A Seattle institution provokes classic pairings by matching red wine with seafood.

Ray’s Boathouse tried to burn down twice. Once in 1987 and again in 1997, only three days prior to the decade anniversary of the first fire, the flame and ash that brought Ray’s Boathouse to the pier could only keep it there for a few months. Each time, the restaurant team and the community helped to bring the Seattle icon back to its feet to even bigger success than it had in its first run. Listed as one of the top seafood restaurants in the nation, loved by President Clinton and commemorated by all for celebratory get-togethers to their ideal porch perching summer happy hours, Ray’s Boathouse has continued to prevail and, just last month, opened after its latest facelift project.

raysRevolutionizing modern seafood in the Northwest, Ray’s was the first to bring locals back to Olympia oysters, the region’s only native oyster, as well as singing scallops, spot prawns, Copper River Salmon and more delicacies of the sea. Ray’s was also the first local restaurant to purchase its own wholesale buyer’s license for fish in 1976, which allowed the restaurant to procure the day’s catch directly from the men who caught it.

Now lead by Executive Chef Wayne A. Johnson, formerly of the Mayflower Park Hotel, the culinary team is skilled through combined experience of more than half a century and inspired by the panoramic views surrounding their kitchen. Not too shabby of a work environment.

Traditional Northwestern cuisine should be expected, but an arbitrary Japanese-flared dish might pop on the menu as well as a rustic Italian housemade pasta dish, especially in the cafe half of the restaurant, which is dedicated to affordable food and more adventurous fare. With 20 microbeers on tap, specialty drinks and a solid happy hour, the cafe and its sun porch is more than likely where you will find this particular writer on a random afternoon.

Eating: The Salmon Burger — THE salmon burger is available only the cafe but is always available. Lunch ($12.95), happy hour (for $7.95!) and dinner (same as lunch), the salmon burger is always fresh ground salmon, seasoned and grilled up on a bun with spinach leaves atop, painted with a tarragon-shallot aoili and placed nicely next to batter-dipped fries. Succulent and fresh as salmon should be, this is a composed and tidy burger for sandwich lovers, people with dainty hands and (like yours truly) messy eaters.

Drinking: Pinot Noir — Pick your jaw up off the floor, you heard me right – red wine with fish. It was actually Ray’s Boathouse to somewhat transform Northwesterners mindset for seafood and wine pairing with they began to recommend red wine with fish in the 1980′s. Although the recommendation might not be the heaviest or thickest-skinned red grapes out there, but Pinot Noir is a safe bet to pair with salmon for a number of reasons, namely for its vibrant acidity and lighter body to complement the fishrays2. The above mentioned acidity is a necessity when a wine is in the trenches with salmon, a regularly fatty fish that requires a wine with zippy stamina to make an impact as a pairing. Pinot Noir has the upfront acid, the fruit at the core and the mineral backbone to stand up to salmon and prove it has met its match. It’s hard to generalize a grape variety without giving credit to its terroir (aka soils, land, region, etc.) and this case is no different, Pinot Noirs from Oregon, Argentina, Chile and New Zealand will typically abide by those characteristics.  

The Specifics:  Brooks Wines 2009 Janus Pinot Noir — In respect to keeping it Northwestern, this Oregon Pinot Noir fits the bill. Named after the Roman God of balance, Janus is Brooks’ flagship wine with its rich earth, bramble fruit and mushroom aromas with vibrant flavors of blackberry and rapsberry and avid acidity and a smokey, velvety finish.

The 2009 vintage for Pinot Noir came out guns a’blazin’ and ready to drink, often referred to as Oregon’s “sluttiest” vintage. Take that as you will, but this red falls into the same category with additional depth and fruit flavors that would be ideal for tossing a few back with or without salmon or sexual inhibitions.