Food writers love Chef Brendan McGill. So much ink has been spilled over this guy — praise proffered for the man, his food and first-born restaurant, Hitchcock. Writers and gourmands alike rush the ferry to get to the Bainbridge Island, Washington, eatery, located at the end of the sunny main drag on the artsy isle just 30 minutes from downtown Seattle. Possibly in defiance of being just another fan with a publishing outlet, it took me eight years to dine at McGill’s establishment — and I finally did through a group media dinner, nonetheless, another press norm I tend to dodge. All industry crustiness aside, it might not have been necessary to wait, but it was worth it.
Hitchcock isn’t unlike other farm-to-table restaurants in the Northwest; there are many that comply with similar mantras of sourcing hyper-local, serving super fresh and plating what is true to their philosophies. But Hitchcock does follow this practice really, really well. And that application is best seen in the Chef’s Tasting Menu, a 10-course meal, available each day of service, carried out in the cozy, contemporary restaurant of quintessential Northwest wood and iron ornamentation.
Set quietly in the tail end of the restaurant, the kitchen seems to operate on both passion and detail, as witnessed on the night a few Seattle-area media dined in the intimate back dining room to give the chef’s menu a go. A team of four busily, yet calmly, divided and conquered to cook, rotating around each other with almost-choreographed moves to slice, sear and purée. Salish Sea oysters were shucked and served with a lacto-fermented hot sauce, a sauerkraut and fermented apple granita and a fir tip mignonette (the latter winning my heart because, come on, fir tips!). Next, a generous offering of house-cured charcuterie was displayed: coppa, rillettes, country ham, lonza and porchetta portioned out from Mangalitsa pigs McGill raises himself at his Shady Acres farm on the island.
Local produce such as heirloom radishes, green strawberries and morel mushrooms accompanied dishes like cured King salmon with San Juan coonstripe shrimp — served raw and impeccably flavorsome — followed by coal-roasted Yakima asparagus and three delicious renditions of house-made pasta: nettle gemelli, farro rigatoni and squid ink egg fettuccine. A delicate cut of Neah Bay halibut was poached and served with salt-roasted turnips and a turnip Green Goddess dressing to round out the meal. Our dinner was matched with on-point regional pairings, a few favorites being Analemma Blanc de Noirs with oysters, L’Ecole No. 41 Chenin Blanc with an heirloom radish crudités and Crowley Pinot Noir Rosé with the morel-touting asparagus.
Served family style, each plating was plenty for the whole table, and each a balance between rich and refreshing, tricking your mind into thinking your stomach has room to spare. Because you certainly want more, but do you really need to wipe the cuttlefish ink aioli off the plate with your finger? Asking for a friend.
And on top of the thoughtful, chef-driven cuisine and darling environs at the convenient island respite, McGill seems to be a pretty affable guy. Greeting each table and explaining the dishes himself, he also made time to insert a few dad jokes between courses. So, I get it — I’ve officially hopped on the bandwagon and I’m looking forward to the next time I can visit McGill and his Hitchcock.