Whidbey Island Restaurant Reviews
By Helen Bates
It seems Helen Bates, our new restaurant critic, was destined for this job.
Her grandfather, Lee Temm, owned several Chinese restaurants and her father, Robert Quiroz, was in the hotel business, co-owning the Copacabana Hotel outside of Havana, Cuba back in the 1950s. With the advent of the Castro regime, he fled Cuba and began managing hotels for the Intercontinental, Hilton, and Oberoi hotel chains. He managed the Calcutta Grand for five years, then , later, the Caribe Hilton and the Mayaquez Hilton in Puerto Rico. Is it any wonder, Bates was drawn to be a restaurant reviewer? But she didn’t start out as a restaurant critic. For twenty years, she was a public school teacher and administrator. Upon retirement, she began a second career as a travel agent and worked for over twenty years with such agencies as Liberty Travel, Mercer Island Travel, American Express , AAA, and Oak Harbor Travel. In the eighteen years they have been on Whidbey, they have been actively involved in the original Jazz Festival planning committee, the Kiwanis, the Whidbey Playhouse, Whidbey Allied Artist, The Pacific Northwest Art School, the Historical Museum, Mensa, AAUW, as well as several other organizations. All the while, Mrs. Bates has kept up her writing as a free lance writer. They admit they are now senior seniors. They both have slowed down, but until they have to, they won’t come to a complete stop!
COACH’S PIZZERIA- WHERE SPORTS AND PIZZA COME TOGETHER
By Helen Bates
Whether your sport is baseball, football, basketball or soccer, Coach’s philosophy is “live long, laugh a lot, play hard and most of all - eat lots of pizza!” And what better place to do this than Coach’s Pizzeria located in Freeland about ten miles from the Clinton-Mukilteo Ferry?
The restaurant opened last August, but has been under new owners, Dave and Candy Dillman, since early spring of this year. Conveniently located near the intersection of SR525 and Harbor Avenue, the restaurant is easy to find, directly across from the Wells-Fargo Bank.
One recent sunny Saturday, my partner and I decided it was a good pizza day, so we headed down the island from our home in Oak Harbor. We had heard about Coach’s Pizzeria and wanted to try it out. We found the trip well worth the extra miles.
When we first entered the restaurant, the place was cool and the light subdued. Opaque shades covered the front and side windows blocking out the glaring sun of the day.
Two large TV screens were mounted on opposite walls. Both showed a World Cup semi-final soccer game of the FIFA U-20. Sports memorabilia and pictures covered the walls. We knew we were in the right place. The delicious aromas of Italy verified this.
The place holds four large wooden tables that seat eight to ten people. Eight four-tops are placed around the edge of the room. Later we were told that the solid-looking tables were made from wood once used in a local bowling alley.
Besides the tables, the room is simply decorated. A large beverage cooler sits to one side of an adjoining salad bar. Upon checking, I found a diner had a choice of twenty salad items, accompanied by five different salad dressings. This is not a gourmet dining establishment and puts on no airs. It is what it is - a family pizzeria.
And it soon became apparent that the delectable aromas were emanating from the “Traditional Line-up” of mouth-watering pizzas. The menu lists a savory cheese pizza; along with a pepperoni pizza; a Meat Lovers with Canadian bacon, pepperoni and Italian sausage; the Combination is loaded with mozzarella cheese, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, pepperoni and Italian sausage; the Hawaiian has mozzarella cheese, Canadian bacon and pineapple; and the Vegetarian includes mozzarella, green peppers, mushrooms, onions, black olives and tomatoes. There is something to please the most discerning pizzaista.
If none of the above is your choice of the day, there are also the “Touchdown Supreme” pizzas. These include the Mediterranean, which consists of olive oil, pesto, artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, black olives, red peppers, spinach, sprinkled with Feta cheese. The BBQ Chicken pizza is just what it sounds like - chicken smothered with Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce. There is even a Taco Pizza, made up of salsa, ground beef, olives, onions, Jalapenos, tomatoes, chips and served with sour cream.
