Food Pairings

Match Makers: Russell Lowell uses takeout, Woodinville Wine to ride out pandemic

Russell Lowell, who grew up in Cuba and San Diego, became famous in Seattle as chef at Daniel's Broiler in Leschi and then as a caterer to the stars with Lowell-Hunt prior to opening Russell's Restaurant & Loft near Woodinville in 2004.
Russell Lowell, who grew up in Cuba and San Diego, became famous in Seattle as chef at Daniel's Broiler in Leschi and then as a caterer to the stars with Lowell-Hunt prior to opening Russell's Restaurant & Loft near Woodinville in 2004.

Around Woodinville Wine Country, when someone drops a reference to “Russell,” odds are they talking about the regionally famous chef rather than the superstar quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks.

Ironically, San Diego import Russell Lowell first became known around Seattle by his last name as the leading half of Lowell-Hunt Catering.

“There are probably a 1,000 caterers in the area now, but back then there were only about 50,” Lowell said.

During the past two decades, most of his energies have been focused on Russell’s Restaurant & Loft in the Monte Villa district across Interstate 405 from North Creek Forest near Woodinville.

“We’re actually in Bothell by about 50 feet,” he said.

For a time, he led three operations in three cities — the catering business based along Lake Union, a cafe in Woodinville and the striking white barn where his culinary mantra of “simple done well” has been a lure for Woodinville winemakers for 15 years.

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Russell’s Restaurant & Loft is in the Monte Villa district across Interstate 405 from North Creek Forest near Woodinville.

“I don’t think my relationship with the wine community could be any better,” Lowell said. “What’s happening around Woodinville keeps me rallying to be the best I can be.”

He built his reputation in Seattle as chef at Daniel’s Broiler on Leschi for six years before making his mark around the city with Lowell-Hunt, creating a culinary beehive along Lake Union.

“It was 1994-1995, and we were ahead of the curve on catering and hit it as big as you could in Seattle — and it kept getting big,” Lowell said. “We had some of the greatest cooks and chefs in town on our team, but eventually you run out of steam, so I was looking for another catering kitchen to handle the volume on the Eastside when I saw this old Norwegian barn. And I had to have it.”

He’s still enchanted by the barn built in 1927 that allowed him — at least before the pandemic — to seat 200 upstairs and 180 downstairs.

“Oh my god, this is too cool,” he says. “Here I am, and it’s just as smoking hot as it’s ever been in 17 years.”

These days, an hour-long conversation with Lowell sizzles with energy, entertainment, history and stories of success. He could be a social media darling if he chose to be. A wallflower he is not, and he doesn’t shy away from sharing his opinions or insights. He will jump at an opportunity to read a passage from his first book — In Search of Duende: Life Adventures of a Chef — which was published in 2014. It’s more autobiography than cookbook, and duende in Spanish refers to a strong presence, as in man of the house. It’s a language he speaks fluently because of the eight years his father was stationed in Cuba for the U.S. Navy.

Lowell comes from a family that when it wasn’t diving, fishing or surfing was farming and gardening. He’s a fascinating storyteller who looks back fondly on his teen years in SoCal, and he’s still tight with his best friend from high school — Chris Chelios, whose skill and grit turned him into a Hockey Hall of Fame inductee.

They both surfed, but after Lowell would come out of the Pacific Ocean he’d change out of his shorts and don an apron. One San Diego restaurateur catered to Lowell’s hobby by creating space for him to store his surfboard just off the kitchen. Not long after graduating high school, Lowell landed on the shores of the Puget Sound.

“I actually moved to Seattle so I could go to the University of Washington and be a dentist,” Lowell said. “In San Diego, the men I’d sit up in the lineup with out in the ocean in the morning were all either doctors or dentists. They’d surf in the mornings and only work three days a week, which sounded pretty cool to me. Now, all the dentists and oral surgeons I know tell me, ‘I wish I could be a chef.’ ”

And his circle of celebrity friends has grown to include other athletes who starred in Chicago with Chelios. Those connections also allowed him to forge a friendship with Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder.

“Eddie is a surfer, and he started surfing in San Diego, so it’s likely that we’ve been in the water together and didn’t know it,” Lowell said. “His home break was my home break.”

It’s no coincidence that another book by Lowell is ready to print and might already have published were it not for the pandemic.

“I might just decide to publish it myself,” he said.

