Anthony’s Hearthfire Grill changes formula a bit

New restaurant puts emphasis on top-grade beef

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 21, 2007 

  • ANTHONY'S HEARTHFIRE GRILL

    7 Bellwether Way, Squalicum Harbor, next to Hotel Bellwether
    Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day; dinner 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
    Phone: 527-3473
    Reservations: recommended
    Dinner main course price range: $15-$35
    Early dinner special before 6 p.m. is $17.95 Sunday through Thursday and includes soup or salad and dessert

When Anthony’s took over the old Marina Restaurant space at Squalicum Harbor, a lot of people wondered why the chain of posh Northwest seafood restaurants wanted to have two restaurants side-by-side.

But the new Anthony’s Hearthfire Grill is anything but a carbon copy of the polished and successful Anthony’s formula that prevails at the neighboring eatery.

Most of the 20-plus Anthony’s outlets from here to Bend, Ore., stress seafood, with a few steaks thrown in. The Hearthfire concept is just the opposite: eight beef choices, plus pork chops, ribs and chicken, with just five maincourse seafood options.

On a recent weekday visit, the place was bustling just before 6 p.m., and by the time we left about an hour later, people were waiting for tables. The Hearthfire approach seems to be working pretty well.

Like the traditional Anthony’s, this is a place for a fine meal in a festive (meaning rather noisy) atmosphere, with excellent service in a bright, stylish space that takes full advantage of a sweeping view of the marina and bay beyond.

It’s a huge upgrade from the restaurant that struggled at this location for so long, remembered mostly for its forgettable seafood offerings.

We began our meals with tempura portobello mushrooms, $6.95, and crispy calamari, $8.95. The portobello came in big, meaty slabs; the calamari rings were perfectly cooked, and both were delicious.

Maybe it was perverse of us not to order the beef here, but two fish selections sounded too good to pass up: yellowfin ahi steak, $26.95, and Copper River sockeye, $32.95.

The applewood-grilled ahi came medium rare, drizzled with a fiery chile and wasabi aioli on a bed of buttery noodles with a generous side of steamed broccoli. It was spectacularly good.

So good, in fact, that it overshadowed the salmon. The generous slab of sockeye came tastefully enhanced with a little aioli plus tomato-mint relish, but the fish itself lacked that melt-in-your-mouth sublimity that the best salmon should have, perhaps because it was a bit overcooked. That’s surprising at Anthony’s, which I have often recommended as a dependable place to get perfectly cooked, first-rate salmon dinners. Nobody bats a thousand.

I could also recommend Anthony’s Hearthfire as a place to get an excellent meal in a reasonably short time. One expects to wait for the best meals, but Anthony’s turned out our appetizers and dinners with near-blinding speed. Food that fast is seldom that good and vice versa.

The kitchen might be advised to throttle back a bit on the salt. I’m a guy who likes to have a salt shaker handy, but the seasoning on the accompanying basket of fresh flatbread was beyond salty, and the roast potatoes accompanying the salmon were also off the chart on sodium.

Reach John Stark at 715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com.

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