For the adventurous, there is the Pesto pizza in which pesto is used instead of pizza sauce, then topped with mozzarella cheese. The “Northwest Ranch” pizza includes Ranch dressing topped with mozzarella cheese, chicken and bacon. Extra supreme toppings include: artichoke, anchovies, red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, spinach, ground beef, Italian sausage, pesto and bacon. All pizzas are made with the freshest ingredients daily and come in small (10”), medium (12”), large (14”), and extra-large (16”).
Besides its signature pizzas, Coach’s Pizzeria offers “Superbowl Spaghetti” with or without meatballs. There are also “World Series Sandwiches,” such as The Italian Grinder, the Philly (French Dip,) “Whidbey Meatball,” and the BBQ Chicken.
“All Star Specials” include a Calzone with a choice of three ingredients, “Sinker Balls,” which are two large meatballs wrapped in dough with meat sauce and mozzarella cheese, Pizza Bread, Garlic Cheese Bread, and Garlic Rolls.
Pizza is available by the slice and there are selections for “Little Leaguers.” There is also a salad bar option, which is either a single salad or an all-you-can-eat salad bar. Gluten free items are available.
At the time of this review, the menu was being up-dated. Also, the liquor license was pending. They hope to sell wine and beer in the near future. The day we visited, the drinks were limited to non-alcoholic beverages.
A PLACE OF FINE CASUAL DINING
By Helen Bates
Our island has its share of eating places. Now it has an elegant restaurant replete with linen-covered tables tastefully set amidst antique décor. Opening last September, Cameron’s Café has already made its mark in Oak Harbor.
Located in the Harbor Side Shops Arcade on Pioneer Way, the gourmet restaurant advertises as casual dining, but it feels more like a fine dining establishment. With walls opened onto the arcade and sporting a French Provincial ambiance, a diner just might feel she is sitting in a European courtyard. But however you describe it, a person feels special just walking into the place.
Owners, Cameron Morris and his partner, David Burdette, are not novices to the restaurant business. They formerly owned two eating establishments in Anacortes. Both have extensive backgrounds and training in the hospitality business. We islanders are the beneficiaries of their wide experience, as Cameron’s Café is a culmination of their combined efforts.
While most restaurateurs concentrate on their menu, Cameron and David know that the public looks not only at the menu, but also at the ambiance of a place, as well as the service. It seems that the owners know they can serve wonderful food, so time has been spent setting the right atmosphere, as well as providing excellent service to their diners.
Today the restaurant sports its summer finery. Yellow linen table cloths set a cheery palette, while pots of greenery add a fresh touch. White napkins and chinaware make for a welcoming summer setting. Earlier this year, the place was decorated in the more formal black and white with a display of outsized blue and white china. The walls are painted a pleasing green, while black metal chairs add just enough of a contrast to tie it all together.
At its inception, the café did not offer an extensive menu. Items offered were popular gourmet versions of down-home favorites. Meatloaf topped with onion straws and crab filled mac and cheese were immediate favorites. Crepes were another immediate hit with the public. These are still featured on the menu, along with a much wider variety of starters, flat breads, homemade soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches, entrees, sides and desserts.
When people ask me what my favorite foods are at Cameron’s, it is difficult to respond. It always seems to be what I had the last time we ate there. My first favorites were the savory mushroom soup paired with an Apple, Walnut and Gorgonzola Salad. This was followed by a shared White Chocolate Bread Pudding.
While I still crave those foods, every time we go there, I try to have something different. Once while eating lunch with a friend, we both had spicy crepes filled with seafood cooked in a spicy Creole sauce. This was paired with asparagus spears and a mixed fruit salad. But I’m sure a new favorite is a Café Steak Salad I had last week. This consisted of Korean BBQ Flank Steak, Avocado, Mango, Tomato, and Field Greens dressed with a Ginger-Lime-Peanut Dressing. I started off that meal with a bowl of chilled Gazpacho. These are just a few lunches I have had there with a friend or my husband.
Did I mention the café was not large? It only holds around eighty diners, but by planning ahead, it is able to accommodate groups. Once I went to a luncheon at Cameron’s in a group of twenty-four women. We had a pre-set menu of a large plate mixed green salad, chicken crepes, rolls and butter, and a dessert of the bread pudding mentioned above, along with a beverage. The service and seating were excellent and the women left happy.
