When it comes to seafood in Seattle, the first thought is usually salmon. But Fremont’s Rock Creek goes beyond the normal offerings to fish rarely seen in these parts, thanks to chef Eric Donnelly’s penchant for flying in a greater variety of sea creatures to the joy of his loyal customers.
Rarer still is the care with which new bar manager Jason Crume has examined Donnelly’s menu and sought to create cocktail pairings that brighten and invigorate already beautiful dishes. When RockCreek’s meat-centric Greenwood sibling Flint Creek Cattle Company opens in the near future, guests will be greeted with a diametrically different approach.
In what ways are your menus different from what was in place when you arrived?
Michael Duncan who managed the bar before me set the bar (no pun intended) very high. He was creative in so many ways. The menu now is about 80% new. I like changing things up fairly often because life can get boring behind the bar if you aren't continually looking to make something new.
Your cocktail menu looks like one you’d find at a pretty excellent craft bar. How much are these stand alone cocktails and how much are they intended to pair with the seafood-heavy menu?
I try and have all of the cocktails on our menu be completely food-friendly. That said, I do think it's easier to pair cocktails with seafood than many other cuisines and dishes. Seafood isn't as much about heavy, rich flavors, so the cocktails shouldn't be either. I try and keep it fairly light — even a more robust spirit like rye whiskey can accentuate a dish like Icelandic Char with bacon-beluga lentil ragout as long as the rye is mixed with components that help balance out the cocktail. Chef Eric's food is always clean and balanced so I try to do that with our cocktails too.
What is the best strategy for pairing cocktails with seafood and what kinds of things went into deciding how to write a cocktail list that would go with Eric's food?
Writing a cocktail list for Eric's food is fun because the food is amazing and because it's not the same-old seafood menu. I think the best strategy for pairing cocktails with seafood is understanding that opposites can attract: briny oysters with heavily peated Islay Scotch? Yup! You wouldn’t guess it, but it’s freakin’ amazing. When I tried that combo for the first time, I realized I could take most any spirit and make it work with seafood. The key is finding where flavor combinations meet in the middle.
The oyster and Scotch example is extreme — it’s the simplicity of the two things that makes the combo work. When you have a more complex dish with multiple ingredients, the balance happens when strong spirits are countered with a softer spirit (something like vermouth or Curaçao) to tame the intense flavor and alcohol. Citrus and bitter agents always help a drink become what it really wants to be: balanced!
What is your favorite drink on the list? What was the inspiration for it and what do you see it pairing well with?
Right now my favorite drink on the menu is the 20th Century Cocktail (gin, Lillet Blanc, light creme de cacoa, lemon juice). The inspiration came from my favorite cocktail book at the moment: Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted 'Dr. Cocktail' Haigh. I have a ton of cocktail books and comb through them on a daily basis. The classics give birth to the best innovation! It pairs well with many of our dishes because it's gin based and has a touch of lemon (gin and lemon love fish!).
How will the menus differ between Flint Creek and Rock Creek?
I haven't written Flint Creek’s menu yet but I am starting to store up drinks for the opening. It’s going to be a fun challenge due to the fact that the menu will be heavy on game dishes, and those meats usually have strong flavors. To simplify it, I think FlintCreek will be driven by brown spirits and Rock Creek by clear spirits.
What's your go-to bar order, personally?
A shot of Fernet Branca and a lager!
Will the hip hop brunch be continuing for the foreseeable future and how are you creating drinks for that, if so?
Hell yes it's continuing — You can't stop that train of awesome! Our drink menu for Hip-Hop brunch will probably stay the same for a while. People like things they can count on at brunch and it’s a killer lineup already.