Monday, April 11, 2011

Fino and The Fork, Restaurant Reviews

Fino and The Fork At Agate Bay are miles apart, in distance and style, but in their hearts it is all about the food.  Fortunate for diners, to be sure.  Fino, perches over Bellingham Bay nestled inside the Chrysalis Spa near Fairhaven boasting stunning views and an opportunity to indulge in a glass of fine wine while watching one of our best kept summer secrets, a spectacular sunset, fade away in a blaze of color.  Unlike so many restaurants with fab views, Fino resists the temptation to trade looks for substance.  With an eclectic Continental/Mediterranean menu and options allowing for varying appetites Fino is a delight, and a serious wine bar with a large and well chosen cellar.

In my case I began with french salad: heart of tomato, warm chevre cake, baby greens & champagne vinaigrette.  It was perfectly prepared and set the stage for what was to come.  I was charmed and amazed with my charcuterie sampler featuring chicken liver pate', country pork terrine, duck rillettes, pickled vegetables and an olive medley.  Often I shy away from such offerings, since producing a truly fine pate' has seemed beyond the scope of Whatcom County restaraunts (Tivoli duly noted as an exception), and because the olives commonly selected are too briny for my taste.  I screwed up my courage, though, and was well rewarded with a plate carefully selected and executed with true mastery.  This sampler and a glass of red was nothing short of a culinary miracle for me and I enjoyed every morsel.
My dining companion enjoyed the seafood risotto featuring salmon, halibut, crab & citrus gremolata.  I was so engaged by my plate I neglected to snitch a sample, but was assured it was expertly prepared and more than generous.  Trusting her judgement is good enough for me and you can count on it yourself.  

The varied and changing menu and excellent wine and beer selection will have me coming back regularly for a touch of luxury close to home.  I recommend you do the same, often.

The Fork At Agate Bay, by contrast, is tucked away far along the north shore of Lake Whatcom overlooking a gravel parking lot at the fork in the road--literally.  The Fork instead, charms from the inside, having created an intimate, comfortable space away from the distractions of life where a limited, but carefully chosen, wine list and beer selection and a spectacular menu allow the cares of the day to melt away.  Having risen from the metaphorical ashes of a burgers & brewskies/general store that just couldn't find sufficient traction with locals to stay alive, it has transformed into a dining destination that merits serious attention, (you can check out the menu by clicking on their name highlighted above).  The first, best, way to discover if any restaurant knows what they are doing is to try an entree featuring game.  Venison, duck or most other game tends to be extremely lean (all the fat in a duck is in the skin) and it takes real skill to avoid the 'rubber ball' experience of overcooking.  I should also note that it takes a patron with an educated palate and an understanding that 'well-done' are words that should be banished from every dining facility in America.

Having said that, The Forks presented me with a perfectly prepared Muscovy duck breast with a traditional and amazingly flavorful serving of lentils.  They cheerfully substituted a brilliant Brussels sprout hash for broccolini (which I just plain don't like) finished with a port current gastrique, the latter being a perfect counterpoint while deftly avoiding the predictable syrupy sweet sauce commonly sloshed over a duck breast.  Kudos duly awarded.

My dining companion enjoyed another notoriously difficult dish to prepare--seared fresh halibut.  Oh, I know, halibut is served damn near everywhere in the Pacific N.W., but rarely is it done correctly, again mostly suffering from overcooking, over saucing (frequently the disguise of choice for unskilled chefs), or often both.  This generous serving was perfectly seasoned (which means minimally), seared very hot and very quickly and accompanied by a Meyer lemon & marscapone risotto and some yummy seasonal vegetables.

This experience vaulted The Forks to the top 5 list of places I will go when I want a great meal, and I didn't even get to the fabulous preparation of the steamer clams appetizer or not-to-sweet but ever so luscious bread pudding dessert.  Take a drive along the North Shore, you can ooh and ahh over the pricey houses along the lakefront along the way, but the real treat is waiting for you at the fork in the road!

Friday, April 8, 2011

We've Been Here Before

As inexorable as the tides, as relentless as wolves chasing a wounded elk and as predictable as sunrise, another silly season is about to get under way in the form of Elections 2012.

