BLAINE, Wash. — Semiahmoo Resort cherishes its legacy as home to Arnold Palmers first golf course design in Washington state, and now Seattles historic Wright family seems driven to transform its recent acquisition into one of the Puget Sounds culinary destinations.
Wright Hotels Inc., founded by the family who built the Space Needle, paid a reported $19.5 million in 2013 for the 212-room resort at the end of Semiahmoo Spit and across from the Peace Arch border crossing. The holdings include two golf courses, a pair of restaurants, full-service spa, conference hall and ballroom. Investment in the estimated $7 million remodel of Semiahmoo Resort began almost immediately, and the process included hiring Parisian chef Eric August Truglas.
Ive been here almost two years now, and people are starting to come back and giving us a chance and thats not just for the guests, but for the people who used to work here, Truglas said with a French accent as thick as Béchamel sauce. A lot of people were left with a bad taste, but now the momentum is coming back.
The resort at Semiahmoo, named for the Coastal Salish tribe to inhabit the half-moon bay formed by the spit, opened in 1987 the same year play began on all 18 holes of Palmer-designed Semiahmoo Golf and Country Club. On the other hand, the Pierside Kitchen, the restaurant centerpiece of Semiahmoo Resorts renovation, just celebrated its one-year anniversary in May.
Its so positive, said Ken Peck, owner/winemaker of Dakota Creek Winery in Blaine. The new ownership has put so much money into the facility, and it looks great again. You are proud to have your wines showcased there.
Coastal Hotel Group, which manages the resort for Wright Hotels, continues to breathe life into the property, which the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe walked away from in December 2012. Soon after the Wright purchase, Coastals culinary director Roy Breiman began recruiting Truglas, asking him to leave Florida and take over the culinary program at Semiahmoo. Their friendship dates to 1988 when they worked for Le Meridien in Los Angeles, and the two chefs trained in classic French traditions have spent their lives at restaurants, hotels and resorts in Europe and the United States.
This is a big project for us, and we wanted to put our best foot forward, said Breiman, whose responsibilities for Coastal include the luxury Cedarbrook Lodge near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Theres more work to be done because we want to do right by the iconic nature of that facility. For myself and Eric and others within Coastal, to be involved in the process and watch it happen is very rewarding. Working with farmers in Whatcom County is a big part of it, and Eric is very inspired by that.
Golf has been a key draw for Semiahmoo, and neither course was closed during the transition. Combined, the two award-winning courses have more than 600 members most of them Canadian citizens as well as an unusual policy of public play. Semiahmoo Golf and Country Club is open to the public on odd numbered days of each month. Loomis Trail, which opened in 1993, serves as the public course on even numbered days.
Truglas oversees the culinary programs at the golf courses as well as Packers Oyster Bar, and his team seems dedicated to working with local farmers and regional wineries.
The first thing I wanted to do was to meet all the farmers and winemakers, Truglas said. Its like having the supermarket right here for us. These people are the soul of what were doing here, so its pretty exciting.
Proof is written in white chalk upon entering the Pierside Kitchen. On the board that reads Friends of Semiahmoo, the list of more than a dozen indicates where primary ingredients come from. Drayton Harbor oysters are 2 miles away, followed by Bellwood Acres (14 miles), Barleans Fisheries (16 miles), Avenue Bakery (19 miles) Sage and Sky Farm (23 miles), Sumas River Farms (30 miles) and Lummi Island Wild (31 miles).
The farm-to-table concept is great, and I grew up with that, but the sustainability, eco-friendly and recycling components of whats going on here the ocean-themed carpet made of recycled fishing net shows me the Wrights are really invested in that, Truglas said. Those are the kind of people I want to be involved with.
Truglas, who wears a chefs coat with his initials of E.A.T., even goes so far as to know some of the ingredients. On this day, a lamb named Randy was being delivered to the gregarious chef, whose right forearm features a tattoo of vegetables on a cutting board.
I met Randy two months ago when he was well, so todays not going so well for him, Truglas said with a hearty laugh. That farm also is raising two pigs for us that well have delivered in September.
Few would view Whatcom County as wine country, but a growing number of local wineries are represented on the Pierside Kitchen wine list. Restaurant manager Amberleigh Brownson has been involved in the local wine scene for years, even serving as the namesake and face on the label for the Glacial Lake Missoula Wine Co. 2007 Amberleigh Reserve Red Wine.
Amberleigh has been part of the industry in this area for a while, said Peck of Dakota Creek. Weve done server training with her staff, and theyve come out to the winery, too. Theres more interest in wine within Whatcom County, and travelers visiting want to have something local. The new ownership there is really promoting its use of local ingredients, and that seems to be working for them.
