The geoduck is a huge Pacific Coast clam. Geoduck comes from “gwe-duk” in the language of the Native American Nisqually Tribe, which means “dig deep.” Dig deep is a reality situation with this tasty shellfish. Wild geoduck takes a lot of effort even at low tide. They burrow down in the mud and are hard to dislodge. They generally grow to about three feet (mostly neck) and weigh in at around seven pounds. There are reports of twice that length and over sixteen pounds, however. The geoduck can live as long as 170 years. The Japanese prize geoduck meat for sushi. It is great in fritters, stews, and chowders.
Peg and I left Tacoma to visit with friends near Shelton, Washington. This adventure would let us taste some excellent wine, and dine on geoduck at Xinh's, a restaurant in Shelton, known for their geoduck and seafood.
Near the base of Puget Sound, which separates the mainland of Washington State from the Olympic peninsula is the Nisqually Delta. The Nisqually river flows from the Nisqually Glacier on Mt. Rainier and empties into Puget Sound between Tacoma and Olympia, Washington. The Nisqually River Valley Delta is one of the most beautiful areas in Washington State. Heading South you cross the delta with spectacular view of Puget Sound off to your right and then as the road climbs, springtime views give you slopes covered with California Poppies, Foxglove, and sometimes deer. The farmland of the delta has recently been returned to estuary. Heading North reveals a fantastic view of Mt. Rainier rising about forests of Douglas Fir off to your right and views of Puget Sound and the Narrows Bridge off to the left.
Also flowing across the Nisqually Delta is McAllister Creek, which was known to the Native Americans as Medicine Creek. The Medicine Creek Treaty is the basis for much controversy over Native American fishing and tribal rights in the Pacific Northwest. So this is a very historic area . . . as well as beautiful.
As we passed the state capitol, we took the exit off I-5 that would normally take us to the ocean beaches. To stay on I-5 would take us to Portland. We were headed to the Walter Dacon Winery to meet our friends John and Karen Trueman.
At the turn-off for the winery we saw a flea market, and because we were ahead of time, we stopped for a walk-thru. If I had brought along cash, I might have purchased a number of items. There were many hand tools, some nicely tooled sailing ships, and ram's head carving by hand for a decent price ($125.00). Actually, I felt virtuous for not buying anything, but regretted that decision back in Tacoma. (Unbuyers remorse?)
We scouted out the location of the winery and then drove around the area a little bit. On Washington's Olympic Peninsula the trees come almost up to the road, although there might be trees on one side of the road and clear-cut logging on the other. Stumps with old roots still attached provide an artistic "driftwood" appearance. Trees and ferns crowd the views of the many inlets and often you only catch a glimpse of waterfront as you pass. It's a little teaser of landscape beauty just beyond your reach, which almost makes you want to park you car and hike down to the water . . . sometimes picking berries as you go.
In the area around Shelton there are lakes, islands and little fingers of land that offer opportunity for rustic living as well as fine homes. It's a very nice mixture. Some of our friends have lots and cabins in Mason County. The Truemans had initially invited us to stay with them at their cabin on Harstine Island, but with their pet dog and Peg's allergies, we decided to just visit them for wine and fun.
With California wineries and Eastern Washington wineries, you usually see acres of vines and a long drive up to the main buildings. Not so at Washington wineries in Western Washington. Sometimes they are created right next to the waters of Puget Sound.
A simple sign and three empty wine casks (I hope they are empty) mark the nearby entrance to the Dacon Winery. A gravel road into the trees brings you to a small building and parking area. There were a few grape vines in rows, growing in a small clearing reached only by the sun during the middle of the day. As we parked Karen appeared with a big smile on her face top greet us as I was still backing into a parking space beside an SUV on one side and a wine cask planter on the other. The Walter Dacon Winery is one of their favorite places for both relaxation and the enjoyment of wine. Very simple, very basic, and very nice . . . and I'm not just talking about Karen . . . or John.
Besides Karen greeting us, there was music to welcome us. A two-person combo played everything from Summertime (Gershwin Broadway Showtunes) to The Thrill is Gone (B.B. King blues). The music was soothing and tasteful. The singer played guitar and the second man played trumpet and drums. Backbeat electronics provided fill and resonance.
There was a canopy to shade the duo and canopies were set up to shade listeners who not only sat and enjoyed the music, but sampled food and sipped wine as well. A fifteen dollar charge paid for tasting of five to seven wines, the music, and food. I only tasted three. This was an afternoon affair from noon until six. The music was pleasing and not so loud as to make conversation difficult. The Dacon Winery has thought of everything. In addition to entertainment with music, they often entertain with special seminars, demonstrations, or classes on different aspects of wine making and pairing.
Walter Dacon started out with a limited selection of wines and has been slowly adding other offerings to their award winning choices. I really enjoyed their white wine sample, the Viognier with aromatics of perfume, rose petals, white peach, honeysuckle and a note of pear. It was fruity and I could see myself drinking this with wine and cheese or a nice smoked King salmon. Peg preferred the Magnifique (deep, dark, rich blackberry taste) as did John I believe. Of the reds I enjoyed that also. It would stand up well with a good hearty steak and even a plate of whole-wheat spaghetti with Italian sausage and marinara sauce. Wine Spectator awarded it 93 points and WineEnthusiast gave it 91 points.
John pointed out the beautiful oak bar. The wood had originally come from the library in the Fremont District of Seattle: "Quaint specialty shops and ethnic restaurants fill the landscape transforming this light-industrial / manufacturing district of Seattle into a mecca of art and culture; Northwest style." Things are always a bit "different" in Fremont, but even I didn't realize the libraries had bars.
