Hello and Welcome to Kitchen Catastrophes. I’m the host with the most (underlying personal faults) Jon O’Guin. Today we’re going to do something a little different than usual, however, at the same time, it’s totally keeping with our trends, because I can’t do anything unless it forms some sort of dualistic dichotomy. Firstly, the dedicated among you will have noted that normally the second post of the week goes up on Wednesday, and today is, well, not that.
Me am count good!
This is, beyond all expected results, actually intentional. Part of the move to the new webhost was a change in duties between Alan and me. Alan will now be WRITING for the site much less frequently, and focusing on working on all the technical aspects that my two hours of HTML coding have ill-prepared me to handle. As such, while we’re looking for people to write guest posts, until we find them, that means all the writing is on me. And, while objectively this is only a 25% increase in posts, I felt it was also an opportunity to set a slightly more relaxed schedule. I’ve noticed over the last couple months that my Wednesday posts have fewer jokes than they started with, and I think that’s because I haven’t been giving them as much time. We hope this slight change in schedule leads to stronger work here on the site.
Further, I wanted to try something I haven’t personally approached on the site yet: A Food Travel-log. Travelog. Travelogue? A RECORD OF TRAVELS IN FOOD CONSUMPTION. I even wanted to make it very immediate by writing it literally right after it ended, but I ended up burning myself out before I could write it last night. (I’ve had a cold for almost two weeks now, so the day spent zipping around the peninsula drained it out of me.) Still, it was a fun day, so let’s take us through Yesterday’s Adventures in Alcohol!
Dawn of the First Day – 8:47 AM
If you’ve never hung out with me, let me quickly bring up a fun fact: my circadian rhythms (AKA “When me get sleep-sleep”) are a little off-kilter. As far as I’m concerned, 10 AM is the perfect time to wake up, and 2AM roughly the best time to go to sleep. As you can guess, this means waking me up before 9 leads to…frustrations. The first 30 minutes of my day consisted of a shower, followed by belligerent confusion and angry shouting, because I couldn’t remember I had washed my pants the day before, so I was stumbling about my bedroom when JJ arrived.
He was the cause of this suffering, so I should relate our goals now: recently JJ had told me that the #1 Craft Whiskey in America was made on Bainbridge Island, an island geographically very close to our hometown. Like, “8 miles away” close. However, due to the realities of bridge construction, it takes an hour to drive there, as we have to go ALL THE WAY AROUND IT to get to the bridge.
Damn you, water. My ancient enemy.
Now, I could spend a couple hundred words complaining about the blinding sunlight and weird patches of traffic, but we’re already 500 words in, and haven’t touched our food yet. So let’s skip through the terrible drives at god-awful times straight to our destination.
The Day truly begins: 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM
We arrived at the Distillery at 10:30. Which, given its opening time of 11, was perhaps hasty. After quickly touring the complex it sits in, which is a strange area of wineries, breweries, doctor’s offices, a Montressori School, and a Crossfit office, we decided to go get breakfast. Or lunch, for the people who hadn’t rolled out of bed and into the car.
Sporting a look best described as "ZZ Cop"
So we end up hitting up downtown Bainbridge first. Now, as part of our planning for this trip, I had checked out the highest rated restaurants in the area, and, if you haven’t been to Bainbridge, here’s the secret: Like, 60% of the area’s money and businesses are in a single stretch of road. Seriously, the best dessert in town is 100 feet away from the best bakery, the best restaurant is 6 minutes’ walk away. It’s all very tight.
Now, given my poor circadian timing, I was not in a frame of mind to remember to take pictures for the first hour or so of the trip, except of the road and the sun in the trees and so on, because I forgot I write about food, not weather. But bear with me here, as I take you on a quick tour of the downtown food spots.
Churchmouse Yarn and Tea: An expected stop, I should hope, as the only drink I spend more time analyzing than alcohol is tea. The tea section of the shop was much smaller, as Yarn and Yarn products filled something like 80% of the floor plan. But it was fun. Almost every tea they sold had an open container of it, so you could smell the product. They had an old brass scale with one-oz weights to measure the leaves against. They had a line of teas from a company with ties to late-Imperial Russia, with teas like the “Anastacia” and “Prince Vladimir”. Just the smell of the teas commanded a level of sophistication. “Pinkie Out” teas, JJ remarked.
