Restaurant News & Reviews

Top Dish: Taste the season with pioppino saute at Rock and Rye

Dennis Schafer, bar and front of house manager, mixes drinks for guests at Rock and Rye Oyster House on State Street in the Herald Building on Sept. 29, 2015, in Bellingham.
Dennis Schafer, bar and front of house manager, mixes drinks for guests at Rock and Rye Oyster House on State Street in the Herald Building on Sept. 29, 2015, in Bellingham. for The Bellingham Herald

Name: Rock and Rye Oyster House.

Location: 1145 N. State St. in Bellingham, on the ground floor of the Herald Building. Open for late lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday. Happy hour is 3 to 6 p.m. and 9 to 11 p.m. More information is at rockrye.com and on its Facebook page.

Quick bite: When Rock and Rye opened on the ground floor of The Herald Building in June 2014, it was with the idea of offering Bellingham a place that highlighted craft cocktails and meals with attention to details along the lines of what you’d find in Seattle and Portland — with prices that weren’t shockingly big-city. It has a modest menu that is heavy on seasonal fare, and a flair for turning humble ingredients into something special.

Take the Brussels and Bellies, which is available during happy hour for $5. The kitchen pulls together fried Brussels sprouts, confit pork belly, candied pepitas, and white balsamic and honey glaze. This dish is rich, with the fat from the pork belly melting in your mouth, though I wish the meat was cooked a little less, and a slightly nutty flavor from the Brussels sprouts.

I also indulged in a half dozen raw oysters, Wellfleet Select from Island Creek Oyster Co. in Wellfleet, Mass., for $17. Normally, I would order oysters from Washington waters, which are staples on the menu, but I went gaga for Wellfleet oysters during a trip to Cape Cod a few summers ago.

These didn’t inspire the same devotion — does food ever taste as good as when you’re on vacation and close to the source? — but these oysters still were full of briny goodness. The vinegary, garlicky mignonette sauce was a delightful accompaniment for the raw oysters, but I was just as happy eating them without the sauce.

Finally, I want to thank Rock and Rye for introducing me to the luscious, slightly crunchy pioppino mushroom via its Pioppino Saute. You get a small plate for $5 during happy hour, but I could have easily made a whole meal of this dish.

The saute is pioppini mushrooms, walnuts, wine and butter. It is topped with chevre and pea shoots, which allows the tang from the goat cheese and the slight bitterness from the pea shoots to balance the creamy earthiness of the mushrooms and the sauce. Next time, I’ll order two servings.

Side: I don’t know how long Rock and Rye’s eggnog is going to be around, but get yourself a glass if you see it on the seasonal cocktail menu. It’s made with Zapopan reposado tequila, Lustau oloroso sherry, eggs, cream, nutmeg and cinnamon. A wine glass of this eggnog is $8.

Each mouthful imparts a mellow taste of tequila that finishes with nutmeg. It’s creamy, but not overly so. It’s sweet without being syrupy. If I were Goldilocks, I would say this eggnog was just right.

Ambiance: This restaurant and bar are in the space once occupied by The Bellingham Herald’s old presses, although nothing remains of that era except some old photos. From the high ceiling to the brick wall on one side to the patio (in warm weather), Rock and Rye has an easy yet stylish comfort.

Got suggestions for tasty tidbits in Whatcom County or an eatery known for a particular dish? Send them to Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, krelyea@bhamherald.com, @kierelyea

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