To read more about Cameron's Cafe, pick up a Whidbey Weekly….
By Helen Bates
Riddle me this: When is a restaurant not a restaurant?
Possible answer: When it has four wheels and serves a moveable feast like ShoNuff Foods.
This portable eatery is Whidbey Island’s contribution to the growing trend of mobile kitchens. Hot dog vendors and taco trucks have been around for quite awhile. Today creative cooks are venturing into a wider variety of cuisines.
Nearby Seattle has over forty of these moveable eateries serving everything from sandwiches to soups - from vegan to Vietnamese. And new food trucks are appearing every day.
In New York we heard about truck vendors selling varieties of mac and cheese, while others specialize in various kinds of peanut butter sandwiches. We’re lucky on Whidbey Island! ShoNuff Foods serves up a variety of good, old Southern foods.
Owners Fred and Barbara Bennett, both of whom hale from Florida, say they learned to cook from the best - their own mothers and grandmothers. But their culinary training did not stop there.
Fred has cooked in kitchens throughout the South. He has also earned his AA from the Culinary Arts Institute in Seattle. We are fortunate that his love of cooking is richly complemented by his wife’s love of baking.
Barbara is no newcomer to the art of cooking and baking. She received her formal training as a Culinary Specialist (CS) while in the U.S. Navy, then went on to earn college credits in that field.
The Bennetts have put their talents to good use. As their menu states, “ShoNuff Foods was started in 2005 in Bremerton, WA. After years of catering for friends and weddings all over Whidbey Island and Bremerton…” They moved to Oak Harbor about eight years ago.
Their menu is not wide, but it does not have to be to satisfy a craving for savory food of the South. Barbecued sandwiches and sides such as red beans and rice, collard greens and macaroni and cheese are standbys. At $8, their sandwich combos come with a choice of meat (pulled pork, brisket or chicken), along with one side item and a drink.
For the heartier eater, three different meat combo platters are offered. All come with a choice of meats mentioned above plus ribs. Beans and rice and a choice of mac and cheese or collard greens, along with a serving of cornbread and a soda finish out the combo. Prices for the meat combos range from $9 to $15, depending upon how many meats you order. A half rack of ribs is $16, a full rack $25.
Mrs. Barbara, as she is fondly called, serves up a variety of mouth-watering desserts made from recipes handed down in her family, along with some original ones of her own. A few of these that might be available include sweet potato pie, chocolate cake, pound cake, German chocolate cake, coconut cake, apple pie, red velvet cake, chocolate chip cookies, or peanut butter cookies - just to name a few.
Desserts vary with the day, and prices vary with the dessert. Most are available by the slice or whole cake or pie. Please check with Mrs. Barbara for the desserts of the day. There is usually more than one.
WHIDBEY PIES AND CAFÉ
ARTISAN PIES REFLECTING “THE ART OF PIE”
By Helen Bates
Whoever said, “Life’s short, so let’s eat our dessert first,” must have eaten at the Whidbey Pies Café.
Located in the bright red building that is the heart of Greenbank Farm, the small forty-seat café is dwarfed by its reputation. It has been written up in a number of publications and has been called one of the five best places to eat pie in the West.
This did not happen overnight. Since 1986, founder Jan Gunn and her culinary team have been perfecting their artistic and succulent hand-made pastries. As their website states, “they have devoted themselves to the art of pie.”
Situated on the grounds of what was once considered the largest loganberry farm in the world, it is no wonder that the first pies baked there were loganberry pies. They are still made there, along with boysenberry, Marionberry and triple berry pies.
Other favorites include apple, peach, and rhubarb. A few different types are offered on a seasonal basis. Apple Cranberry Walnut Crunch is available Thanksgiving through New Year‘s. Pecan and pumpkin pies are also only available in November and December. Strawberry-rhubarb and a new flavor, Salted Caramel Apple are the featured pies at this time.
It should be noted that the flaky, golden crusts of all these pies are made with healthy coconut oil. This is in keeping with the company’s desire to be a good servant to its customers, as well as to the land. As all good Whidbey Islanders, they use local produce and products whenever possible.
