BELLINGHAM - Like many of you, I have a strong bias in favor of locally owned businesses, especially restaurants.
But on a recent visit, Anthony's broke down my defenses with perfectly executed seafood dishes and smoothly professional service.
Anthony's is a Bellevue-based group of 22 restaurants, two of which are on Bellwether Way at Squalicum Harbor. This review focuses on the first Bellingham Anthony's rather than on the nearby Anthony's Hearthfire Grill, which also offers seafood but emphasizes steaks and other meat dishes.
When we arrived at about 6 p.m. on a recent Friday with no reservation, we faced a 45-minute wait for a table. On a sunny summer evening, this was not a problem - it provided time for a pleasant stroll around the marina. But if you don't want to wait, reservations are a good idea.
Anthony's strives for a bustling urban ambience, with an open kitchen and high, wood-beamed ceilings that seem to amplify the sound. It's a better place for a festive splurge than for quiet dinner conversation.
In addition to a regular menu, there is also a lengthy menu stressing seasonal Northwest seafood. That's the one I would recommend.
I sat down planning to splurge on some Copper River salmon, but then the fresh Oregon petrale sole caught my eye. Petrale is firmer than the Dover sole that is far more common in local supermarkets. I have seldom seen it on a restaurant menu, and it was too tempting to pass up.
This $17.95 dinner came with basmati rice and nicely sautéed fresh pea pods. The fish was fried just right in a crispy cornmeal crust and served with tartar sauce. Nothing elaborate or exotic, but it didn't need to be.
We also enjoyed garlic-roasted Dungeness crab, $19.95, and a bowl of Manila clams, $12.95. Again, there was nothing dramatic about the preparation or the presentation, but both dishes were unimpeachably fresh and perfectly cooked. The clams were tender and flavorful, and the crab slid easily out of its shell - although shelling crab at the table is not for the dainty.
Crusty oven-fresh sourdough bread accompanied the meal, and the dessert menu featured several settings for fresh Northwest strawberries. We went with shortcake, and it was close to perfect.
Anthony's may not be local to Whatcom County, but it is Northwest-based, and the people running the show are making the most of that. This restaurant should be at the top of the list for entertaining out-of-town guests who would appreciate the bounty of the sea.
ANTHONY'S AT SQUALICUM HARBOR
Address: 25 Bellwether Way, Bellingham.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with lunch menu to 4 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Sunday dinner, 3 to 9:30 p.m.
Price range: $18-$32.
Reach JOHN STARK at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2274.