of the fact that everything they served was all kinds of delicious, they converted me into an oyster lover! For the longest time (like my whole life…), I thought that I loathed oysters. You see, I had only ever had fried oysters and was very creeped out by the texture. I was not informed that when it comes to raw oysters, you are not to actually chew them; it’s more of a slurp and swallow deal. I don’t know what I was thinking. But, let’s get to the food, shall we?
The Walrus features a tapas-like menu, which means that everything comes as small plates that are served to you as they are ready from the kitchen. To start with, we ordered some bread and butter, which was soft and delicious, and I totally didn’t get a photo of it. The rest of the dishes were:
english breakfast radishes- vicky’s butter, lemon oil:
The radishes were so fresh-tasting! They were crisp, peppery, and not the least bit dirty-tasting. The butter they served (which was the same as the butter with the bread), is amazing. It’s almost a bright yellow, and delightfully rich and creamy.
halibut carpaccio- mustard oil, basil:
Of course the halibut was beyond fresh and delicious, but the mustard oil was especially intriguing—sinus-tinglingly spicy!
grilled octopus with paprika and potatoes (which was a special):
This was the softest, tenderest octopus that I have ever had—truly sublime.
The oysters! There were 5 varieties on the menu, all from different, local areas, and ranging from mild to briny. Naturally, we ordered two of each. They were: block b-mid hood canal, washington, blue pool- mid hood canal, washington, kusshi- deep bay, british columbia, penn cove select- whidbey island, washington, and treasure cove- case inlet, washington:
They were served with lemon, fresh horseradish, and a phenomenal mignonette (and a little cheat sheet to tell you which oysters were which!). I was very hesitant to try them at first, but my goodness am I glad I did! Shockingly, I liked the briniest ones best!
smoked trout- lentil, walnut, onion, creme fraiche:
This photo does not do this dish justice. I am not normally a huge fan of smoked fish, but this is one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. The trout is salty-sweet, and paired with the creamy lentil mixture and the pickled onions, it is absolute bliss.
steak tartare- farm egg yolk, rye toast:
This was one of the best—if not the best (though Mikey and I both have a fondness for the one served at Purple Cafe and Wine Bar)—tartares in Seattle. It was better than those I’ve had at the popular steak houses in the area, and better than the one at Canlis. The creamy egg yolk + tender meat + thin, crisp toasts = perfect steak tartare.
artichoke salad- walnuts, mint, anchovy, pecorino:
I know it’s hard to see under that mountain of (delicious) pecorino cheese, but this salad was, like everything else, freakin’ delectable. There was freshness from the mint, crunch from the walnuts, and saltiness from the sardines and pecorino. Thinking about it now makes me wish I had one directly in front of me to chow down on.
caviar sandwich- butter, cucumber, whitefish caviar, egg yolk:
This is the only dish that I have any little complaint about. There was quite a bit of cream cheese on it that I found detracted from the caviar, but it was still delicious thanks to the sweet, not-so-briney caviar and the stellar egg yolk (they have unreasonably incredible eggs here). Would I order it again? Probably not, but only because it was a 7/10 when the remainder of the menu was a 10/10!
pancetta cotto- porcini, artichoke, celery leaf:
The fatty pancetta, the meaty porcinis, and the delicate artichoke and celery leaves was a sublime combo. There was also a chili oil of some sort drizzled over top that gave the dish a wonderful heat.
This was possibly the best experience that I have ever had while dining out. The Walrus and the Carpenter’s casual atmosphere, fresh, local food, fine attention to detail, and helpful, cheerful staff are unmatched. It is very, very rare that I leave a restaurant liking every dish, so this place is definitely something special. On top of all that, the place is fairly reasonably priced at $8-$12 per dish!