Woodinville's tourist district boasts Barking Frog
by Jeanette Knutson
Long before Woodinville became a whistle stop for the dinner train, steamboats carrying supplies from Seattle chugged their way into the Sammamish Valley. In those days the Sammamish River was loopy with oxbows, but the steamers somehow managed to navigate as far as Woodinville. The opening in 1916 of a channel cut to connect Lake Washington to Puget Sound plunged Lake Washington waters 9 feet and drained much of the Sammamish River. In the mid-60s the Army Corps of Engineers in a joint project with King County fashioned what was left of the meandering Sammamish into a relatively straight canal. Today where steamers once glided, rollerbladers, power-walkers and bike enthusiasts propel themselves through the valley.The heart of our city's tourist district sits on the west bank of this river, Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery, Columbia Winery and Redhook Brewery and Ale House. New on the block is Willows Lodge, Woodinville's first hotel. The lodge has a strong Northwest appeal with an understated Japanese aesthetic and this theme is carried over to its sister building, the Barking Frog restaurant, situated across the driveway from the inn itself.
The name "Barking Frog" came about after an 8-month-long brainstorming session with developers Tony Puma and Philip Sherburne, along with partner James Simkins. The gentlemen knew they had a restaurant with a rural lodge-feel located in the fertile Sammamish River Valley, recalls Simkins. Since recycled timbers had been used to construct both the lodge and the restaurant, they wanted to reflect an environmental aspect in the eatery's name. They hit upon the idea of a frog and liked it because Native Americans thought of the frog as a sort of harbinger of the environment ‹ if the frogs sang, the environment was healthy. Next they had to come up with a modifier. Somehow "croaking" didn't seem appropriate. Yet they wanted to express the concept of a frog lifting its voice, signaling these vibrant valley surroundings. Hence "barking."
Though the name "Barking Frog" was a corporate decision of sorts, Gladys Berry, president of the Woodinville Historical Society, notes that frogs have a link to our Sammamish Valley. Some 40 years ago a large population of "big ol' bull frogs" could be found along the slough. "And guess what they did with them," she said. "They caught them to eat the frog legs."
Frog legs are not on the Barking Frog's menu, but pain perdu is, and according to Zack Balser, restaurant manager, it's the most chosen item on the weekend brunch menu. It is brioche French toast, baked apples, powdered sugar and cinnamon, served with maple syrup. Other brunch options include warm duck salad, grilled chicken salad, country turkey hash, grilled salmon or beef burgers (among other items) and a selection of tempting desserts like warm chocolate pecan tart, warm apple brioche pudding or chocolate mousse dome.
"People seem most pleased that [the brunch] is not a buffet," says Balser. "It's a no-stress affair. Just select what you want from the menu at your table ... "
On the dinner menu Chilean sea bass with seared scallops is the favorite, but Balser admits roasted breast of duck is his preference. He suggests a 1997 DeLille Cellars Chaleur Estate wine to accompany the duck. But don't overlook the warm Maine lobster salad, the grilled lamb chops drizzled with pesto, the grilled beef tenderloin or the seared Ahi. And the extensive wine list features primarily Northwest wines.
"We're trying to take the fear out of wine," said Balser. A cleverly arranged wine list categorizes wines by types, such as "lush and jammy," "loud and woolly," "tart and lucid," making wine selection fun and easy, even for the novice.
Too often we don't look in our own backyards for a fine dining experience. Our cars are practically programmed to go to Bellevue, Kirkland or across the bridge for celebration ‹ even casual ‹ dinners. The next time you're out hitting a few balls, visiting the wineries, antiquing or shopping at Molbak's, stop in the Barking Frog for a drink, for brunch, lunch or dinner. After all, fun and easy should be what eating out is all about. Weekend reservations recommended.