June 15, 2013 – The Baroness was quite a lady in her day.
Designed by architect James Schack in the Art Deco style popular in the early part of the last century, the Baroness opened its doors as an apartment hotel on Seattle’s First Hill in 1931. Several wealthy families had built mansions in the First Hill neighborhood in the 1880s and ‘90s. By the 1920s, however, the area was becoming known as a medical center with several hospitals opening their doors, including Virginia Mason in 1923.
Schack’s distinctive Art Deco designs are still evident today in the elegant old lobby, in the terra cotta designs scattered above several of the external windows and in small touches throughout the apartments and rooms on the hotel’s six floors. The neon sign announcing the “Baroness Apt. Hotel” has clung to the corner of the building since 1938.
Not much is known about Ludwig Stark and John Armin, the original owners. Harold Steiner bought the hotel in 1969 and his family managed it for the next four decades. It was known as a respectable apartment hotel with many residents living there for years. The elder Steiner personally visited estate sales to purchase most of the paintings that decorate the first floor walls.
The venerable old building was called to a higher purpose when it was purchased by Virginia Mason Hospital in 2006. Since that time its main function has been to house patients coming to Virginia Mason for treatment. Many of those patients are Alaskans from the southeast part of our state. Residents of Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan often head south to Seattle rather than north to Anchorage for medical treatment. One day I met a couple from Eagle on the elevator. Eagle is up north near the Canadian border. Up there where the mercury has been known to drop to 60 below zero on a winter day.
The Baroness has been a home away from home for thousands of people arriving hopeful that their health would be restored. Many have recovered and returned to their homes to resume their lives. Others have been less fortunate. Through it all the staff of the Baroness Hotel has earned a reputation for compassion. For doing all they can to assist each guest through what can often be very difficult times.
My friend, Rich Listowski, is one of the success stories. His kidney transplant was successful. His life has been restored to him. He walked out of the Baroness with a bounce in his step.
I had volunteered to spend a few days during his recovery to help in whatever way I could. Fortunately by the time I arrived at the Baroness he was toward the end of the recovery period and was doing fine. My job became simply to be nearby. And to accompany Rich to a few fine restaurants to celebrate the beginning of this new and improved chapter in his life.
As good as the restaurants were, however, by the time the weekend rolled around we were ready for food less fancy. Rich wanted to rest, watch Phil Mickelson’s valiant but doomed attempt to win the U.S. Open and cook some halibut in the small kitchen of his apartment at the Baroness.
Rich cooks halibut about as well as it can be cooked and I told him so.
“I guess that means I’m cooking the halibut,” he said.
“Guess so,” I replied. But I said I’d come up with a side dish.
The trick to cooking halibut is keeping it simple and moist. It has a wonderful, mild flavor of its own that needs little help. Tending it carefully so that it doesn’t overcook and become dry is critical. The flesh should be, Rich says, between opaque and pure white.
For a side dish I wanted something that had a little spice, maybe a little tartness to counter balance the mildness of the halibut. I came up with rice with jalapenos and a lime juice-based dressing. A nice combination of heat and cool.
Rich Listowski’s Halibut
2 halibut filets with skin on, 8 oz each
Juice of ½ a lemon
6 tablespoons salted butter
A healthy dose of lemon pepper
Preheat the oven to broil.
Place the filets in an oven proof dish. Spread each filet with 3 tablespoons of butter. Squeeze lemon juice over the filets and sprinkle generously with lemon pepper.
Broil the filets for five minutes with the skin side up. Turn the filets over and broil an additional four minutes with the skin side down.
Rice with a Little Heat, a Little Cool
2 cups cooked white rice 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 jalapeno, sliced with seeds attached 1 tablespoon honey
12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half 1 teaspoon cumin
1 avocado, cut into ½ inch pieces Juice of 2 limes
3 green onions, sliced thin Salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
Saute jalapeno over moderately high heat in one tablespoon of olive oil until it begins to soften, about three minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until they begin to soften and break down, two to three minutes. Add the jalapeno and tomatoes to the rice, along with the avocado, green onions and cilantro. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
Make a dressing by whisking together the remaining olive oil, honey, lime juice and cumin. Taste and adjust sweet or tart as necessary. Add salt and pepper to taste.