During my recent one-week trip to Seattle, I met back up with my friends Doug and Dani to enjoy another dinner at a nice restaurant. Last time we went to Shiro’s Sushi; this time, Dani selected Shaker + Spear in the Belltown district of downtown Seattle.
Our first appetizer was rockfish ancho ceviche with red onions, cucumber, lime, and cilantro.
This was a little bit too sour for my personal preference, but I think it was still very tasty. The rockfish had a nice spongy texture that was very satisfying to chew down on, and the crispiness of the cucumber provided a pleasant contrast. The overall proportions of the ingredients in the dish were also good—you only need a little bit of cucumber to complement the rockfish, and accordingly, the dish was mostly rockfish and a lesser ratio of cucumber.
Next was charred octopus with cucumber, Fresnos, mirin, sunflower seeds, cilantro, aji amarillo, lime, and olive oil.
This was probably one of my favorite dishes of all time. The firmness of the octopus was perfect—soft enough that it was effortlessly edible, but firm enough that it had the satisfying resistance you’d expect from meat. The sauce was indescribably delicious. The cucumber added the perfect amount of freshness when drenched in the sauce. The seeds added a fun element of crunchiness to the dish while also contributing a deep nuttiness. The peppers were subtle enough that they didn’t distract from any of the core flavors.
Dani wanted to get some street corn with chili, cotija, lime vegan mayo, lime zest, and cilantro.
I think most cheeses smell like vomit. I think I can just leave it at that and you can probably guess how much I liked the corn.
If you know me, then it’s probably unsurprising that I also got an order of Pacific Northwest oysters with red wine mignonette and lemon.
I eat a lot of oysters. I like the flavor of them untarnished by any sauces, so I always eat them plain. I found these particular oysters to be of pretty good quality, but not notably special.
Doug, on the other hand, found them to be absolutely stellar; he said that he doesn’t often eat oysters, but these were some of the best he has ever had.
Our main entrées were taking a while to come out, so while we were waiting, we were served a fifth starter/appetizer, compliments of the chef—honey prosciutto toast with chili onion jam, honey, and brie atop house sourdough.
Doug and Dani only had one quarter of one piece each, so I ended up eating one and a half out of the two pieces. If it was up to me, I would’ve reduced the amount of brie because the prosciutto was just slightly lacking in sufficient intensity to balance out the taste of the brie, but overall, I thought it was pretty good. It had a decent amount of sweetness to it because of the jam and honey, so it was a great way to mix up the flavors on my taste buds a bit prior to jumping into the main courses.
Dani ordered sundried tomato risotto with heirloom cherry tomatoes, sautéed shrimp, Grana Padano, and butter.
I took a small bite of a small portion of risotto, and it wasn’t much different than if I had just taken a bite out of a block of mushy cheese. I am literally not exaggerating when I say that I did not taste anything, at all, except cheese.
I’m sure it would’ve been better if I had mixed some shrimp into my bite, but note that including shrimp in the dish is an add-on; I am confused about the people who would order this without any add-ons and practically just eat … cheese.
Dani also ordered a side of truffle parmesan fries with black garlic aioli, which we shared as a table.
I like potatoes, so unsurprisingly, I liked the fries. I think it would’ve been a lot better without the parmesan (or at least a whole lot less of it), but I managed to just dodge it and eat the fries that didn’t have any cheese on them.
For his entrée, Doug selected pan-seared king salmon with pea purée, yuzu gel, pickled pearl onions, and peas.
Doug and I ended up splitting our entrées half-and-half, so I got to taste some of both his salmon as well as the pork pictured below. The portion size on the salmon was disappointingly small, but it was still good salmon. The peas and yuzu gel complemented the salmon nicely and enhanced the flavor of the fish.
Upon recommendation by the waitress, I ordered roasted pork shoulder with creamed local greens, pickled Rainier cherries, and cherry pit jus.
