BELLINGHAM - Chuckanut Manor has been a Chuckanut Drive culinary landmark for more than 40 years, but the food may never have been any better than it is now.
For many years, I thought of this restaurant as good but not great - aiming for middlebrow tastes, relying on the view to attract diners and seldom showing much evidence of kitchen creativity. But our recent meal included some flourishes indicating that Chuckanut Manor is trying to stay in step with Oyster Creek Inn just up the road, if not with the flamboyant Oyster Bar still farther to the north.
While they are not striving for cutting-edge at the Manor, they are paying more attention to the little things that make a meal more satisfying.
Chuckanut Manor is perched on the edge of Samish Bay just south of the point where the winding drive along the cliffs ends at the Skagit County farm flatlands. Indoor and outdoor tables enjoy a splendid view across the placid bay to the distant steam plumes of an Anacortes refinery.
On a recent lunchtime visit, we started our meals with appetizers of calamari, $9.50, and clams, $14.50.
The calamari were moist and tender, dredged in lightly-seasoned flour and perfectly fried. An intense lemon aioli and a robust herb tomato sauce in dipping cups provided tasty accompaniments.
The clams were especially good, cooked in a broth with a rich housemade chorizo, caramelized onion, white wine and garlic butter. The chorizo added some spicy intrigue without overwhelming the clams, most of which were larger and meatier than typical. They were served with two pieces of excellent garlic toast - the kind of detail I mentioned earlier.
My main course of Samish Bay Oysters, $16, also contained some nice flourishes: perfectly roasted asparagus spears and baby carrots with an above-average rice pilaf. The oysters themselves were lightly breaded and grilled - nothing special, but carefully cooked and satisfying. The oysters can also be ordered broiled on the half-shell with garlic butter and white wine.
We also enjoyed the halibut and chips, $17.50, with a generous portion of batter-dipped fresh fish that, once again, was cooked to perfection, moist and tender.
The dinner menu ramps things up with offerings like a $36 filet mignon and a $28 osso bucco.
The manor also has a long history of Friday and Sunday buffets that draw crowds. The Friday affair is steak and seafood, served from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. for $34. On Sunday, the champagne brunch is available from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The website recommends calling for reservations.
Address: 3056 Chuckanut Drive
Hours: Tuesday though Sunday for lunch and dinner; hours vary
Price range: Lunch, $9-$20; Dinner, $10-$36
Reach JOHN STARK at email@example.com or call 715-2274.