And yet, Lowell — despite his personality and success — doesn’t burn under a spotlight. As a caterer in and around Seattle, he earned the trust of wealthy clients not only because of his delicious execution but also for maintaining privacy. There’s pride in cooking for King of Spain and what Lowell’s dubbed “a bunch of the Malibu glitterati.” He shares a number of those tales within In Search of Duende, but there are many more tales that didn’t make it. Hence, the second book.

Lowell spent years providing catering for some of the area’s elite businessmen, and one of the assignments he’s most proud of was a December 1999 party in Seattle for Nelson Mandela. It included a thoughtful request for the late David Lake’s historic 1979 Millennium Cabernet Sauvignon, a landmark wine for the Washington wine industry in that it was built to be delicious and enjoyed 20 years beyond its vintage. The famed Master of Wine and winemaker for Columbia Winery in Woodinville pulled from Otis and Red Willow vineyards for the Millennium.

MM Su20 to go boxes
A rack of lamb and seared scallops are among the menu items available for curbside pick-up at Russell’s Restaurant and Loft in Bothell, Washington. Bottles of wine, selected by the chef to pair with these dishes, are also available. Richard Duval Images

“It seemed only fitting for someone who had spent more than 20 years in prison,” Lowell said. “David and I were good friends, and he was one of the people who introduced me to wine. So when I went looking for that wine to buy, of course, it was gone. Well, I told David, ‘I need two cases of the Millennium for that dinner.’ He took it out of his stuff. That was really cool, but then David was that kind of guy.”

Along the way, Lowell has been a supporter of Page Cellars in more ways than one.

“A lot of my clients live in Sun Valley, and one time I see Jim Page on the jet, so I ask him if he’s a friend of the client who’s hired me,” Lowell recalls. “He tells me, ‘No, Russell, I’m the pilot. I’ve flown you a lot of times, you just haven’t seen me.’ ”

Another producer Lowell said deserves more acclaim is Kevin Lantz, who releases only about 1,000 cases a year under his Lantz Cellars brand in Lake Stevens.

“He’s under the radar, which I like,” Lowell said. “And there’s JM Cellars and Saviah Cellars, and you could go on and on.”

If space was not a factor, the list at Russell’s Restaurant would essentially be endless.

“In the early days, before the wine industry took over here, I was into all the big Bordeaux producers, and I would buy so much Gaja (from Italy),” he said. “My catering clients at the time could afford it, but when you live here and all these great wines start coming out, these are your buddies who live here and you take care of them. Now, my list is primarily Northwest, and there are so many I’d like to bring in, but you would be bankrupt.”

Chef in Kitchen
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted Russell Lowell to create a curbside dinner menu featuring discounted bottles from some of the Woodinville area's top producers and entrées such as Pan-Seared Rack of Lamb and New Bedford Sea Scallops for takeout at Russell's Restaurant & Loft in Bothell. Richard Duval Images

Recently, he’s fostered a delicious relationship with Sound to Summit Brewing in Snohomish, creating Russell’s Kitchen at Sound to Summit and offering guests elevated brewpub fare. It also marked a shift in gears after operating Russell’s Garden Café and Wine Bar inside a Woodinville home and garden store. Those 15 years fed naturally into one of Lowell’s passions, which is gardening.

“I had to learn about beer, other than knowing that it tastes great, so I asked around and learned Sound to Summit is one of the best, so I decided to partner with them,” Lowell said. “Who knows where this will take us, but prior to the pandemic, we were killing it.”

While so many restaurants were caught up in the wake of the outbreak, Lowell quickly pivoted and again drew from his experience as a caterer. Russell’s Restaurant almost immediately began providing takeout/curbside cuisine. He credits his “special ops experts” — his son Ryan along with Matt Carruthers — for helping to ride out the storm.

“I always save for a rainy day, so I knew we’d be OK, but still, you don’t want to lose your rainy day fund,” Lowell said. “But we started the provision boxes — which are custom-made with lamb racks, New Yorks and filet mignon — and business hasn’t run down. This is working really well, so we will survive. There is no question about that, and I’m not running around yelling at people. Instead, I’m in the garden, fishing, tying flies and working around the restaurant. We’re cleaning everywhere and doing more maintenance than ever.”

In his desire to support the regional wine industry and his neighbors, Lowell and his son developed a list of wines offered at a discounted rate to go with Russell’s Curbside Service. The Domaine Ste. Michelle 2014 Luxe Sparkling Wine serves as a solid example. It retails for $24. On the Curbside Service wine list, it was offered at just $28.

A sign of the list’s success was reflected in the changing wine options, but guests seemingly can count on a steady supply from Boudreaux Cellars, led by affable and talented winemaker Rob Newsom in the outdoors community of Leavenworth.