But Whidbey Pies has expanded from offering only dessert pies. Today they also turn out different varieties of savory pies, such as chicken, turkey, beef and vegetable, as well as turnovers and galettes.
The devoted baking team that produces all of these delicacies deserves special mention. Every week in a pie kitchen located next door to the café, these bakers bake up to eight hundred pies during marathon ten hour baking sessions. These are, truly, the artisans whose love of baking is expressed in each and every pie they produce.
The rest of the team is made up of the servers and cooks at the nearby café. The farm-like bistro is open seven days a week, but no matter when you show up, these dedicated people extend a warm welcome that only adds to the rural ambiance of the place.
Recently we wet to the restaurant for an early Saturday lunch. When we arrived just after noon, there were still several tables available. Within thirty minutes all the tables were packed. Latecomers chose to sit outside in the cool air or to come back later. There is no doubt that this is a popular place.
There is also no doubt that the two servers, busboy and cooks were used to serving a full house. Servers Kathy and Andrea complemented each other’s service inter-mixing their duties. The young busboy, Oliver, was a joy to watch. He cleared and re-set the tables as people left, delivered take-out food, and collected bills without once being told what to do. The entire crew worked rapidly and efficiently like a well-oiled machine.
THE BRAEBURN RESTAURANT
PACIFIC NORTHWEST COUNTRY STYLE AT ITS BEST
By Helen Bates
Whidbey is graced by many restaurants reflecting a wide variety of cuisines, but few represent Americana as well as the Braeburn in Langley. Even its name is as American as apple pie!
Situated in an older blue building, between a 1913 fire department that now houses a glass blowing studio and a store that displays colorful fiesta ware, the Braeburn fits right into the artistic ambiance of the neighborhood.
The original restaurant was opened eleven years ago. Formerly a server there, Vermonter Lisa Carvey has owned the place for the past two years. Head Chef, Patrick Boin, has been with the Braeburn for about a year and half. Together they, along with their great staff, hope to “create a menu and style that reflects their passion for eating fresh, natural, locally sourced products.” This culminates into what has been called “Pacific Northwest Country Style.”
The theme is even carried out in the décor. When we first entered, we were dazzled by bright sunlight filtering through windows that opened out upon the street and side garden patio. The walls are painted the bright red of tomato ketchup at the top, yellow mustard at the bottom, and are decorated with an array of photos taken by a local photographer. Grass green carpeting adds to the airiness of the place. A red pot-bellied stove sits in one corner. All of which adds up to one colorful and charming bistro.
The Braeburn is not large. It takes up the lower northeast corner of the building and is comprised of two adjoining rooms. The first houses the majority of the tables, which were occupied by a steady stream of diners coming and going throughout our visit. The adjoining room contains an open kitchen fronted by a counter at which several diners were seated.
As we sat down at a small table in the front room, we noticed daily specials were listed near the entry.
These reflected a number of interesting offerings, such as “Veggie Hash” which consisted of a medley of carrots, beets, black beans, leeks, cabbage, kale and parsnips. A pizza omelette sounded interesting, as did the mac of the day made with dill Havarti and corned beef. Three homemade soups were also available.
Just as soon as we sat down, our server brought menus, as well as lovely hand-blown tumblers of iced water. When we asked, we were told that they had been made at the neighboring glass studio. The menu had a wide range of both breakfast and lunch items, all of which were available throughout the day. A variety of omelettes were listed, along with creative combos of hash and scrambles, as well as old standbys like French toast, pancakes, granola, Eggs Benedict and biscuits and gravy. One of their more creative breakfast items is their seared oatmeal. Sweetened, cinnamon-flavored oatmeal is cooled, then sliced and pan fried to a crisp finish. This is then spread with browned butter and garnished with fried mint. Another breakfast favorite is their corned beef mash in which mashed potatoes and corned beef are combined with fresh herbs and spices.