This was probably one of the best cuts of pork I’ve ever had in my life. The meat was amazingly tender and had an intensely strong pork flavor without being too overwhelming or gamey at all. As you may know, a lot of the flavor of meat comes from the fat; this cut of pork shoulder had a great ratio of fat to meat, and it had just enough that I was able to add some pork fat to each bite without it being so much that it was slimy.
The pickled Rainier cherries and cherry jus added a very unique facet to the dish which I enjoyed a lot. They were slightly sweet, but the sweetness was subdued enough that it was clearly prominently a pork dish and not a jumble of different flavors.
Doug also gave a glowing review of the pork shoulder. He didn’t give too many details, but he liked it a lot.
For dessert, we got a scoop of the seasonal sorbet—prickly pear.
In case it wasn’t blatantly obvious from the photograph, the sorbet didn’t actually come with those ridges. Doug accidentally started eating before I got to take a photo, but when he realized, he pulled the spoon out. He noticed that the spoon had left an indentation in the sorbet, but instead of just putting the spoon back into the ridge for a more natural photo, he proceeded to create artificial ridges throughout the entire serving. So the only picture I have shows the sorbet with some … decorations. 🤦
Another mildly funny story… I was originally under the impression that prickly pear was actually Pyrus pyrifolia, colloquially known as the Asian pear. When I tasted the sorbet, the flavor also resembled an Asian pear. Shortly afterwards, Dani looked up what prickly pears actually were, and apparently, they are the fruit of a certain type of cactus. That was an incredibly confusing thing to find out, especially while I had a bite of the sorbet in my mouth and could’ve sworn it was Asian pear.
|Rockfish ancho ceviche
|| $ 14.00
|| $ 23.00
|| $ 12.00
|Half-dozen PNW oysters
|| $ 24.00
|Honey prosciutto toast
|| $ 0.00
|Risotto with shrimp
|| $ 34.00
|| $ 13.00
|| $ 40.00
|Roasted pork shoulder
|| $ 36.00
|Prickly pear sorbet
|| $ 6.00
|| $ 10.30
|| $ 22.18
|| $ 50.00
|| $ 288.48
The chart to the right outlines how much we paid for each item. Yes, that is indeed a 5% surcharge. If you know me, you know that I have a bone to pick with this restaurant because of it.
At the bottom of the menu, there is an explanation of the surcharge: “We are a proud supporter of the Seattle Minimum Wage Ordinance. A 5% surcharge to support this will be added to your bill. 100% of this surcharge is retained by Shaker + Spear and is not directly distributed as a tip or gratuity to the restaurant’s staff. As always, gratuity for service rendered is at your discretion and is directly distributed to staff members.”
In the spirit of “voting with your wallet,” there is nothing that makes me want to never go back to a business again more than mandatory extra charges and fees. If there is a voluntary extra fee for an opt-in add-on service, that is fine. However, if there is something that you are required to do as part of the core experience, that should be built into the list price, not added on as a roundabout manner via a surcharge.
For example, hotel resort fees are fine if you are able to opt out of the amenities and not pay them; they are not fine when every single guest is required to pay it anyway, even if they never step foot into the resort area, and in that situation, it should just be included in the room rate.
If Shaker + Spear needs more positive cash flow to help afford paying employees a higher wage, it is perfectly acceptable to charge more for the food. They just need to adjust the actual pricing on their offerings and print that true price directly on the menu. The solution is not to underhandedly add on a dollar or two onto every item at the end of your meal.
I actually did not even realize we were charged an extra fee until after I finished writing the upper review part of this blog post and pulled up a photograph of the receipt to complete this cost breakdown section. In confusion, I had to pull up online copies of the menu to search for the explanation of the surcharge written at the bottom in fine print.
I am reacting quite negatively to this because the premise of being expected to pay gratuity to your servers in the United States is already bad enough, and I do not want our culture to further normalize even more extra add-on costs on top of the list price. All the food (at least the dishes without cheese) were delicious and I had an amazing experience at the restaurant, but because of the surcharge, I cannot recommend this restaurant, as this kind of business practice is a deal-breaker for me.