“Newsom is awesome,” Lowell said, an adjective he uses frequently. “Rob’s from down South in Louisiana and fishes like crazy like I do, so we really hit it off. He’s cool!”

His decades-long relationship with Allen Shoup and winemaker Gilles Nicault made it natural to feature a number of Long Shadows Vintners’ bottlings on his wine list as part of Russell’s Curbside Service, so for this Match Maker, Lowell worked with the Cymbal 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, a new project that Nicault directs within the Long Shadows constellation.

Barn Loft
Once an old Norwegian barn, the Loft at Russells is a charming event space that, before the pandemic, seats 200.

“Oh, Gilles is one of my guys!” We should have a TV show with Gilles featuring his outdoor sabering program,” says Lowell, who features Duck Nicault on the menu. “He’s unbelievably nuts, and there are stories. We love him, and he loves us.”

Sea scallops, particularly those from New Bedford, Mass., rank as one of Lowell’s signature proteins.

“New Bedfords are the sweetest scallop on the planet,” he said. “When you cook them, they keep their shape and their size and the sugar in them caramelizes.”

Seared to perfection by Lowell, the scallop strikes a perfect balance of fruit with Nicault’s Cymbal Sauvignon Blanc. At Russell’s, New Bedford scallops are served with a light butter sauce, and the Cymbal pings through.

As for the red Match Maker wine, the call was made for a pairing with the Russell’s Code-Breaker Red Blend, an ongoing collaboration with winemaker Kevin Correll of nearby Barrage Cellars and named for one of the fly-fishing flies that Lowell ties.

“That’s a super-rich and heavy wine,” Lowell said with a sense of pride. “It’s more on the tannic side and chocolaty - a Washington Bordeaux-style red with some Syrah. It is very popular here, and you need something big to stand up to it. Lamb is a huge seller here, and the Duck Nicault could rise above it and be great with it, too, but I just enjoy drinking it with or without food!”

MM Su20 wine bottles

WINE

Long Shadows Vintners 2018 Cymbal Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, $35 — 372 cases, 14.2% alc.

As Washington winemakers and consumers rightfully celebrate Cabernet Sauvignon as “King Cab,” it’s important to remember a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc is an ideal option to have on hand for seafood.

And while it’s not as though Gilles Nicault needed to add another wine his wide-ranging portfolio that involves winemakers from all around the planet, the native of France’s Rhône Valley began to offer his interpretation of the white grape from Bordeaux with this wine from the 2018 vintage.

It’s ironic that around the time Allen Shoup recruited Gilles to Long Shadows Vintners from historic Woodward Canyon just as Rick Small began to produce Sauvignon Blanc from Woodward Canyon Estate.

“I was at Woodward Canyon until 2003, so I was involved in the early years of the Sauvignon Blanc at Woody, but I had not made it since!” Nicault said with a chuckle.

At the launch of Long Shadows, the lone white wine in the portfolio was Poet’s Leap, the stately Riesling collaboration with famed German vintner Armin Diel. However, Shoup recently bought out Diel’s shares in Long Shadows, so Nicault consults only with Shoup and Long Shadows general manager Dane Narbaitz for any white wine, whether it be under the Long Shadows or Nine Hats brand.

Nicault was among the first in the Walla Walla Valley to work with concrete fermentation, and that approach plays a role in his expression with Sauvignon Blanc from Zephyr Ridge Vineyard, an important site in the dusty and minerally Horse Heaven Hills. Nicault also fermented individual lots in either stainless steel or oak barrels prior to blending all three into his end product after six months. That allows for tropical notes of jasmine and exotic fruit with citrusy notes and flecks of minerality with grassiness to come together. The use of concrete and oak build the fleshiness of melon and pear for the midpalate, adding complexity while avoiding the “meow” of tomcat that can turn off some consumers. It finishes fresh, fruity and crisply.

Cymbal becomes the fourth white variety in the cellar along Frenchtown Road, joining Chardonnay (Dance and Nine Hats) as well as Pinot Gris (Nine Hats) and Riesling (Nine Hats).

Enjoy the Cymbal with crab cakes, Orecchiette and Summer Squash, cheeses ranging from brie to blue, freshwater fish such as bass and trout, steamed mussels or pan-seared scallops.

Long Shadows Vintners, 1604 Frenchtown Road, Walla Walla, WA 99362, (509) 526-0905; and 14450 Woodinville-Redmond Road, #104, Woodinville, WA 98072, LongShadows.com, (425) 408-1608

MM Su20 Scallops
New Bedford Sea Scallops paired with Long Shadows Vintners 2018 Cymbal Sauvignon Blanc.