My three tastings were enough for me. Assistant Winemaker, Holly House would pour more for each tasting if you wanted. I did. Peg tried most. I was driving, otherwise I probably would have chosen a glass of the white to go along with chocolate covered almonds and clams for dessert.
In addition to the music and the wine, the Dacon Winery also provided generous portions of steamed clams. Talk about getting your money's worth. The clams were excellent . . . tender and flavorful. The broth was perfect with probably some Walter Dacon white wine added for body and acid. Chunks and slices of crusty and well-buttered bread accompanied the clams. The bread was good by itself, but sopped up with the nectar of the clam broth it was manna from heaven.
In addition to the clams there was a plastic glass of hummus with folded, flour tortillas and black olives. I think green olives with red pimentoe might have worked even better with hummus, which had a little bit of a bite. The color would have added flare as well. Because of the spicy hummus I was able to score Peg's as well as my own. I could have had Karen's also, but I knew dinner was coming. It was the coming dinner that kept my from getting more bread, more clams as well, and more wine.
What a perfect day. It was early September, the morning fog and drizzle disappeared, the sun was out, the afternoon was warm, the music was great, the wine and food excellent and the company outstanding. It doesn't get much better in life than this.
The Washington Huskies were playing their first football game of the season at Brigham Young. Both John and I were anxious to see if the team had improved. The four of us drove to Shelton. John would stop at a tavern or restaurant to see if they had the game playing on their TVs. We settled on Steven's, which is one of John and Karen's favorite local restaurants . . . and the only place we could find that was connected to the channel CBS College. We may try Steven's for dinner next time we are in town. Their mango and scallop seviche sounded good.
Steven's had our favorite brew, Honeymoon served with a slice of orange. A smallish television broadcast the game to us from behind the bar. While John and I sat near to the bar to watch the game, the women, not interested in the game, sat and chatted behind us. I think we saw all the scoring the Huskies were going to do for the day and so gave up and the four of us walked to the other end of the block to Xinh's.
As we left Steven's there was only one table with diners and as we walked into Xinh's it was the same. It was about five-fifteen in the afternoon. When we left Xinh's it was a three-quarters full.
Peg and I ordered the pan-fried oysters for an appetizer. They looked so good and tasted so good, I forgot to take a photograph. For dinner Karen revealed her mid-west/Minnesota roots by ordering beef in a seafood restaurant. It did look good, however. John had Thai Crab Cakes. Peg ordered salmon. This salmon was the strangest item on the menu. It turned out that what she ordered was farm-raised Atlantic salmon. We were aghast. Why in the world would any restaurant on the Pacific Coast even consider offering that? Once she knew what was really on the menu she changed to the Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon. It was absolutely wonderful. I ordered the fried geoduck. Geoduck is not always on the menu. It depends on availability. I was thrilled it was provided, but I was hoping for a stir fry with black bean hoisin or tamarind sauce. I shared with Peg and Karen, who was surprised that it wasn't tough. It was fork tender. Shellfish at Xinh's is provided by Taylor Shellfish Farms.
In visiting the Taylor Shellfish Farms website I saw they have two locations. One in Skookum near Shelton and one in Bow. We passed through Edison-Bow, two very, very small towns, on our trip to La Conner and the Queen of the Valley B & B barely two weeks before leaving for Shelton. We really have to take a tour. We've been invited back to Gothberg Farms and The Breadfarm after sampling their cheese and breads/cookies there, so the Taylor Shellfish Farms seems like a natural addition. It also turned out that buddies John and Karen stop in for bread and cheese at the two bends in the road of Edison-Bow each time they stay in La Conner, too.
Click Here to see commercial geoduck harvesting!
One of the yearly rituals in Shelton is the OysterFest. Behind my head on the wall was a sponsorship award to Xinh's from the Shelton Rotary Club. Each fall the OysterFest event brings hundreds and hundreds of people to town to watch the oyster shucking contests and sample different foodie offerings. Raw oysters are a popular item.
I am always happy to sample raw, fresh oysters with either lemon juice or a little hot sauce sprinkled on them. I grew up eating oysters directly from the beach while sitting around a driftwood fire. However, I much prefer pan-fried oysters. More specificly, I really enjoy Peg's pan-fried oysters. At OysterFest there are many vendors selling differently prepared oysters as well as other seafoods and snacks.
The fall event is a project of the local Rotary Clubs: Shelton and Skookum. John and I are both Rotary members from Tacoma, so we know all about the event, but John and Karen are both veterans, while Peg and I have never been. It's now on our radar for this year, however.
Our on way out of town, John and Karen showed us their commercial building. John is a commercial real estate appraiser. Together he and Karen own Trueman Appraisal. They saw the once run-down building for sale and purchased it several years ago. He has had the exterior remodeled and created a nice landscaped parking lot as well. They have had people call them up with praise for the work they did on the building and how it improves downtown Shelton. John will be remodeling the interior, which is wide-open for interested leasees. It's only about three blocks from our two new favorite Shelton restaurants.
John and Karen showed us the way out of town. We returned to Tacoma via a different route that skirted Puget Sound. They first led us and then followed until they reached the road that would take them to Harstine Island. We enjoyed our trip back through the woods and over and along local streams and inlets. These streams and inlets often provide the home habitat (spawning grounds) for returning salmon.
We traveled through several rural communities and winding roads. As we drove back Peg and I talked about our friends, the wonderful day, and our favorite wines and foods from our adventure.
The trip back took about an hour, but seemed like mere minutes. The travel was only hampered by drivers traveling below the speed limits and then waiting in line to pay our toll for the Narrows Bridge before crossing back into Tacoma and off the peninsula.