Walla Walla Whoop
Where do you go when you’re in the mood for a great getaway with food to match? I’m guessing that Walla Walla, Washington isn’t currently at the top of your list, but you might want to rethink that. We’ve just come back from several days of whooping it up in Walla Walla and environs, where we relaxed in the charming Stone Compass guest house, ate super-duper well and did a respectable amount of wine tasting into the bargain.
One of our favorites was the WhoopemUp Hollow Cafe, in nearby Waitsburg. Personally, I’d go there just to have an excuse to say the restaurant’s name, but really, that would be missing the point. The food at the WhoopemUp, in a beautifully restored but tiny town in what might be charitably described as the deepest middle of nowhere, is screamingly good. With a chef and pastry chef from renowned restaurants in Seattle,
and the inimitable front of house services of Ross, who dispensed hugs as readily as tips about the food and wine pairings, the place is a knockout.
Since we wanted everything they offered and didn’t want to choose, we asked them to compose a tasting menu with mini-pour wine pairings, and we were thrilled with the results. This starter plate of velvety smoked duck breast, crispy frog legs, a black-eyed peas hummus with corn pita, and two sassy salads, was followed by the best gumbo I’ve ever eaten, a basket of corn sticks and jalapeno corn bread, some killer ribs, ravioli made with local goat cheese, and a combination plate of cakes and sorbets that was truly inspired. The sharing portions were restrained enough that we could eat every bite, and we left so happy that we actually thought about going back again the next night.
Walla Walla itself is home to the Colville Street Patisserie, and if a beautiful box like this ever comes your way, grab a cup of dark French roast, set aside your newspaper, and prepare for one of the best breakfasts of your life.
It’s hard to imagine how such a thing is possible, but here they make croissants and cannelés better than any I’ve ever eaten in France. No kidding. The kouign aman, the pain au chocolat, every bite was moan-inducing, and indeed, sounds of pleasure were all that punctuated the otherwise reverent silence around our breakfast table. They are closed on Monday and Tuesday, so we only got to have one breakfast from them, but we’re resolved never again to visit Walla Walla on their well-deserved days off. Their stuff is that good.
Another highlight for us was a visit with the charming Virginie Bourgue, winemaker for Cadaretta and Lullaby wineries. Her wines are elegant, expressive, and impeccably made, and are quite different from many other Walla Walla wines we tasted. Look for her wines if you’re in Walla Walla, and discover the delicious results she produces with her own special blend of a French oenology education and ripe American fruit.
We followed up our visit to Virginie with dinner at Saffron, Walla Walla’s eclectic and startling newish hot spot. It’s housed in a lovely room, and offers a sophisticated menu of spicy and unusual Mediterranean dishes. One visit wasn’t enough to taste our way through all they offer, and I know we’ll go back again when next we’re in town.
It’s a long way to Walla Walla, and no road trip is complete without road food, of course. Here in Pasco we had an amazing lunch inside this Mexican grocery store and butcher shop. Posole, caldo de res, barbacoa, tamales, menudo, chicharrones, you name it and it was on our table and uniformly good. When it came time to pay we had to keep reminding them to add the cost of this and that, but no matter how much we cajoled, the tab for the four of us came to only $30, and that was with a big heap of leftovers to bring home. If you’re headed through Pasco, this is the lunch you’re looking for.
Or if you’re going the other way, through Cle Elum, don’t forget to have a milkshake at the Homestead, which you might want to accompany, as we did, with a plate of ribs that was so huge that three of us shared it. All four of us started out sharing this milkshake too, but eventually the straws got mixed up, and those with the last straw standing earned the right to the final chocolatey drops.
We came home tired and happy, with a 10 pound bag of Walla Walla sweet onions and a few bottles of Amavi’s lovely 2007 Syrah, safe in the knowledge that whenever we next feel the need to really whoop ’em up, Walla Walla will be there waiting for us.