Archive for July, 2011

In Seattle it’s not a surprise to come across a fabulous restaurant serving great cuisine. I don’t expect it 47 miles north, in the little town of Arlington, Washington. Here it is, though, Bistro San Martin, and I’m enjoying well-prepared, creative dishes served perfectly. I’m not questioning, just happily indulging. The chef/owner, Martin Estrada-Perez, left Mexico several years ago and worked for other restaurants before opening this one in 2005. Wearing a high hat with pheasant feathers stuck in the brim, he moves around the open kitchen, stirring sauces and tossing chopped garlic with a sure hand, occasionally flashing a smile at rapt customers. His assistant Olga helps keep the kitchen running smoothly, and his co-worker and general manager, Steve Van Matre, takes care of the busy room, stopping at each table with a friendly greeting. The word is out; the bistro, with a menu that’s expensive for the area, is full on a week night.

First comes an amuse-bouche, compliments of the house: two crispy won-tons topped with a smidge of guacamole and a tomato/onion relish. Then my friend Myrna and I share an appetizer, a twist on insalata caprese — oven-roasted tomatoes with fresh herbs, goat cheese, olive oil, and a balsamic infusion. It goes well with warm bread and a glass of Columbia Valley Sauvignon blanc.  Next time I’ll try the house specialty, mushroom puff pastry, a wonderfully rich combination of local mushrooms, garlic and herbs, served in pastry with a brandy cream sauce. The escargots and Dungeness crab cakes beg to be tasted, too.

My Caesar salad with grilled prawns is classic and excellent (spendy–$5 for 3 prawns?–but perfect).  Myrna’s poached pear salad is a melange of greens, pears in red wine, Cambozola cheese, and toasted hazelnuts. Main dishes range from $16.50 for tiger prawns linguini to $34.50 for filet mignon wrapped with bacon, topped with roasted onion and bleu cheese butter, and served with mashed potatoes and vegetables. That sounds rich enough to make the cholesterol level take notice.  I’ll more likely order the roasted half-duckling with Bing cherries, almond couscous, and vegies. Even then I’ll take half of it home.

When you eat here, do not neglect the desserts, all made in-house by Chef Martin. They vary. Examples are lemon creme brulee, panna cotta with honey-caramel and Almond Roca, and vanilla mousse cake with fresh fruit and almonds. The cake is light and delicate, a final sweet touch to a great meal. However, my plan for the next visit is to save room for “Naughty Chocolate Cake,” dark mousse on a fudgy crust, with a chocolate coating and the whole treat spiced with a dash of cayenne. Now that’s chocolate.

Bistro San Martin has a full bar and  selection of wines from around the world, favoring Pacific NW labels. A few are available by the glass.


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Ten tons of river rock, plus ten marbles, are in the 20-foot-high fireplace at River Rock Inn. Now you know the answers to two of four questions Bob Watkins will ask when you’re a guest at his B&B, and if you get them right, you’ll win a prize. No, I didn’t win, but do I care? I’m far too relaxed, here in the peace and quiet of the North Cascades foothills, to fret over such things. River Rock Inn Bed and Breakfast and Retreat Center gives new meaning to “getting away from it all.” It’s only a few miles from the traffic rush of I-5, north of Everett, Washington, but after a few twists and turns through forest and countryside, at the end of a gravel road I find silence and a lovely hideaway.

Bob and Lisa Watkins began it several years ago by demolishing their existing home. Then, with the help of River Rock Innfriends, they built their dream B&B. They used fir log posts, high beams, walls of windows, and the aforementioned ten tons of rock.  The massive fireplace stands in the 1,300-square-foot Great Room, which overlooks a sloping lawn, trees, a pond, and the forest beyond. It’s a popular spot for weddings and group retreats. I’m staying in the Stilly Room, named for the Stillaguamish River and decorated with old-time fishing creels and rods, nicely combining  rustic style with up-to-date luxury. My king-size bed is made from hand-hewn logs, but I have a TV, lots of DVD choices, wi-fi, a gas fireplace, and a deep whirlpool tub. Also, the sheets on the bed are silky smooth and incredibly comfortable. The other four suites are similar, each with a Pacific Northwest theme: Cedar, Woodland, Fern, and Homestead.

Out on the 5-acre woodsy property, Bob leads the way over winding, ferny paths to an enchanting surprise. Some call it the stump house, because it’s in the remains of an enormous tree that burned, but of course it’s really a fairytale cottage carved by elves. A light mist falls onto the stump cottagemossy roof, lace curtains hang at little paned windows. I stoop and enter the hollow stump, and I’m in a tiny room where chunks of logs serve as a table and chair covered by checked cloths. Those elves must have had fun.

Every afternoon the hospitable innkeepers put out coffee, tea, and home-baked cookies. In the morning, they serve a multi-course breakfast. Here’s what Lisa, a terrific cook, serves today: fresh coffee cake, mixed fruit, locally made apple juice, and a light frittata with Swiss chard, basil, garlic, oven-roasted tomatoes, and cream. This is a fine start to a day of exploring an interesting area. Dinner is at Bistro San Martin, 7 miles away in the small town of Arlington, and that’s a special place that gets a post of its own.

By the way, that wolf skin hanging from the fireplace mantel came from a garage sale. The Watkins’ aren’t into killing wolves.

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