Restaurant News & Reviews

Ambiance is key at Harborside Bistro

Harborside Bistro may be one of Bellingham’s more elegant venues for a good meal.

The dark wood paneling of this restaurant inside Hotel Bellwether combines with a sweeping view of Bellingham Bay to create a luxurious ambiance. On sunny summer evenings, the view includes Lummi Island and the yachts in nearby Squalicum Harbor. On a dark winter evening, the city lights sparkle across the water from the hillsides to the south. The place has that old-fashioned fancy restaurant feel to it, complete with dim lighting. For me, candlelight dining is something one does when the power goes out, but reasonable people will disagree.

On our visit, the meals were good, but they fell a bit short of our expectations in such a setting.

We were a bit put off at the start when the server brought us the obligatory basket of bread, and it contained uninspired and unfresh slabs that could have come from a supermarket. I feel a little petty to be carping about this, but first impressions matter, and many local restaurants manage to come up with mouth-watering bread.

We perked up, though, when the appetizers arrived. Oysters ($7.95) came lightly dusted with flour and pan-seared, with a lemon, caper and parsley sauce that made them delightful. Calamari ($9.95) came in big, meaty wedges from full-grown squid, instead of the typical little rings and crispy tentacles. The wedges were breaded and deep-fried, with a pleasant opal basil aioli.

The menu here emphasizes seafood, with both seafood starters and seafood entrees listed separately on the menu. A wide range of meat dishes is also available.

We chose caramelized salmon medallions on linguini pasta ($17.95), and chef’s mixed grill, ($23.95). The linguini featured seared salmon chunks in a sweet sauce with a sun-dried tomato pesto. The salmon was surprisingly moist and flavorful for this time of year, and it made an enjoyable meal.

The mixed grill combined a nice salmon filet with two meat choices available individually on the dinner menu: hoisin marinated lamb with plum ginger sauce, and petite filet mignon. Both meats arrived tender, rare and juicy, with sweet sauces. More contrast might have been welcome.

Neither entrée was anything to be ashamed of, but both fell short of memorable.

The wine list includes a nice selection of by-the-glass choices. The price per glass may seem a bit high, but the glasses here are more generously proportioned than is, alas, the rule. If you imbibe in moderation (and you should) one glass could get you through your entrée.

Restaurant owner Fahri Ugurlu said the Bistro has been open for six years, and his business has grown every year. When the place first opened, it featured white tablecloths and servers in vests and bow ties, and the born-to-be-casual local clientele felt uncomfortable in their blue jeans, Ugurlu said.

While the place remains elegant by local standards, the tablecloths and bow ties are gone, and local customers help to supplement the patronage of hotel guests.

“We are trying to create an atmosphere that is warm, relaxed, refined and casual at the same time,” Ugurlu said.