And the culinary team seems to be sinking some roots, too, although locally grown pastry chef Kristie George is a rising star likely to be recruited to Seattle or beyond for more than her stunning version of tiramisu. Brownson, also an author of childrens books, is married to a local artist and is raising two children. Chef de cuisine Andrew Cross, whose Seattle résumé includes Seattle icon Canlis as well as Canon and Tavern Law, grew up in Sequim and returned home to buy a farm with beverage manager/wife Allison. The groups success also is affording Trulas time to launch a brand of signature spice blends.
They are so talented that Im lucky to have them here, and they are not going to go anywhere, Truglas said. And my kids love it here. From all of the places where Ive lived, this place is definitely within the top three.
The two Match Maker recipes also shows that Truglas understands how to work with Pacific Northwest wines.
By no means am I an expert in Washington wines, but Im working on it, he said with a smile.
Truglas, however, helped launch Vintners Collective, a Napa Valley tasting room for boutique labels, yet the wine list developed for the Pierside Kitchen is 80 percent Washington. His Match Maker project profiled the Januik 2012 Cold Creek Chardonnay and Dakota Creek 2011 Malbec.
He paired his Lobster Gnocchi with the luscious and balanced Chardonnay from Woodinvilles Mike Januik.
I havent met him yet, but cheers to him, Truglas said. I know why we have it on the list. Theres a little oak and its buttery at the end, along with some wood tannin, yet its so smooth with lemony acidity. And thats a wine you can enjoy without food.
The incorporation of Spot Prawn Beurre Blanc in gnocchi dish highlights the midpalate acidity in the Chardonnay.
Truglas Oven Roasted Duck Breast comes with a cherry purée that deliciously complements the Dakota Creek Malbec made with Rattlesnake Hills grapes.
I like Malbec. Its bold and strong my type of wine, Truglas said. The structure of Dakota Creek makes you want a second glass. Theres a little bit of oak, but not overpowering, with some berry and chocolate.
At the end of the assignment, Truglas relaxed with both wines and rolled up his sleeves, revealing his most publicly accessible tattoo. Hes lost track of how many there are more than 20 because its his tradition to commission local tattoo artists to create mementos of his research.
I travel the world not only to expand my vision of the world but also to taste different flavors, he said. Some people collect stamps. I collect tattoos. I started 30 years ago in Paris when I was 18.
I dont have one from Washington yet, he added, but Im thinking of what Im going to get.
Januik Winery 2012 Cold Creek Vineyard, Columbia Valley... $30
697 cases, 13.5% alcohol
Mike Januik took Chateau Ste. Michelle to new heights during his career as head winemaker for Washington states most important winery, and there obviously were no hard feelings when he left in 1999 to start his eponymous brand.
Ste. Michelle Wine Estate doesnt have as many estate vineyards as one may think, and Cold Creek Vineyard is one of its most prized. And yet Ste. Michelle pays tribute to Januik by selling him fruit from its warm site that overlooks both the Columbia River and the Wahluke Slope.
The legacy of Cold Creek is an integral part of the Washington wine history. It was planted at the suggestion of renowned Washington State University viticulturalist Walter Clore, and the setting held so much promise that Ste. Michelles owners committed to it twice planting it first in 1973 and again after a devastating freeze in 1978. The initial 500 acres doubled the entire acreage of wine grapes in the state at that time.
Januik, pronounced JAN-uck, routinely drove within view of Cold Creek Vineyard during his work at the Langguth wine production facility in Mattawa. In 1990, he was hired by Chateau Ste. Michelle, so this bottling marked his 22nd year with Cold Creek fruit. Its also his 14th vintage of producing Cold Creek Vineyard Chardonnay under his own label, and he maintains that its the best source in the state for the white Burgundy grape.
The 2012 vintage came on the heels of a pair of relatively cool years for Columbia Valley growers, and he has his production dialed in. The barrel program he follows is an even split of new and once-used French oak, and the juice spends 10 months aging on the lees.
It makes for a rich, complex and balanced Chardonnay thats filled with layers of toast, white peach, pineapple and butter. Malolactic fermentation gives it a sheen of vanilla cream on the midpalate before a delicious rinse of lemon chiffon. He produced a nearly identical amount from the 2013 vintage.
Wines by the University of Oregon grad are available at tony Januik Winery/Novelty Hill, which he operates in a partnership with Stillwater Creek Vineyard owner Tom Alberg. Their tasting room is in Woodinville just a few hundred yards from the gates of Chateau Ste. Michelle.
Lobster Gnocchi with Spot Prawn Beurre Blanc
1 1/2 pounds Yukon potatoes
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Salt to taste
1. Bake the potatoes in oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour, or until tender.
2. Let cool and peel. Pass potatoes through a ricer or food mill. And allow to let steam off. Once the steam has subsided, cut in remaining ingredients using a bench scraper or knife. If these are not available, combine in mixer until just combined. Cut into four pieces and roll into long ropes. Portion into small, dumpling-sized chunks and roll over the backside of a fork.
