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Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.

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May 6, 2008 11:35 AM

Anybody know this guy?

Posted by Nancy Leson

Let me give you a Hint:

Long before Seattle got the word about what to eat and where to find it -- via internet web sites, blogs and chat-rooms, chef-celeb radio and Food TV -- there was Seattle Times restaurant critic and columnist John Hinterberger. For 25 years, he reigned as Seattle's voice of food and restaurants. When Hint talked, people listened, and believe me, his was a hard act to follow -- something I did nearly a decade ago when I took the job as lead critic for the Times.

I remember, back in the day, reading his reviews, chatting him up about his work when he'd come into Saleh al Lago where I was a waitress, and even (be still my beating heart!) getting a mention in his news column once when I challenged his opinion of a local Thai joint.

I've kept in touch with John off and on since his retirement (actually, he retired twice, returning to work as the Times' freelance critic six years before he stopped reviewing for good), but haven't seen him in way too long. So when Sally McArthur arranged a lunchtime rendezvous at Chinook's -- where, back in the (opening) day nearly 20 years ago, she was chef-exec -- we, of course said, "Oui." So we went, we ate (oysters, natch), schmoozed and got caught up. Sally. . .

. . . who now spends much of her time in France, told a hilarious tale about Chinook's, where, two days after its opening, Hint showed up with his pal and colleague Alf Collins. According to Sally, she was busy in the back overseeing an enormous crew, putting out a brand-new menu with 120 items in a brand-new kitchen, and in her spare time hand-rolling schiacciata -- the precursor to the focaccia Chinook's serves today ("It was much flatter than this," she said, holding up a square of herb- and salt-bedecked bread). Upon hearing the Seattle Times critic was in the house, she says she came thisclose to running out of the kitchen, heavy Italian rolling pin in hand, to beat Hint over the head.

But yesterday a good time was had by all -- including, apparently, a couple dozen international journalists from England and Japan who toured Fisherman's Terminal before dining in the semi-private room in back. There, they ate local seafood with members of the Seattle-based fishing crews of the Northwestern and the Time Bandit: guys whose dangerous escapades catching crab in the Bering Sea made them stars of "The Deadliest Catch" and the subject of two books, "Deadliest Catch: Desperate Hours," and "Time Bandit: Two Brothers, the Bering Sea and One of the World's Deadliest Jobs."

Which explains why, as I was walking into Chinook's, I spied a clutch of hard-core looking dudes catching a smoke outside and discussing, "$#@!$% journalists." (And when I left later, one of them was attempting to do wheelies in the parking lot with his flashy red sports car):

Anyway, in case you were wondering how Hinterberger's been doing, it's worth noting that he, too, is tooling around in a flashy new car -- a Honda coupe -- spending time with his daughters and three grandchildren (two more are on the way), planning a visit to see his 96-year-old mother, reading like a fiend (he's presently working his way through "Inside the Third Reich"), and generally enjoying his retirement. Here we are, smiling for the camera:

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Posted by Teri

1:19 PM, May 06, 2008

I'm so happy to see pictures and hear how Hint is doing these days. I've been googling him like crazy the last few years and not coming up with much on his retirement.

Pass on how he changed my life early on in my relocation to Seattle from New York in 1972. I learned the proper way to build a fire in my fireplace (skip the grate) and I still make his pasta with clam sauce -- a much worn out piece of news print.

How about a guest blog from him?

Posted by Ballard Boy

3:22 PM, May 06, 2008

I too have been wondering about Hint! How great to hear that he is doing well and enjoying retired life. John was the one who guided me during my formative years into the varied restaurants I might not have gone to on my own. He broadened my education and I could never thank him enough.

I agree with Teri. I would love to hear from John about the local food scene as it is today!

Posted by Simonian

4:40 PM, May 06, 2008

Years ago in high school I spent a week shadowing John Hartl. We had a copy of "The 47th Snail" at home, so I decided to take it with me and see if I could find Hinterberger to autograph it. I hadn't started looking yet, but was sitting wriitng a review of "Turk 182" when I heard a voice behind me say "what are you doing with that book in your pocket?" It was Hint, who had found me, and was I think surprised that anyone had the book at all. It's still in a box somewhere. I need to find it and read it again.

Posted by a Ballard fan

10:32 PM, May 06, 2008

I love and miss John Hinterberger, and I especially love his clam sauce recipe! It is well loved by many who have tasted it at my home and requested the recipe. You should post it here, in his honor!

Posted by s

11:20 PM, May 06, 2008


Posted by Debbie

5:43 AM, May 07, 2008

I'm late seeing yesterday's blog & I knew exactly who that was in the picture! I used to read everything Hinterberger wrote, & a highlight of my baking career was having him rave over the great pies we were baking at brusseau's! (July 4, 1993.)

Posted by Cornichon

11:08 AM, May 08, 2008

Without Hint, Seattle would still be a culinary wasteland, without baguettes or panini to feed us, without San Pellegrino or Ste. Michelle to slake our thirst. Without food blogs kindled by his spirit guiding, us we would wander another 40 years in the desert. Hint was truly our Moses; it's heartwarming that he made it through..

Posted by mike

3:26 PM, May 08, 2008

Hint, I am guessing you'll read this; hope so, anyway. Your food writing is what made me even aware that good writing was not just found in books. I miss your voice even all these years later.

Posted by Ron

5:25 PM, May 08, 2008

Pasta with clam sauce! I think I can even find copies of his books I purchased back in the day. Great to hear he's enjoying life,

Posted by Jennifer

7:51 AM, Jul 23, 2008

Nancy Leson kills me and not in a good way. Today (7/23) she told us that we should buy lobster crackers as a wedding gift because everytime she uses hers she thinks of the person who gave them to her for her wedding. Are you eating lobster on a regular basis, Nancy? Sheesh. Then her tweedle dum counterpart Dick Stein chimed in with a disparaging comment about poor white people as "crackers." Good one, Dick. I dislike her so much that I actually googled her to see what she looks like. Next time I'll just turn off the radio when she comes on like I usually do.

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