The sold-out “Clams and Hams” benefit dinner for Hopelink at Kirkland's on Lake Washington turned out to be a shell-cracking success on a warm and beautiful September evening.
“Someone was looking out for us,” said Jennifer Metz, event coordinator for the Woodmark, relieved that skies were clear.
Guests began trickling in a little before 6 Friday evening, enjoying a cocktail from one of the two bars or exchanging a drink ticket for a cold glass of Chateau Ste. Michelle chardonnay. That trickle quickly turned into a flood as a couple hundred guests dressed in everything from shorts and cowboy hats to button-downs and party dresses descended on the Woodmark’s back lawn. Every age group from diapers to walkers showed up, ready to have a good time for a good cause.
We considered ourselves lucky to spend the first night of autumn with such a stunning view as the sun set over Lake Washington.
Hungry guests had great options and lines queued steadily throughout the evening. The Woodmark Hotel’s executive chef Brian Cooper served traditional clambake fare, including a visually pleasing contrast of blue-violet mussels and bright yellow corn cobs. The clams shared a table with several chowder choices.
Since the evening was a bit too warm for a hot creamy chowder, I followed chef de cuisine Matthew Steffan’s advice, opting for the tomato-based Manhattan chowder. It was wonderfully peppery with ample clams.
Over at the fry station, crisp, hot Mac and Jack's battered halibut was made to order and served with housemade potato chips. The accompanying coleslaw was everything that most coleslaw is not -- crunchy, sweet and creamy with buttermilk instead of the usual mayonnaise.
But the real show stopper was at the pig station, easily recognizable because there was, well, a piggy face to lure guests. Woodmark banquet chef Sam Ardis manned the pork table, serving sweet and lusciously tender cuts from the “low and slow” cooked pig. Ardis claims to have brined and slow-roasted approximately 175 pounds of meat in the form of four pigs for “Clams and Hams.”
Guests piled their plates and plucked a seat under the great white tent, dining on the feast while listening to the live tunes of Portland-based Renegade String Band. The six-member band consisted of an upright bass, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, guitar and singer. Reminiscent of American acoustic trio Nickel Creek, the Renegade String Band played folksy covers as well as original numbers and even inspired a few happy guests to dance the night away.
The evening wasn’t complete without a trip to the beignet table. Two varieties -- a biscuit-based pillow style and a cream puff dough round -- were showered in powdered sugar. Diners could opt for a drizzle of housemade caramel sauce. The round doughnut was certainly the better of the two as the pillow-shaped beignet was disappointingly dense and chewy.
Hopelink CEO Marilyn Mason-Plunkett and board treasurer Andy Goerdel interrupted the music very briefly to thank the guests for their support. Goerdel gave a short plug for the upcoming Hopelink 16th Annual Reaching Out Benefit Luncheon on Monday, Oct. 17 at Bellevue’s , featuring keynote speaker Tom Colicchio, master chef and television personality and an advocate for healthy school lunches in America.
If you missed out on the fun this year, not to worry. A tweet from the Woodmark Hotel the morning after the event claimed the clambake was “a smashing success” and that the hotel “will do it again next year for sure!!”