BOW - The Oyster Creek Inn, clinging to a steep Chuckanut Drive hillside next to a hairpin turn, has had its ups and downs since its origins in the 1930s.
Today, the place is definitely on an upswing, taking its place in the top tier of nearby fine dining options.
This restaurant has had a variety of owners and a couple of prolonged shutdowns in the past 12 years. The current proprietors, Thomas and Danielle Palmer, reopened it in early 2010. They are stressing sumptuous, leisurely meals at both lunch and dinner.
Oysters and clams are prominent on the menu, which isn't surprising since the turnoff for Taylor Shellfish Farms is right next to the restaurant. But people who prefer not to eat invertebrates will find meat and fish dishes to satisfy.
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As regular readers know, I'm a bivalve guy. We started our meal with a bowl of spicy Manila clams, $15, served in a pale orange sauce with chorizo and roasted chilies. The sauce was not as fiery as it sounds, which is a good thing since it lets the subtle flavor of the clams come through. It was good enough to lap up with a spoon or with the inn's first-rate house-baked sourdough bread, once all the clams were gone.
Then I went over the brink with a bowl of oyster stew, $10, and the oyster sampler ($19 at lunch, $29 at dinner). Both were delightful.
The oyster stew was perhaps a tiny bit less rich and buttery than the one I had recently at Mambo Italiano in Fairhaven, but it was certainly rich and buttery enough for any sane person. I could taste the oysters in every spoonful, not just the ones with actual oysters in them.
The oyster sampler featured small oysters prepared in three ways: cornmeal battered and fried, lightly dusted with flour and pan-seared, and gratinee, with garlic, chopped spinach and parmesan. The gratinee oysters sounded least appetizing to my taste but I wound up liking them the best, although all three were wonderful. The battered oysters were served with a dash of fiery orange cream sauce, while the pan-seared came with a lemony remoulade.
Sautéed Brussels sprouts and kale were a pleasant counterpoint, although a central mound of rice and garbanzos seemed rather sad and forgettable in this setting.
We also enjoyed a chocolate lava cake with a mini-scoop of house-made vanilla ice cream for dessert.
I suspect the Oyster Creek Inn has suffered a bit over the years because it lacks the saltwater view that helps to pack the Oyster Bar a bit farther south. But the inn does have a pleasant view overlooking Oyster Creek, where you might catch a glimpse of that wonderful little gray bird, the dipper, bobbing and swimming amid the waters that swirl around the mossy boulders.
OYSTER CREEK INN
Address: 2190 Chuckanut Drive, Bow
Phone: (360) 766-6179.
Hours: Daily 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Price range, dinner entrees: $22-$32.