Geoducks can strike fear in the hearts of those who behold them: These Northern Pacific burrowing clams have an elephantine appendage that can stretch to three feet long. But at The George, the newly opened restaurant in Seattle’s 98-year-old Fairmont Olympic Hotel, chef Thomas Cullen renders the mollusk into a thing of simple beauty, a crudo dressed with bright yuzu, charred-jalapeño oil and crispy puffed rice. “Geoduck is an incredible delicacy that we are so fortunate to have in our region,” Cullen says. “It has a similar consistency to a more common clam, but the flavor provides a sweetness of the sea.” The dish is a perfect encapsulation of Cullen’s culinary vision, as he shakes up staid hotel restaurant clichés with innovative uses of the seasonal spoils of the Pacific, Puget Sound and surrounding farmlands.
In addition to classic brasserie dishes like bouillabaisse and whole roasted chicken, you might find a special such as pink singing scallops topped with roast ramp butter made with the foraged wild onion that grows for only a few weeks each year. “For out-of-towners, this is a true taste of spring in the Pacific Northwest,” Cullen says. He even reinvents the classic seafood tower: Prawns and king and Dungeness crabs share space on the pebble ice with geoduck and salmon-belly crudos, the latter dressed with ramp nuoc cham and watermelon radish. And instead of serving the clams and mussels raw or steamed, he cold-smokes them and packs them in olive oil, Spanish-style.
About four blocks away, South Korean brand Lotte opened its third U.S. property in late 2020 in the gleaming F5 Tower, with interiors by Philippe Starck. The 16th-floor restaurant, Charlotte, offers panoramic views of Elliott Bay that are almost as artful as the regionally focused cooking. The elegant prix-fixe dinner includes such dishes as English pea and nettle soup with Alaskan weathervane scallops, smoked roe and peavines and stone-oven octopus with brassicas, sunflower seeds and pickled caulini. And if you happen not to be a seafood lover, there’s an ode to Northwestern forests and fields in the form of dry-aged venison carpaccio with elderberry, candied trumpet mushrooms and porter aioli on a caraway-rye waffle.
“Recently, we took our team to visit Hama Hama on the Hood Canal to help them understand where our products come from and have a better connection to the local food systems that we value,” says executive sous chef Jeffrey Hunter. In addition to ingredients like Hama Hama’s famed oysters, Hunter often experiments with unexpected finds such as Japanese angelica shoots, which the team preserves as well as fries in a tempura batter.
“We try to adjust dishes slowly as new ingredients come into season,” he says of his changing menu. When produce is at its peak, the team might process and preserve it for later in the year—as he does with ramp bulbs and greens in the spring—and at the height of summer, he creates a vegetable-focused tasting menu to celebrate the region’s impressive offerings.
Even if you’re not ordering prix fixe, the stunning bar menu in the lounge offers similarly fresh and exciting snacks such as Hama Hama oysters with finger lime mignonette pearls and green apple, Salt Spring mussel toast with Broccolini and oyster emulsion, and smoked-oyster-stuffed chicken wings. As usual, the dishes are all about simplicity and letting the region’s briny terroir speak for itself. “We look to have fewer items on the plate,” Hunter says, “with each item prepared exceptionally.”