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Four Swallows on Bainbridge Island -- what took me so long?

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One of my embarrassing little secrets is that, although I’ve lived in the Puget Sound area for over 25 years and think I have a reasonably good knowledge of the food scene here, I’d never eaten at Four Swallows on Bainbridge Island until last week. Even though Four Swallows has consistently received high praise, I think my reason for not going there sooner was that somehow the menu just didn’t seem all that exciting or innovative. “Not bad, but pretty conventional,” I thought. Now I’m kicking myself. My wife’s and my inaugural visit last week was delightful in every respect – the food, the service, and the ambience. I also re-learned a valuable lesson. The difference between so-so food and outstanding food is principally the finesse and attention to detail that a chef exercises when preparing carefully selected high-quality ingredients. I’d much rather have a relatively straightforward dish that is perfectly prepared than a fancy-schmancy dish with a jillion exotic ingredients thrown together with a careless and inattentive hand. The chef at Four Swallows, Geraldine Ferraro, obviously cares deeply about the quality of the dishes leaving her kitchen, and prepares them with great restraint and care.

My wife and I started by sharing some gnocchi with local asparagus, peas, and morel mushrooms. The gnocchi were among the lightest I’ve ever had, like eating a cloud. The asparagus was cooked to the Goldilocks standard – not too raw, not too well done, but just right (lightly crisp and intensely flavorful) – and likewise with the peas and morel mushrooms. All of these ingredients benefited from a light, flavorful broth. Perfection! Could our other dishes measure up to this lofty standard? The answer was yes. My brined pork chop was tender, moist, and deeply flavorful. My wife likes salmon more rare than anyone else I know, including myself. This can make it hard on a kitchen, because what the cooks consider rare, my wife typically regards as medium. So I was not surprised when my wife’s Neah Bay salmon came somewhat more well done than she likes. The salmon was brought to the table by Chef Ferraro, and when my wife gently indicated that is was slightly more well done than she likes, Chef Ferraro quickly and graciously replaced it with another piece of salmon that was cooked exactly as my wife likes it. Both my wife and I were deeply impressed by this example of the restaurant’s commitment to please their customers. My wife and I are “plate traders” and, after sampling the salmon myself, I agreed that it was a beautiful piece of fish perfectly prepared. The choice of dessert was difficult, but the butterscotch budino turned out to be a perfect end to a perfect meal.

Our server, Rich, knew the wine list backwards and forwards, informed by a broad knowledge of wine in general. His recommendation for a wine that would compliment the dishes we had selected was spot on.

I mentioned ambience, and my wife and I loved the coziness and rustic charm of the 1889 yellow clapboard William Grow Farm House in which the restaurant is located.

I really feel stupid for not discovering Four Swallows sooner. But now that I realize why so many have raved about Four Swallows for so long, my wife and I won’t be waiting long to return.

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  1. Nice review, Tom. The Four Swallows is one of the reasons we feel very fortunate to live on Bainbridge Island. You didn't mention Mike, co-owner and consummate host.

    Thanks for calling attention to this gem, which is well worth a ferry ride to Bainbridge (though be prepared for a bit of a walk if you're planning to walk on the boat).

    1. What that place can do with scallops.....it can end wars, man.

      1. Tom, I can't seem to find any other way to contact you other than on Chowhound: do you know Chuck and Sally Anne from LA?

        1 Reply
        1. re: PAO

          Yes. Chuck and I practiced law together at Tuttle & Taylor and remained friends after we both left the firm to pursue different adventures. It's been a long time since we've been in contact though. My e-mail is t.armitage@comcast.net.

        2. I've had this thread in the back of my mind since it was posted and finally made it over to Four Swallows last night. Wow, was it terrific. 3 of us parked in downtown Seattle and walked on the ferry and then a nice stroll up the hill to the restaurant in Winslow. Started with yummy cocktails (I had a killer Manhattan) with the olive plate. Then the butternut squash soup, which frankly I have felt a little tired of lately but it was a cold night. When it came I was so happy I had ordered it. A very complex preparation with amaretto and crème fraiche. It was delicious. Then I had the scallops with roasted Brussel sprouts and with bits of pancetta. The scallops were seared outside and cooked just to done inside and not one second more and were among the best I have ever had. We split 2 desserts - a magnificent bread pudding and a caramel budino. Both were heavenly. We caught the 10:30 ferry back to Seattle and talked all the way back about what a wonderful outing this was.