Fino Wine Bar, the eatery in the Chrysalis Inn at 804 10th St., emphasizes the beverages but doesn’t cut corners on the food.
“We’re a wine bar first and foremost,” said Chef Scott Jurges, a Bellingham native.
The list of wines features dozens of choices you’re not likely to find anywhere else north of Seattle, including extensive selections of aperitifs and dessert wines. Best of all, many of the selections are available by the taste, as well as full glass or bottle. That provides wine fanciers with a relatively inexpensive way to sample some rare delights.
I got in the spirit by starting my meal with the restaurant’s namesake, fino — a chilled, dry Spanish sherry that revived alltoo- distant memories of the noisy bars of Sevilla, where fino is the beverage of choice.
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The menu has a firm foundation of classic European dishes, mostly originating in Portugal, Spain, France and Italy.
“It’s so clichéd to say it, but we do European comfort food,” Jurges said.
Fino is a good place for a snack as well as a feast, with an imposing array of samplers and appetizers that could be shared over wine. On our visit, we found that the charcuterie ($12.50), consisting of saucisson lyonnaise (a sort of pate with pistachios), other pates and sausages, duck rillettes, and olives, offered more than enough meaty nibbles for our party of three.
We also shared an appetizer of wild mushroom ravioli ($9.50) that provoked moans of pleasure and some awkward shuffling over who was going to get the last bite.
Our dinner experiences were mixed.
The herb-crusted salmon ($24.50) came with couscous pilaf and thyme beurre blanc, topped with a big green scoop of pea flan. The salmon filet itself was good but not great. The pea flan was visually interesting and intriguingly flavored, but its presence atop a salmon filet seemed a bit arbitrary.
Osso buco ($21.50) is a classic Italian dish of braised veal shank, with saffron risotto and citrus gremolata. The Fino version was passable, yet lacking the intensity of flavor I remember from my first encounters with the dish at the long-gone il fiasco in Bellingham in the 1980s.
But the duck confit ($18.50) with apricot chevre cake, lentils and peppercorn cream sauce, was sensational. The bird was rich, moist and tender. The lentils, pleasantly fiery, made a nice counterpoint to the rich, crusty, earthy chevre. This was a meal that merited a return visit.
The restaurant interior is open, pleasant and modern. You can watch the cooks at work on the other side of the counter, or scan the sailboats on Bellingham Bay with the binoculars provided at the window tables.