Nestled on the shore at the place where Chuckanut Drive descends from the Chuckanut Mountains to meet the farmlands of the Samish flats, Chuckanut Manor has been dishing up old-fashioned fancy dinner fare since 1963.
Today’s menu may have some concessions to modernity, but the place manages to retain the feeling of being in a kind of time warp. Its bright, roomy dining room retains the ambience of the better restaurants our family visited — on rare occasions —when I was little. Historic photos of Chuckanut Drive line the walls.
The Manor offers a fine regular bill of fare, although it may be best known for its Friday smorgasbord and Sunday brunch.
The dining room doesn’t have the spectacular kind of cliff-side location that draws people to the Oyster Bar a bit to the north. But even at the Manor’s near sea-level location, you get a panoramic view of Samish Bay, the San Juans, the fields and pastures to the south, and the distant steam plumes of the Anacortes oil refineries.
While we waited to be served, we amused ourselves watching the birds flitting about in the vegetation along the railroad tracks just beneath the window. After a minute or two I went back to the car to retrieve a pair of binoculars, and we eventually spotted a western tanager and a pair of mourning doves. While neither was a life-list bird for us, they aren’t everyday sightings either. But I digress.
Our server greeted us with a basket of lavosh — a crispy flatbread — and a creamy spinach dip. I like a place where they give you something interesting to eat right away.
We ordered a cup of clam chowder and a cup of oyster stew ($5.25 each). The chowder was thick and creamy, with big, chewy chunks of clams outnumbering pieces of potato, as is only proper. The stew was also fine — smooth and buttery. Then we split an artichoke and crab dip ($13) served with crispy toasted bread rounds. It’s a hot dish in a creamy mayonnaise- style sauce, topped with parmesan and baked. It was savory and creamy, pleasantly enhanced with just enough garlic.
Moving on to our main courses, we stuck close to the sea, as is our wont. Pan-seared scallops ($26) are prepared with a white wine reduction, cream, shallots, garlic, tomatoes, bacon and spinach. Alaska halibut ($28) was served with herb pesto and topped with small shrimp.
The scallops were scrumptious — enormous and melt-inyour mouth tender. The halibut wasn’t quite up to that level — a bit dry, as if overcooked or previously frozen. But it was a decent meal.
Both came with a generous side order of creamy parmesan risotto. Something lighter — a nice rice pilaf, perhaps — might have been a welcome counterpoint to the richly sauced seafood. To some extent we brought our cloyed palates on ourselves, with our previous indulgent choices of creamy soups and creamy appetizer — not to mention the creamy dip that the house provided at the start of our meal.
Chuckanut Manor is a good option when you want a special but not overly pretentious dinner, in a family-friendly atmosphere that includes a kids’ menu.