2 Maine lobsters
Boil lobster 12-14 minutes or until flesh is firm and opaque. Chill in ice water and remove shells.
Spot Prawn Beurre Blanc
1/2 pound spot prawn shells (roe intact)
1/2 cup white wine (dry)
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup shallot (finely chopped)
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
2 cups unsalted butter (Cut into tablespoon-size pieces and chilled)
1. Boil wine, vinegar and shallot in a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until liquid is syrupy and reduced to 2 to 3 tablespoons about 5 minutes.
2. Add cream, prawn shells, salt and white pepper and boil 20 minutes. Reduce heat to moderately low and add a few tablespoons butter, whisking constantly.
3. Add remaining butter a few pieces at a time, whisking constantly and adding new pieces before previous ones have completely liquefied. The sauce should maintain consistency of hollandaise, so lift the pan from heat occasionally to cool mixture.
4. Remove from heat, then season to taste with salt and pepper and pour sauce through a medium-mesh sieve into a sauceboat, pressing on and then discarding shallot.
5. Serve immediately. Garnish with fresh-shaved Parmesan cheese and basil
Dakota Creek Winery 2011 Malbec, Rattlesnake Hills... $24
89 cases, 14.1% alcohol
The Puget Sound is home to most of Washingtons wine lovers and many of the states wineries and tasting rooms, but about 99 percent of the grapes come from Eastern Washington.
Such is the case for Dakota Creek Winery in the border town of Blaine, less than an hours drive from Vancouver, British Columbia. And Ken and Jill Peck named their winery for a stream that empties into Drayton Harbor near Semiahmoo Resort.
Partnering with people that close to the resort is really important for us, said D.J. Reimer, who worked on the wine list for Semiahmoo culinary director Eric Truglas. I can tell a dinner guest, We can drive to Dakota Creek right now and be back before your dessert gets here. Thats fun for me.
This Dakota Creek Malbec takes a more circuitous and fascinating route than most Washington wines. It starts in the Rattlesnake Hills above the Yakima Valley at Joe Hattrups Elephant Mountain Vineyard, then the grapes are transported to Pecks brother Clint at Yellowstone Cellars in Billings, Mont.
We do 900 to 1,000 cases a year, while he does close to 4,000 cases, so we crush our fruit at his winery, Ken said. He sources all of his fruit in Washington, and its 12 hours from the vineyard to his winery.
Its been a successful arrangement for Yellowstone Cellars, founded in 2010, and Dakota Creek, established five years earlier. Meanwhile, the Dakota Creek wines are finished in Blaine inside the Pecks barrel room a Quonset hut-type building covered with earth and stone.
Ken and Jill have been coming to the resort for years, and when I tasted the Malbec, I called Ken and said, This is really, really interesting. Its not Argentine by any stretch of the imagination. Theres barely any jam to it and and interesting tannin structure to it.
Peck said his four barrels of Malbec from the 2011 vintage worked nicely into that style.
We like our Malbec to be big, inky and full-flavored, so we put it through an extended maceration, he said. We have to pick very late so that we dont have as much tannin in the seeds. And since 2011 was a cool year, the alcohol was not as high as some others.
Oven Roasted Duck Breast with Fennel Confit, Cherry Purée and Roasted Pearl Onion
4 duck breasts (scored, hatch-marked)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. With a sharp knife, score the fat of the duck breasts in a criss-cross pattern.
2. Season the duck with salt and pepper. Warm a heavy-bottomed oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Place the duck breasts, fat-side down, in the skillet to render off the fat, which should take about 6 minutes.
3. Reserve rendered duck fat. Turn the duck breasts and sear for 1 minute. Turn the fat side down again and place the skillet into the oven to roast for 7-9 minutes, until breasts are medium rare. Let the duck breasts rest for 5 minutes, then slice in half.
4 each baby fennel bulbs, cut in half
1/2 half of lemon, sliced
3 sprigs thyme
2 cups olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit
2. Put all of the above ingredients into a pan and cover with foil. Cook for 30-45 minutes or until tender. Remove from oil.
2 cups pitted sour cherries
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup white wine
1. In a sauce pan, combine shallot and butter. Cook until translucent, adding cherries and white wine to deglaze. Cook until all liquid has evaporated and blend until smooth.
Roasted Pearl Onion
1/4 pound pearl onions
1 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a pan over medium-high heat, roast pearl onions until golden brown and tender, about 5 minutes.
2. Garnish with fennel frond and frisée.
Eric Degerman is president and CEO of Great Northwest Wine, a news and information website. For more information, go to greatnorthwestwine.com.