The Whale Wins

by Steven Behling


The Eton Mess.  That's what I'm writing about.  The Eton Mess.  It's what I can't stop thinking about.  The Eton Mess.  More on that later.

Famed Seattle (and James Beard award-winning) chef Renee Erickson's The Whale Wins has long been on my radar, even before I moved to the Fremont neighborhood.  Soon after my arrival in Seattle, I remember hearing friends and colleagues sing its praises, alongside two of Erickson's other restaurants, (the now closed) Boat Street Cafe and (the still open and very much thriving) The Walrus & the Carpenter.  Erickson's empire has since expanded to include several other sea creature-based ventures and concepts, but believe it or not, the first time I sat down in one of her establishments was just a month ago.  My colleague Lisa and I met one evening in May to "practice self-care" (an oft-uttered yet rarely-implemented graduate school phrase referring to those times a therapist ensures s/he is managing his/her own needs in order to be able to sufficiently care for the needs of others) at The Whale Wins, and whilst seated at a table of Carrara marble with whimsically-lit letters spelling H-E-L-L-O floating overhead, sampled such epicurean delights as chilled asparagus with poached garlic scapes, vanilla butter, Israeli feta and chive blossoms; roasted carrot and fennel (again chilled) in a yogurt and harissa sauce (the perfect blend of spice and relief); and creamy Jasper Hill Oma cheese with Boat Street pickled cherries.  As both of us were relatively satisfied, we decided to continue onward to dessert, Lisa giving me the coveted position of choosing our final dish of the evening.  I chose the Eton Mess with tart strawberry rhubarb cherry jam and the fluffiest, airiest whipped cream you've ever set your tongue upon. 

Let me be clear...I've never been a fan of meringues.  They seem untrustworthy.  I can't explain why...it's just the way it is.  Why are you so light yet so hard?  Egg whites?  What is going on here?  Yet, as I was contemplating the likes of a chocolate terrine, butter roasted zucchini bread, and a cream biscuit with strawberries, the sight of the Eton Mess arriving at the table to my left swung me hard in the direction of this traditional English dessert.  Because Lisa is a paragon of all things food and culture, she was able to easily explain the story of the Eton Mess; I can't remember the details other than a Pavlova falling or getting crushed during an event at Eton College and being served despite its then-changed appearance.  Ask Lisa.  It's so much more interesting when she tells it.  

But THESE meringues, broken up in a careless, yet thoughtful manner, and the layers of whipped cream...not weak, and not buttery...just delectable, simple whipped cream, and the bite of the multidimensional jam...so simple, yet so complex.  I have thought about this dessert on a weekly basis since then, so when my friend Laird and I were finishing up dinner at Ba Bar last night and he suggested dessert, I had the answer before he even finished posing the question.  Racing across town (within the speed limit and at the mercy of Seattle traffic), we made it to The Whale Wins just in time for a plate of Eton Mess.

And you know what?  It was even better the second time.

And you know what else?  I didn't bother sharing. 

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The Whale Wins is located at 3506 Stone Way North in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, Washington.