• Best Burger

Runner-up: Portway Tavern, Astoria

Honorable Mention: Fort George Brewery, Astoria

• Best Chef

Runner-up: Alec Evans, Astoria Coffee House & Bistro, Astoria

Honorable mention: Dan Brownson, Carruthers, Astoria

• Best Clam Chowder

Runners-up: Buoy Beer Co., Astoria

Mention: Fort George Brewery, Astoria

• Best Fine Dining

Runner up: Carruthers, Astoria

Honorable mention: T Paul’s Supper Club, Astoria

To watch Michael Lalewicz in his kitchen is to watch a master at his art.

The chef-owner of The Depot Restaurant has a tiny kitchen visible from the dining area. From their tables, guests can delight in the aroma as their meals are prepared.

On March 5, he and his partner Nancy Gorshe will mark 15 years running the restaurant in an unassuming building in Seaview on the southern end of the Long Beach Peninsula.

This year Coast Weekend readers voted it the best fine dining establishment, as well as naming Lalewicz the region’s best chef. Just like last year, The Depot won for best clam chowder and hamburgers.

Mention of fine dining may conjure up big-city images of white tablecloths, fancy glassware and elaborate table settings. But Lalewicz said The Depot isn’t big enough. “What we don’t have, we make up for with service and flavor,” he said. “You have to know your guests and know what they want.”

The elaborate menu begins with a choice of seven small-plate dishes which include Willapa Bay oysters with roasted garlic aioli dipping sauce or Peruvian mango sea scallops topped with pickled red onions.

Salads or two soups, Gazpacho Seville or chowder, can also be enjoyed before an entrée. The chowder features chopped razor clams, with garlic and leeks, potatoes that are cooked separately, plus fresh steamer clams in the shell that are added later.

Six meat selections include rack of lamb in a sauce verde, duck Marseille (with a cherry and Pinot Noir reduction), bacon-wrapped quail and pork braised in Southern Comfort barbecue sauce. Oysters, prawns, clams and a catch-of-the-day are on the seafood menu. Daily dessert specials follow.

Wednesdays are burger nights, ostensibly for locals during the non-summer season. Burger options are so complex that wait staff fill out a check-off card for each one. They can feature beef, buffalo, a Portobello mushroom or a fried oyster. There are 14 topping options — four cheeses, cheddar, blue, pepper jack or Swiss, plus lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles, jalapeño, pineapple, avocado, sautéed mushrooms, bacon and a fried egg.

The restaurant hosts nine themed wine dinners a year. For example, the annual November event celebrating Lewis and Clark features game meats. The next is Friday, March 2, and showcases six wines from The Basel Cellars in Walla Walla, Washington, including one called The Depot Red. Reservations are required.

Lalewicz grew up in Detroit, first working in an Italian restaurant where everything was made from scratch. He learned about preparing game on family hunting and fishing trips. Working as a caterer in the Washington, D.C., and Virginia-Maryland area, broadened his knowledge of seafood.

Gorshe has had a 30-year career in health care consulting. She continues to draw on her expertise as chairman of the board of the Ocean Beach Hospital commissioners and active service on the board of directors of the Washington State Hospitals Association.

Back in 1986, when she was the lobbyist for the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, she met Lalewicz when he catered her event

They moved to Portland two years later. His training at the Western Culinary Institute and the chance to travel around Europe and the U.S. for 20 years, sampling and studying the best restaurants, led to a desire to get back to cooking.

Fifteen years have passed in Seaview, and the couple say their only regrets are much less travel and many missed family events because they’ve been working weekends and holidays.

Gorshe suggested that the reason patrons like The Depot is the combination of cooking and service. People can enjoy a quiet romantic evening or a group gathering.

“Michael makes everything from scratch, and he creates unusually complex, wonderful dishes,” she said. “You are going to be surprised by the flavors in your mouth — one person who came here said, ’It’s like a party in your mouth.’

“It’s wonderful to watch their surprise from the complex textures, the colors and multiple tastes, like crunch and smooth.”

When Lalewicz is away, his sous chef, Jamie Gisby, is in charge. The third member of the cooking team is Roger Morey, chef de partie.

“Other places have a pastry guy and a hot line and a cold line,” Lalewicz said. “Here it’s just us, and we make all the deserts.”

Don Porter, serves as front of house manager and trains staff. Lead waitress is Ashley Wassmer, who began busing Depot tables when she was in high school.

As well as knowledge of the menu, Gorshe said they are taught to listen to customers.

“We really emphasize service — it’s their night,” she said. “Our customers are our friends, and then we have strangers, and our staff’s skill is to read them. If they want to be alone, we leave them alone for a quiet romantic evening.

“We like to make people comfortable and special — and read their needs so they have a wonderful dining experience.”

The Depot is located at 208 38th Place, Seaview, Washington. Call 360-642-7880 for reservations.

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