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!