BELLINGHAM - After years of culinary success with catering, cooking schools and occasional "Incognito" dinners, Jessica and Mataio Gillis are lighting up the often-dreary downtown lunch scene.
On a recent visit, I encountered an old friend who is as passionate about food as anyone, and she confidently informed me that Ciao Thyme's lunches are the best food now served in Bellingham.
After my own meal, I was hard-pressed to disagree.
Even the menu format is fresh and interesting. You can get soups, salads, sandwiches and sundry other items a la carte, but Ciao Thyme also offers three combination menus - Menu One, Menu Two and Menu Three. Each is priced at $16, which includes both tip and tax.
On the day we visited, Menu One was a porchetta sandwich with rolled pork belly and shoulder stuffed with fresh sausage on a rye roll with a fiery harissa (North African chili) mayonnaise and cole slaw; farro salad with sautéed brussels sprouts, leeks and parmesan; and roasted heirloom tomato soup with crème fraiche and croutons.
Where to begin? The tomato soup featured explosively intense flavors. The farro salad (farro is a variety of whole-grain wheat) provided intriguing textures with deft herbal accents. The pork sandwich was enlivened with slices of tart quince poached in white wine and honey, and the fruit provided exactly the right counterpoint to the fatty indulgence of the meat.
We also enjoyed Menu Two, featuring braised chicken torta with onion and carrot criolla and cilantro mayo on a cumin roll; sweet potato bisque; and quinoa and roasted corn salad with fresh lime tortilla chips and salsa rojo.
The sweet potato soup had a nice fiery pepper undertone and was as rich and satisfying as the tomato that accompanied Menu One. The quinoa salad showed the same gift with the herb garden that I noted in the farro. The torta was a splendid blend of pickled flavor from the carrot to complement the salty chicken. The roll delivered just the right note of cumin, a powerful spice that is easy to overdo.
I suspect the Gillises are getting some pleas to offer more meals more often. But perhaps that would mean some risk of losing the focused attention to detail that makes these lunches so special.
Address: 207 Unity St.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday
Price range: $8-$12 for main course, $18 for combo meal
- Phone: 360-927-4890
Reach JOHN STARK at email@example.com or call 715-2274.