BELLINGHAM - If you're looking for some different taste twists in a city that now seems dominated by Asian and Mexican eateries, you might enjoy Bayou on Bay.
I have no real experience with Cajun or Creole cuisine on its home turf, so I'm not going to venture a guess at how much authenticity this kitchen manages to achieve in the heart of downtown Bellingham. But it does serve up hearty, intensely seasoned fare, and is an especially good value at lunch, when the menu is shorter but still full of intriguing options.
We started our lunch with breaded okra, $5.50, and Dungeness and rock crab cakes, $8.75.
The okra came in marble-size bites with a crunchy cornmeal shell over that lovely, slightly slimy okra texture that not everyone appreciates. I do.
The crab cakes came two to a serving. They were nicely proportioned and with a more delicate crust. They seemed to have plenty of crab meat, and the buttermilk lime dressing provided an effective sour accent to the sweetish crab.
I was disappointed and bewildered when our server told us there were no oysters. This place bills itself as an oyster bar. It was midday on a Friday, and plenty of fresh oysters normally can be bought at Taylor's - this restaurant's supplier, according to the menu - just south of town. Perhaps there was some disruption. These things do happen.
For our main events, we chose lobster etouffee, and a blackened catfish po' boy sandwich, both $10.
I loved the etouffee, which seemed to be more about prawns and crawfish (as the menu clearly indicated) but was hearty and mouthwatering, with spicy pepper and accents of less-familiar and more intriguing seasonings.
The sandwich was more of a mixed bag. The catfish itself was fresh, perfectly cooked, with a well-executed and zesty blackened seasoning. But the big roll it was served on arrived white, doughy and seemingly half-baked, when it should have been golden brown.
It also came with a generous side of sweet potato fries that were perhaps the best I've had, with golden-fried shells and sweet, creamy interiors.
The restaurant occupies a pleasant two-level space, with some nice urban landscape views from upstairs tables.
Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or email@example.com. Read his Politics blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/politics or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.
BAYOU ON BAY
Address: 1300 Bay St., Bellingham.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Price range: $7.50 to $10 for lunch; $9.75 to $22 for dinner.
Reach JOHN STARK at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2274.