BELLINGHAM - The lunch menu at Giuseppe's Al Porto near Hotel Bellwether is as lavish and ambitious as the dinner menu at many other local restaurants.
Whenever my schedule permits, I try to base my review of a local restaurant on dinner rather than lunch, since the midday offerings at many restaurants are often little better than a hint of what the same place can do of an evening. Not that there's anything wrong with that: Restaurants must deal with their own economic imperatives as well as the imperatives of customers who are inclined to seek thrift and speed on a workday lunch break.
But at Giuseppe's, the lengthy lunchtime bill of fare includes a lion's share of the same dishes you'll find at dinner, with a buck or two shaved off the price. I don't know if the portions are reduced as well, but our lunchtime portions did not leave us hungry. Just a few of the higher-priced dinner selections, such as the $36 rack of lamb, are absent during lunch.
Enough menu talk. I'm all the way to the fourth paragraph without a mention of the food.
The eating got under way with a plate of chewy and fresh French bread accompanied by herbed olive oil and balsamic vinegar - a deliberate and successful effort to make a good first impression. At the risk of repeating myself: Attention to these details help to identify the restaurants that are worth the money, in contrast to the places that simply want your money.
It kept getting better from there. An appetizer of sautéed squid - Calamaretti alla Siciliana - was perfectly cooked and tender, swimming in a fiery chili tomato sauce. Capers and kalamata olives added pungency. The flavors transported us to the Mediterranean, which was no small feat. We were looking out the rain-splattered window at sailboats bobbing at their Squalicum Harbor anchorages under a leaden, wind-whipped November sky.
Everybody loves the now-ubiquitous fried calamari, but the sautéed approach was a welcome change of pace, amply proportioned and nicely priced at $8.50.
For our main courses, we chose a spaghettini special with tossed Italian sausage, prawns, asparagus and chanterelle mushrooms, $14, and cannelloni alla spinachi, $13.50.
The spaghettini ingredients sounded a bit random, but the prawns were perfectly cooked and flavorful, and the sausage had a lively fennel accent. The cream sauce managed to be rich but not cloying.
The cannelloni was the real standout for me. The spinach pasta tube was stuffed with a rich prosciutto, ground meat and herb filling, topped with melted cheese and fresh herbs and swimming in a rich red tomato sauce - which would have been really good if they had stopped right there.
They didn't. They added a lavish swath of creamy white béchamel that added luxuriance while completing an Italian flag color scheme. Some nice seared and sautéed broccoli completed the plate. A truly splendid lunch that also appears on the dinner menu for $18.
Giuseppe's also offers an $18 fixed price dinner menu that includes soup or salad, one of five main course options, and dessert. It is available from 3 to 6 p.m. daily.
Reach JOHN STARK at email@example.com or call 715-2274.