One of the iconic Seattle waterfront restaurants with some serious history, Ray’s Boathouse, dates all the way back to 1939 when the original owner, Ray Lichtenberger, moved his growing boat rental and bait house to the current location. Through the 1960’s Ray’s operated as both a casual fish-and-chips cafe and boat rental. In 1973 Russ Wohlers, Earl Lasher and Duke Moscrip bought Ray’s Boathouse and quickly refurbished the structure, focusing on high quality seasonal seafood, as the current menu does today. Elizabeth Gingrich joined the ownership team in 1975 as did former Seattle Supersonics legend, Jack Sikma, in 1986. In 2017 longtime Ray’s co-owner, Elizabeth Gingrich retired and two co-owners took over: Tom Olsson, a long-time Ray’s team member who started in Ray’s kitchens and worked his way to CFO, and General Manager Douglas Zellers, who has a longstanding restaurant management background.
I recently was able to enjoy a Northwest wine and food inspired dinner with Chip Croteau, Ray’s Boathouse manager and wine director, and Doug Zellers, GM and co-owner. Both Chip and Doug are highly knowledgable and curate a very deep cellar, focusing on high quality Washington wine producers. The theme of the dinner was enjoying beautifully aged Washington wines that would connect with the largely seafood themed menu (other from a delicious New York steak). Doug and Chip have been working very hard to have a number of prime older bottles from Washington, including those from some of the David Lake collection that Columbia Winery became famous for. Doug mentioned that they are inspired by patrons with great older wine cellars. He mentioned “We wanted to have at Ray’s an incredible old cellar that showcases the best in Washington. A few years back we did a grand tasting with old wines from Washington and the youngest wine was a 1999 Leonetti Sangiovese and the oldest was an 1981 Otis Vineyard Cabinet. We even had a 1988 Quilceda Creek Cabernet that was showing marvelous One of the thing that blew me away was the 1995-97 Leonetti Cabernet. These were all served blind and I was amazed by the aging potential of Leonetti wines.” I could not agree more, as I have had some older Leonetti bottling from the 1990s that have showed marvelously lately.
Chip mentioned “I was not sure how the older Washington wines were going to show but we were all for it. It was cool having somms here for the event, and Sean Sullvian [Wine Enthusiast Washington editor]. We were all amazed how the wines were showing despite their age.” Chip explained that it has taken many years for Ray’s to craft their Washington-centiric wine list and that he and Doug are always scouring the globe for great additions to their list.
Chip and Doug have also been directing Ray’s to have a high focus on wine education as twelve of their employees have at least a level one sommelier certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers. There are also four level two sommeliers on staff and Doug mentioned “we want them to do this. We pay for their wine education and we want to have people who soak up the information and learn.” Doug continued “This really helps because you have to have the tools the that you need when selling a great bottle of wine. The court certification really helps you with learning about the wine but also how to sell the wine. The details are paramount.”
Now onto the dinner. We first started with the gorgeous 2005 Long Shadows ‘Poet’s Leap’ Riesling (WWB, 93). While the first two bottles were not showing normally, the third bottle of 2005 is a downright stunner, showing what this wine will do. Key lime and crushed white flower with petrol flavors show with vibrant minerality particularly shined considering the age of the wine and the heat of the vintage. The wine connected nicely with some fresh oysters.
The course of crab cakes were wonderfully prepared with a sweet corn cream sauce with a chorizo vinaigrette with kale also served as a great compliment to the Poet’s Leap Riesling as the sweetness of the crab and acidity of the dish mirrored the wine.
The next three wines were all served blind. Blind number one doubled as a great old left bank Bordeaux. The actual wine was a 1988 Columbia Winery ‘David Lake’ Cabernet Sauvignon (WWB, 91) which had remarkable character and musty tertiary flavors. This was a great left bank Bordeaux imposter that left us all scratching our heads that the wine was actually from Washington
The next course, and one of Ray’s signature seafood dishes, was the absolutely outstanding smoked sablefish with miso glaze. The smoky flavor and oily texture of this dish was to die for. I wanted to order another sablefish but smartly kept my mouth shut.
Our next course of New York steak with a peppercorn and red wine reduction was perfectly cooked medium rare and served as an amazing pairing for the wine that I brought, the 2008 Col Solare Red Wine (WWB, 94) which was drinking at its peak. There is no need to hold onto this beauty the way that it is currently showing.
The ending was even more memorable as we finished the night with two older dessert wines from some of the most famous houses in France. One of my favorite wines of the world and hands down one of the best producers of dessert wine is Chateau D’Yquem. I was able to sample the absolutely fascinating 1966 Chateau D’Yquem Sauternes (WWB, 90). What was so surprising about this bottle was how it was drinking like a mature Bordeaux blanc rather than a Sauternes, as the sweetness had slowly dissipated from the wine. Quite reductive, there were lighter tones of creme brûlée and roasted hazelnut, with banana on the palate. This was a treat to savor. We finished with a wine that was showing marvelously, the 1989 Trimbach ‘Cuvee Frederic Emile’ Riesling Venganges Tardives’ Riesling (WWB, 95) which was incredibly full of life at this time. The wine showed unctuous tones of starfruit, pear and vanilla cream, with a rich, oily texture. With the mixed cheese plate, this was a stunning combination, as the acidity was still quite vibrant in the wine. Needless to say these wines were a glorious end to a highly memorable dinner at Ray’s Boathouse.