Blackbird Bakery: We stopped in here for our first bite of food. I grabbed some Irish Whiskey Ginger Bread, my mother took a Cranberry Ginger Scone, and JJ took Banana Walnut bread. I, in an effort to stop the cough that had manifested as today’s symptom of my cold, took a hot “Cranberry and Ginger Winter Elixir”, which lead to a surprise for my mother when the barista asked for “A Name for the Elixir?” suddenly throwing my mother into a fantastical land of personally tailored potions.
The breads were fine, with JJ praising my ginger bread heavily. The drink was exactly as I had hoped: hot, sweet, with a burning tartness that made my throat FEEL clearer, regardless of whether it was truly freer or not.
We then wandered the shops for about 20 minutes, before coming to our goal. The Harbour Public House.
You can almost smell the shanty.
Public Indecency: 11:30 AM to 1 PM
The Habour Public House was something of a illustrative case: back in Meandering America’s Menus: Washington, I talked about how Washingtonians’ main culinary characteristic is locality: we like knowing where things come from. This menu was INTENSELY localized. The beef had a name, 4 different creameries were cited for their varying cheeses. Everything was explained. Further, it had that Washington bistro style: Canadian poutine, fish tacos, blue cheese burgers, that je nais c’est qua.
Their portions were huge, and delicious. Our poutine gravy was almost aspic-thick. (Aspic’s that weird meat jelly you see in some fancier meat products. And, disturbingly, wet cat food cans.) The curds were great. The only complaint you COULD have was this: This place knew how much good food they were giving you, and charged accordingly. My mother’s clam chowder was around $16 for the bowl, which is an insane number, until you see the bowl.
Actually, I don't particularly like seafood, so if this were put before me, I might be MORE angry.
There were roughly 26 whole, in-shell clams in that bowl. We counted.
I had a steak sandwich so full of meat and peppers that it almost failed as a sandwich. My weak mortal hands were incapable of holding it together, and the sandwich so large my mouth was almost too small to consume it. But I persevered through these trying circumstances, and consumed most of it (we’ll return to that in a moment.)
And then came the victor: see, we had discovered that you can’t get that special whiskey that motivated the whole trip AT the distillery. But, at the Harbour House, you can get it on the cheap. Now, when I say “on the cheap”, understand that Yama whiskey is $500 a bottle, and sold for $150 a SHOT in Seattle. So when I say “This shot was a MERE $35”, you have to understand the context.
The newspaper is actually a menu. It's pretty neat. I almost expected it to contain a fish.
The drink is named for a village, abandoned almost 100 years ago, that was a simple Japanese community on the island, and is apparently the only site of a first-generation Japanese immigrant (issei) community that hasn’t been destroyed by development. It’s a rare time capsule of the 100 years of history shared between Japan and the Pacific Northwest.
Now, I can’t describe to you exactly how the whiskey tasted. The descriptions I’ve read always seem overblown. “Notes of” this, “finishing with” that. Here’s what I can tell you. I’ve had, by my estimation, over 40 different whiskeys, in values from $12 a bottle to $200. This one had an understated excellence that moved it in a league of its own. Like, I’ve had smooth whiskeys. Ones that produced no burn at all, no sense of the alcohol’s bite. And I’ve found them…oddly unsettling. You wait for a punch that doesn’t come, and you feel a little robbed.
Rather than try to picture whiskey mechanics, here's a steak sandwich.
This whiskey burned. But only at the end. Literally, I held a sip in my mouth, stirred it like mouth wash, and got NOTHING. Then I swallowed, and it came. It felt…magical. I felt like a dragon, where only the exhale was fire. JJ said it was “Fun. There’s a joy here I haven’ had before.” And I agree. There was something here I had never personally experienced before.
Which made the next 10 minutes all the more worrisome.