September 18, 2008

Stock Market Tanks, Ivar Keeps Clam

Alaskan%20ling%20cod.JPG Scallops%20on%20dinner%20menu.JPG
Financial solace at Ivar's: $7 grilled lingcod, scallops on 3-course, $19.38 dinner. Below: pork medallions.

On the flatscreen in the Acres of Clams bar on Pier 54, the CNBC ticker is showing Boeing's market flame-out, WaMu's inexorable descent. We are doomed. You want to scream at the TV: "It's not about the ("fundamentally sound") economy, stupid! Don't you get it? It's about the fundamentally corrupt financial system!" As if in response, up at the mic, a folksinger known as Captain Charlie strums his guitar and sings a ditty composed decades ago by Ivar Haglund, the troubador of the tidelands:

No longer a slave of ambition, I laugh at the world and its shams...
As I think of my happy condition...surrounded by acres of clams.
Yes, Ivar's is 70 years old and celebrating. The bedrock of Seattle's waterfront is a reminder to us all: some things never change (the clam chowder, the fish & chips) but many survive by adapting.

The clam chowder, normally $4.50 a cup, was just 70 cents on Black Wednesday. Even better, for the next six weeks, a variety of really quite delectable small plates are just $7 apiece. And to remind you how long Ivar's has been around, there are three-course dinners for $19.38.

Commemorative drinks, too, for each decade. Name your poison at the bar: Brandy Old Fashioned (1940s), Harvey Wallbanger (1970s) or vodka-cran with Red Bull? Change or tradition?

How'd this happen? Folksy Ivar was the antithesis of today's fussy, self-absorbed restaurateurs, though he could surely self-promote with the best of them. Still, changing an iconic image is risky.

And besides, aren't the folks who eat at Ivar's, you know, tourists? So? Why would we want to feed tourists our garbage? Why would we insult them by assuming they want garbage?

Here's what happened: a deliberate effort to modernize while keeping the traditional. Chris Garr, a 33-year-old Spokane native, runs the kitchen at Pier 54. He's not telling Oscar from Omaha that he can't have fish & chips for lunch, but for the same $13.95 he could order pink peppercorn and coriander-crusted yellowfin tuna salad. Deep-fried seafood, long the staple of the Ivar's kitchen, still accounts for maybe a third of its output. But in the safe and comfortable, nautically-themed 240-seat dining room on Pier 54, Oscar (or Mrs. Oscar) just might go for the organic baby arugula. Pork%20medallion.JPG

The Ivar's chain, founded to feed visitors to the aquarium, has grown to encompass 3 full-service restaurants, 3 fish bars, 24 "fast casual" outlets and 20 stadium concessions. A line of chowders from Ivar's Soup & Sauce Company is sold all over the world. But its soul is still at Pier 54.

So as the Dow lost 150 points in the last 15 minutes of trading, there arrived a fine filet of grilled Alaskan lingcod on a bed of couscous ringed with an orange cardamom beurre blanc, the most successful of the $7 small plates menu. Weathervane scallops make appearances as an appetizer (accompanied by chanterelles) and as a main course (topped with mustard greens and root vegetables). Sockeye salmon does double duty as well, though it's ill-served by an overly sweet pomegranate syrup. Don't like fish? No problem. There's a traditional northern European pork medallion with red cabbage and mashed Yukon potatoes, pears poached in chardonnay substituting for apple sauce. Something for everyone, in other words. Happy as a clam.

If you're really into it, you can even buy Clam Stamps (perfectly legal postage) or download an Ivar's ringtone. Keep clam.

Ivar's Acres of Clams, Pier 54, 1001 Alaskan Way,. 206-624-6852 Ivar's Acres of Clams on Urbanspoon

Posted by Ronald Holden at September 18, 2008 8:00 AM | TrackBack

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