Already declared is Barack Obama, seeking a second term as President.  On the right, jockeying to see who can be the farthest right, are such luminaries and lunkheads as Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Haley Barbour and pizza king Herman Cain.  Lurking in the shadows are Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty and--unbelievably--the Donald (Trump, that is).  Rest assured, there are others waiting to wax and wane in the coming months as ambition trumps common sense in the hinterlands.

The Republicans have been playing a game of chicken with the government again, the actual shutdown of government, which played out so well for them the last go round, in the hope that no one will notice how willfully stupid is such a game.  Worse yet is that this isn't even an effort to save taxpayer dollars.  Repubs have already extracted the entire amount they wanted in this round of negotiations with regard to money.

This transparent political ploy leaves one breathless.  Not satisfied with the economic concessions, hard-liners on the right in the House of Representatives are holding out (and threatening to shut down the government) on issues as far-ranging as defunding Planned Parenthood and NPR to taking the enforcement teeth out of the EPA.  The hope here is that the Dems will either blink first and cave, which would be catastrophic to the party principles, or that by holding firm the liberals will somehow end up taking the bullet in public perception.  Don't fall for it.  

First, at some point a compromise will be reached that will not achieve all their stated goals.  If this occurs without significant support from Republican House membership then Boehner will find himself presiding over a fractured party and his Speakership will have failed.  Bad news for Republicans with an election on the horizon.  Second, unbudgeted money will have to be spent to re-start what was shut down, not to mention pay additional interest for debts deferred during the dispute.  The notion of savings are purely an illusion, exactly the sort of smoke-and-mirrors showpiece conservatives hope will turn the tide for them come election day next year.

Don't be afraid to look behind the curtain.  You will discover the Great and Powerful Oz is really just the same tired old men, bemoaning how badly done to the business community is and how overpaid and under worked are union members and the middle-class.  Alongside are the same social demands that the radical right has been pushing unsuccessfully for three decades.  Lift the lid and uncover the machinery hidden behind and you will see the same culprits.  Look for huge donations from corporations, the Koch brothers, the National Chamber of Commerce (with a much different agenda than the friendly folks pitching for your local hardware store) and Big Oil.  Made much more convenient when the Supreme Court concluded that corporations were 'people'.  At some point in the future another court will revisit the ruling and conclude that this ranks right up there with Dred Scott as one of the worst decisions in court history.

These are watershed times for the United States.  We can fall back to the fear that has led us down the path of intolerance, suspicion and hate.  There are plenty of examples to use as guideposts.  Recall your history, remember McCarthyism?  How about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII?  Go back a little further to Father Coughlin, or the Chinese Exclusion Act, or even as far back as when we were still a freshly minted country with the Alien & Sedition Act.  Or, we can buck up and do the right thing.  Lincoln freed the slaves, Teddy Roosevelt busted the Trusts (we call them cartels these days, or in some cases Too Big To Fail), FDR created a program to stem the tide of retirement poverty, LBJ forced the Voting Rights Act, and, ironically enough, Richard Nixon created the EPA.

We can do the right thing when we need to.  And we really need to now.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

New Tricks for an Old Dog

After due consideration it seemed appropriate that I make a few cosmetic changes to my blog to more accurately represent what I do on these pages.  It also serves to modernize (I hope) the mechanisms by which you may follow my ruminations.  I have added the option to follow this blog via email subscription, and I'm pretty sure I've enabled an rss feed via Atom or possibly Google--maybe both.  Not being a full-on techno guy, and more of a do-it-yourself-er, the results remain untested for the moment.

In the meantime, you may anticipate upcoming blogs with teasers like, We've Been Here Before, my take on some of the political histrionics in the run-up to the 2012 election.  (Sigh heavily, yes, it is already that time again.).  Also on the horizon, reviews of three books:  the debut books, How Faithful A Heart, by Lynette Erwin, Law of Attraction by Allison Leotta and the latest thriller by Robert Dugoni, Murder One.

Somewhere in the midst of all this I will carve out some time to promote my own novel, due for release soon entitled Island Dawn.  Plus I may even write a short story or two to post on these pages.  Something I haven't done in some time and is quite overdue.

Take heart, readers.  There is more coming soon, I promise!