Hotel’s modern menu meets Victorian charm

Laura Jean Schneider Leader News Staff
Posted 10/27/21

 

 

It’s been just a year since Jessica Jennings and Eric Wennberg took over the keys to the Bishop Hotel, a 16-suite boutique getaway in downtown Port Townsend.

The …

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Hotel’s modern menu meets Victorian charm

Posted

 

 

It’s been just a year since Jessica Jennings and Eric Wennberg took over the keys to the Bishop Hotel, a 16-suite boutique getaway in downtown Port Townsend.

The 131-year-old brick building has undergone an interior transformation to make way for a delightful new enterprise under the same roof: the Bishop Block Bottle Shop. Recently hired chef Cameron Irving-Mills and his partner Kristen Skeel are bringing bites and bottles together to create an elegant, affordable experience in a spacious, redesigned room.

Terra cotta walls of exposed brick surround a luxe contemporary interior, where an over-stuffed butterscotch colored L-shaped sofa pipes into the room like eclair filling. Surprisingly comfortable modern chairs are situated in pairs nearby; bar seating at the window lets folks people watch, while 10 or so two-tops are amply distanced throughout.

Soft music, moody lighting, and a selection of hand-stocked luxuries, to keep or give, from wines stashed into repurposed oak wainscoting cubbies  to body oils, cast an immersive spell throughout.

It’s a sensory experience that just begs one to sit awhile.

Do so with your mouth full.

“We love boutique hotels,” Wennberg said.

He and Jennings have worked way more than overtime in the last year to bring their vision into focus. Jennings said she felt that a food and beverage component would be a great way to include the local community, too.

“It’s what we like to enjoy ourselves,” Wennberg said of the new food and beverage offerings.

“It’s really small-scale,” he added, but it’s a place to start. Coffee and pastries are available for the early birds and the public from 8 a.m. daily. A menu starring local ingredients will be updated regularly, but foodies can expect to see staples like seasonal mushroom toast on the menu long-term. Restaurant hours are 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, but that is likely to change as time goes on.

Beverages include wine, beer, and kombucha.

“We love Propolis,” Wennberg said of the local Port Townsend brewery.

“It’s my favorite brewery,” he said, adding that he meant of all-time. (The bar’s sole on-tap beer is their spruce saison brewed with spelt and spruce tips.)

Chef Irving-Mills looks to the beverage to inform the dish in a sort of reverse pairing way.

“You can’t change the wine,” he said, but you can cook food to go with it.

He looks to his partner Skeel, the unofficial Bishop sommelier, as a guide. Her decade of experience in the wine industry is based in the Pacific Northwest, where she worked at Arden restaurant in Portland, and Bottlehouse in Seattle. She skipped out of grad school to pursue a more meaningful career, and now this Port Townsend native is back to stay.

Together, the two couples have Sunday tastings where they experiment with taste and flavor. The Bishop Bottle Shop will place a large emphasis on biodynamic and unfiltered wines, such as Joe Swicks’ Oregon-grown Zero Point Zero Nebbiolo, a minimal intervention wine, and Martha Stowman Wines, which uses a natural, native fermentation process.

“Leaving it unfiltered allows you to experience it in it’s unaltered or natural state,” Skeel added.

But bottles just aren’t as good without bites, and that’s where Irving-Mills shines. He cut his teeth in the restaurant world, and brings 18 years in kitchens, from Michelin three-star restaurants to cafes, to the compact kitchen at the Bishop.

Wiry, succinct, and specific, the chef said upscale San Fransisco restaurant RN74 formed his entire cooking career.

“That place like, made me,” Irving-Wells said, citing that former chef Jason Berthold was integral to his approach.

Tucked behind the hotel lobby’s counter is a kitchen just big enough for Irving-Mills, or a person and a half, as he said.

“I’ve worked in smaller,” Irving-Mills said.

Pulling a pan of roasted pie pumpkins from the oven, he flipped a piece over to show how the inside was packed with savory herbs. The flesh would become the base for a vegan pumpkin soup.

The kitchen was packed with Red Dog Farms produce. Trimmed and cooked celeriac waited attention on a countertop, robust purple hombre radishes burst from a sink. A pan of roasted radicchio, the main ingredient for the chef’s play on a caesar, would be paired with house-made croutons, roasted pepitas (made from the guts of the Red Dog pumpkins), and tossed with a tahini dressing.

“It’s about bringing what’s available here on the Peninsula downtown,” the chef said, talking sourcing.

“I like to cook,” Irving-Mills said simply.

“I eat mostly plant based,” he added, but he does have a knack for finding sustainable protein sources for his menu.

Right now, there’s salmon rillettes on the menu. The fish is from Key City, the lovely hue topped with a layer of creme fraiche that would make butter jealous.

The evening eats, which are categorized as “smaller” and “bigger,” are priced between $5 and $13.

“I like to go out to eat, and I’m not drowning in money,” Irving-Mills said, emphasizing that there will be something on his menu for a wide range of budgets.

Simple, delicious food is Irving-Mills’ goal.

“Underpromise and overdeliver,” he added. “I’m super ambitious.”

While the chef’s goal is to make everything in-house someday, from salts to butter, he’s working his way ahead, “keeping it fun and super whimsical.”

His favorite knives? “Sharp ones,” Irving-Mills said, before adding that he does favor a Japanese-made Glestaine knife.

Visitors have their choice of dining inside, or taking their drinks and bites to the outdoor patio behind the hotel. The beautifully landscaped gardens flank a brick courtyard and fireplace area; it’s socially distancing at its most divine — and delicious.

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