RECIPE

New Bedford Sea Scallops

Serves 2

Ingredients

1 pound of size U10 count, which means under 10 to make one pound

Method

Pat the scallops dry.

In a sauté pan, heat a blend of canola and olive oil to medium-high heat

Season the scallop lightly before placing in the pan

Place scallop in pan seasoned-side down

Do not shake the pan or try to move the scallop. It will release from the pan when ready to turn (1-2 minutes).

Season the other side. Then turn and repeat, this time cooking only for one minute.

Do not overcook.

“My recommendation is medium-rare. If they are a little cool in the middle, who cares?”

“At the restaurant we serve the scallops with beurre blanc and chive oil, the simpler the sauce the better!”

WINE

Barrage Cellars NV Russell’s Code-Breaker Red Wine, Washington, $56 — 189 cases, 14.9% alc.

For his own Barrage Cellars brand, winemaker Kevin Correll focuses on stand-alone, 100% varietal wines — bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc or Chardonnay — made with blends from some of Washington’s most famous vineyards.

A substantial exception was for his friend/chef Russell Lowell, and CodeBreaker is only available at Russell’s Restaurant & Loft in Bothell. The base is a blend of Bordeaux varieties — Cabernet Sauvignon (34%), Merlot (33%), Cabernet Franc (22%) — with a fleshy contribution of Red Willow Vineyard Syrah (11%).

“I had no intention of using Syrah, but it creates a pretty nice well-rounded wine,” Correll said. “Syrah in a blend makes what some people now call ‘the Washington Bordeaux.’ ”

Lowell has his choice of wineries in Woodinville Wine Country to collaborate with for a house red program at Russell’s, but Correll has been a regular supporter of Lowell since Barrage began in 2006 and made a successful pitch to Lowell’s son, Ryan. The restaurateurs named it for a homemade fly-fishing lure that’s a family favorite.

“The barn is halfway between our house and the winery, so we go there once or twice a month for sure,” Correll said.

Correll’s brand name points out how his winery began. The concept started in his garage, but his first barrel was made in a barn — hence, “Barrage.”

Over time, he’s focused on such vineyards as Boushey and Red Willow in the Yakima Valley, Quintessence and Shaw on Red Mountain and Stoney Vine in The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater. Boushey and Red Willow are primary contributors to Code-Breaker.

His work, reputation and willingness to help others have made Barrage Cellars a regular contributor to the Auction of Washington Wines since 2007 — before he even opened a tasting room. Last year, he donated a lot for the Private Barrel Auction.

The Correll-Lowell collaboration has led to a nice holiday promotion for Barrage Cellars. If a guest purchased a bottle at Barrage Cellars during the month of December and brought it to the restaurant, Russell’s waived the corkage fee for dinner service. The promotion suggested a tin of Russell’s Original Seasoning ($12), an ideal ingredient for surf (salmon) and turf (a New York strip), and pairing them both with the Code-Breaker.

“My favorite dish at Russell’s is the filet (mignon), and Code-Breaker stands up to all those big grilled meats,” Correll said.

During their third annual Valentine’s Day winemaker dinner at Russell’s however, Lowell opted to pair the Code-Breaker with Honey Spice Glazed Pork Belly with Arancini with Roasted Tomato Sauce.

“Yeah, the pork belly was delicious,” Correll added.

Barrage Cellars, 19501 144th Ave. NE, Suite E-800, Woodinville, WA 98072, BarrageCellars.com, (425) 802-9583.

MM Su20 Lamb
Rack of lamb paired with Barrage Cellars NV Russell’s Code-Breaker Red Wine.

RECIPE

Rack of lamb

Ingredients

1 domestic rack of lamb

Method

Season lamb with desired seasoning or Russell’s original (season heavy)

Preheat pan before adding oil on low, about 350 degrees

Season loin side down 

Sear until golden brown, about 3-5 minutes, but check with tongs 

Next, place in an oven preheated to 400 degrees for about 20 minutes on lamb side.

Monitor with a meat thermometer and pull the roast when the internal temperature reaches 125–130 for medium rare. 

Apply desired sauce or garnish (demi from Russell’s), traditional mint jelly or chimichurri.

Pair with a robust red wine such as Syrah or other bold red wine!

ERIC DEGERMAN is co-founder and CEO of Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.

Russell’s Restaurant & Loft

3305 Monte Villa Parkway

Bothell, WA 98021

RussellLowell.com

425-892-8492.

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