Posted by johngl
A few miles north and a little east of Seattle, just off the 405, there is a little burg by the name of Woodinville. It’s the home of a few dozen wineries including Brian Carter Cellars, DiStephano Winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Winery, and Mark Ryan Winery, just to name a handful.
I first discovered Brian Carter Cellars when they were a double-wide trailer kind of outpost awaiting construction of an actual winery. Because of this, they hold a special place in my heart and I even have a couple of unopened autographed bottles. They are the only autographed bottles in my cellar; normally I don’t stalk winemakers.
Then there is the Mark Ryan Winery, makers of a fabulous 2007 Syrah from the Red Mountain AVA (American Viticultural Area) called Wild Eyed. While still a bit on the young side, this wine should be in full bloom in a couple of years. Redolent of dark cherries with a hint of smoke early on, this opens into a plummy mouthful-of-goodness when allowed to take on some air. I enjoyed it thoroughly!
Thus began our evening’s food-fest at the Barking Frog.
Apparently, the Wild Eyed prepped our appetites nicely. The opener of rosemary infused bread with a sun-dried tomato tapanade was an instant hit.
A note about the decor and ambiance: this is not a place for a quiet, romantic get away (even though there is a swank hotel just across the driveway). Even with the white tableclothed tables, this restaurant should be considered a place where a group of people can have a great time. And there were a lot of good times being had. The combination of high ceilings, concrete floors, and few sound-deadening materials made for a raucous ambiance.
It suited our group perfectly.
If you want to have relative privacy in order to play kissy-face with your mate(s) — far be it from me to limit you to one — you should go somewhere else.
Anyway, back to the food…
From the top left — in my self-assembled appetizer sampler — is the Popcorn Lobster (served with a ginger-mirin dipping sauce), Hudson Valley Foie Gras, and Grand Marnier Prawns served with greens and orange segments.
I have to say that the Popcorn Lobster was simply outstanding. Served in a cute little mini-fryer basket, these little devils had a wonderfully crunchy exterior whilst the lobster inside remained very tender and moist. Pigging out on a passel of these would be a snap!
The Foie Gras, prepared in a traditional manner — sitting atop a piece of brioche — was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Can one ever eat too much foie gras?
The Asian-influenced Grand Marnier Prawns were nicely cooked and carried with them a nice, fresh snap!. Paired with the salad of greens and orange segments, these prawns were loaded with fruity goodness.
And then there was the Figs & Prosciutto di Parma:
Served with Oregon Smoky Blue Cheese, Grilled House Made Focaccia, Candied Pine Nuts, and Grape Must Syrup, this plate had a lot going on. Perhaps a little too much; it was like two appetizers in one where one, the focaccia, bleu cheese, pine nuts, and syrup, was a twist on the old bread, bleu cheese, honey, and walnut classic and the other, prosciutto di Parma and figs, could have been another stand alone. One at our table even remarked “how do you eat that?”
Don’t get me wrong, munching on this was pure joy — if not a little sticky. It was up to us diners to wrap the prosciutto around the figs and then saver the sweet, gooey goodness of the perfectly ripe figs paired with the salty-sweet creaminess of the ham. Yum!
Having decimated the appetizers — and leaving no more than an errant crumb on the plates — we were all primed an ready for our main courses.
Oh wait, there was more wine:
Here are a couple of medium-priced offerings from Brian Carter Cellars that I hadn’t tried prior to this outing: the 2006 white blend (right), Oriana, from Yakima Valley and the 2006 red-blend (left), Abracadabra, from Columbia Valley. We wanted both a white and a red to pair with our widely-varied dining selections.
The Abracadabra is a rich garnet colored offering that hits the nose with cassis, raspberry, and bit of black pepper. It opens to a medium-bodied richness with some sour cherry accents leaving you with a just a bit of tanginess on the finish. While not nearly on the same level as the Mark Ryan Syrah we had earlier, this was a delicious food wine.
The Oriana, a blend of 52% Viognier, 35% Roussanne, and 13% Reisling, was well-balanced yet tangy on the finish. There was tropical fruit mixed with minerality. It was quite interesting to allow it remain on the palate in order to pick up the flavors of the contributing varietals. I enjoyed it immensely.
And, before I get on to those main dishes, I also enjoyed a wonderfully colorful and tasty salad offering.
I’ve really got to stop relying on my phone’s camera for food shots!
Anyway, this blend of both red and gold roasted beets, orange segments, toasted hazelnuts, Laura Chenel goat cheese (is Laura Chenel a person or a type of goat?), topped with a drizzle of vanilla honey was completely and utterly awesome — if you like beets. A lot of Americans don’t go for beets and I’ve never quite gotten how a nation with such a profound sweet tooth can pass up these wonderfully delicious root veggies. It leaves more for me I guess.
Okay, so finally, the main dishes:
I ordered a Muscovy duck breast. The skin was wonderfully crispy and flavorful yet the duck itself was a little to the chewy side. Luckily, my very last bite, from the thickest end of the breast, was excellent. I’d ordered it “medium to medium-rare, more to the medium rare side” and it came out exactly that way, so hats off to the chef. I think the duck just got a little too much exercise.
A fellow diner seated to my immediate right — who also selected that delicious Syrah — ordered the bone-in Berkshire pork chop. I thanked him when he ordered it medium because so many people ruin a great piece of pork by insisting on it being well done.
Not only did the man choose a brilliant wine and a brilliant dish, he shared a couple of bites with me as well (I love you man!). The outside band of fat coupled with a nice sliver of pork flesh was like my own little slice of heaven. Definitely the winner dish as far as I’m concerned.
The fellow diner to my immediate left ordered a combination of scallops, with pork belly and morel mushrooms. Also being a fellow Iowan, this woman knew her morels and also knows that no other mushroom is quite as tasty (okay, I’m jaded). In fact, later in the evening, she told us the whole reason she ordered the dish was for the morels.
So, imagine her disappointment when the dish came with shiitake mushrooms instead. Also, looking over at her plate, the crust on the scallops looked a little, well, scorched. I sampled a scallop and confirmed that there was a distinct acridity in the crust though the scallop itself was still moist and tender. The pork belly was really very good.
Had this been me on the receiving end of the dish, I would have sent it back for the mushroom faux pas alone. When called on the subject, the server dutifully went back to the chef and discovered that morels were now out of season. He did not offer to take the dish back which I thought, again, was a bit of a blunder on his part.
We decided to finish out the evening with a couple of scoops of sorbet: lychee and passion fruit. These were in-your-face flavorful and not too sweet.
So, what did I think of the Barking Frog? Well, they have a great wine list with a lot of excellent local selections. The appetizers, too, were top notch. The downfall seemed to be with the entrees and more specifically, with one of the entrees — the scallop dish (On my dish, I blame the duck for not being sufficiently lazy).
As for the service, other than the misstep in relation to the unannounced fungus substitution, it was really quite good. Our waiter took care of us from the moment we walked in to the moment we left. He was knowledgeable, attentive without being in the way, and had a good sense of humor.
On a one to five scale, I’d give the Frog about a 3.65. Up until they croaked on the scallops, they were looking like a 4.5. Would I go there again? Sure, I’d make a leap of faith that this just wasn’t the night for scallops.