Our dining experiences on our recent trip to Walla Walla, Washington, were necessarily impacted by state-imposed COVID-19 restrictions, but we nevertheless experienced great food and warm, attentive service at each place we dined. At the time we made our reservations at two of our favorite local restaurants, Passatempo Taverna and Hattaway’s on Alder, we had to book outdoor tables, as our party of four represented two different households. November in the southeast corner of Washington, at the base of the Blue Mountains, could mean either balmy 60-degree temperatures or snow or something in between, but we decided the rewards would be worth the risk. We also trusted that the businesses would make the experience as comfortable as possible.
Just a day or two before our arrival, the rules eased a bit, and we learned that parties up to six could be seated together indoors, regardless of whether they shared housing or not. That meant that when we arrived at Passatempo on Thursday evening, we could be escorted through its courtyard to a separate entrance into what would normally be its event/wine tasting space, avoiding a trek through the somewhat narrow and cramped bar and dining spaces. (Passatempo’s owners also operate The Walls Winery.) It was open, bright and modern, with light woods, white walls, black metal accents and large windows overlooking the patio courtyard. Best of all, it was warm and dry!
We were so thrilled to be dining with good friends and back in one of our favorite wine regions, feeling almost “normal” again, that I completely forgot about (annoyingly) photographing our menu selections, except for the two bottles of wine we’d brought to accompany our meal. Everything was delicious, as the chef does a wonderful job with serving up Italian comfort food. (Really, isn’t all Italian food comfort food?) We all shared an order of tomato focaccia, and then Harry and I shared a grilled radicchio salad with candied hazelnuts and apple cider vinaigrette. It was a lovely fall salad, and we followed up with a shared serving of roasted winter squash with brown butter and herbs . . . yum! We kept up the warm and hearty theme with Harry’s entrée of rigatoni with a braised beef and pork ragu, while I opted for the agnolotti, a pasta stuffed with sausage and squash. We topped off the meal with an oh-so-satisfyingly decadent slice of chocolate cake.
It rained pretty heavily all the next day as we made our way to several different wineries for scheduled tastings. Our dinner that evening at Hattaway’s would be quite chilly, with temperatures in the 40s at best, but fortunately the rain stopped less than an hour before our reservation. Thoughtfully, owner Richard Hattaway had called us that day to let us know that, although the dining restrictions had loosened, the only time they could seat us inside would be 4:00 (too early and would interfere with a tasting reservation). He also let us know he did not have heaters for the outside tables (restaurants across the country are scrambling for these, and the manufacturers can’t keep up with demand), but there would be umbrellas and blankets. We decided to keep our reservation (these dining spots really need supportive patrons!) and were glad we did. We came bundled up and settled in at our table on the sidewalk near a large front window. (It was just a bit of torture watching the diners inside sans coats, hats and scarves!) Again, thankfully, the rain had finally quit.
Hattaway’s serves great Southern-influenced food, so we stoked up on wonderfully hearty dishes. After sharing a farmhouse salad with my husband, I dove into a nice bowl of beef cheeks and gnocchi, and friends Lora and Randy ordered grilled octopus with German potato salad and a roasted red pepper and hazelnut romesco sauce and a modern take on a Southern staple: fried chicken schnitzel with a spicy grits cake. Harry chose the artfully plated pork collar, served atop smashed potatoes and a rich blue cheese cream and topped with a charred tomato chimichurri. Each dish was warm and filling, so we regretfully turned down dessert, though the Deschutes Porter and Toffee Bread Pudding was mighty tempting.
Yes, dining experiences have altered during this challenging time, but the reward of being able to share a fabulous meal with good friends while supporting local businesses is more than worth any slight inconveniences.
— Patty Vanikiotis, associate editor/copy editor
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