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MUKILTEO COFFEE ROASTERS
“A UNIQUE OASIS IN THE WOODS”
Believe it or not, Mukilteo Coffee Roasters are not located in Mukilteo. Starting as “just a small cart and a dream,” the business moved to Whidbey Island, near Langley, where the owners wanted to raise their family and build their roasting facility. Today, their plant offers not only freshly-roasted “Mukilteo Coffee” made from beans that come from sustainable farms and are “artisan roasted” by roast masters, Tim McCormack and Gary Smith, they also offer tours and a tasting room that has evolved into the award-winning “Muk Café.”
The eatery started eight years ago. They offer hearty, healthy organic food for breakfasts and lunches. The same menu is used every day and customers can order from either side all day. While the café is not strictly vegan, it takes pride in using local produce and green products. Several gluten-free options are listed on the menu, which also features a few a la carte items, as well as children’s options.
The menu is not wide, but there is a selection of eight breakfast items, all of which are served with organic fruit.
Every combination looks more than satisfying and well-thought-out. For example, the #1 Farmers Skillet includes “cast iron seared potatoes and heirloom carrots, with freshly harvested vegetables, finished with farm fresh eggs and toast.” The cost is just $9. You can add bacon or organic sausage for $3 more.
There is also a breakfast burrito, the B.E.A.T. (bacon, egg and toast), a breakfast sandwich, double stacked pancakes, and, my favorite, Happy Hippy Granola, which is made up of “clusters of organic oats, toasted nuts and dried fruit tossed with honey and sweet cinnamon, finished with Greek yogurt and fresh seasonal fruit.” All of the breakfast items run between $6 and $9.
There are only five lunch entrees, but these, too, are robust and savory. Besides a deluxe Three Sisters Muk Burger, there is a Portobella Sandwich, as well as a Chicken Sandwich. Salads include a gluten-free Harvest Salad, which consists of “island field greens and seasonal vegetables, served with balsamic vinaigrette.” This is only $8 and you can add grilled chicken for an extra $3. Perhaps the most unique salad is the Breakfast Salad. This “includes two eggs, dried cranberries, candied pecans all atop a bed of local greens dressed with a house dressing, garnished with flavorful all natural grated parmesan cheese.” The Breakfast Salad is also $8.
When my husband and I first entered the café we were a little confused. To our left we could order our coffee drinks at a long counter which had several stools for customers. To the right we were to told to order our food items.
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THE GREENBANK GRILLE
Serendipity! That is the word I think I will always associate with the Greenbank Grille. It was truly a
surprising discovery when we went there recently for the first time. Situated upstairs and to the back of the Store built in 1904, we expected to find a run-of-the-mill island eatery. What we found was
something very different. Owners, Brian and Nancy Cedar, took over the Greenbank Store and Grille just
over one year ago, but the restaurant has already acquired a regular clientele, as well as a homey ambiance.
The Grille is accessed by a set of open wooden stairs located inside the northern wall of the store. You can enter the building directly through a side entrance off the north parking lot. Once inside the building, the stairway is to your immediate right. Climbing the stairs, we soon found ourselves in what resembled a wood paneled ski lodge replete with wooden tables and a rough stone wall fronted by a black wrought iron stove. It looked and felt very welcoming on the windy and damp day we visited.
We were met and shown to our table by a young woman named Maria, which only added to the Alpine
atmosphere. She invited us to sit anywhere we wanted, then suggested that we might be more comfortable sitting close to the warm stove. We were! Almost as soon as we sat down, Maria was back. She placed menus and a basket of freshly-baked Parmesan and herb focaccia paired with a dish of olive oil and balsamic vinegar in front of us, then she took our drink orders and told us to take our time in ordering. It didn’t take us long to realize that this was, indeed, not the kind of eatery we had expected, but one a few steps removed from a real gourmet restaurant - and a very comfortable one at that..
As we entered the restaurant not long after it had opened for dinner, we noticed that the place was nearly empty, but there was already a family of five seated near us. It looked like a set of grandparents were dining with their adult children and grandson, a darling toddler around two years old. Relaxed, and in such a warm atmosphere, we started chatting amiably with the neighboring family. We learned that the senior couple lived nearby and dined at the Grille frequently due to the good food and service. When I mentioned that the place was nearly empty, she said, “Just wait a while and there will be a lot more people.” She was right. By the time we left, the place was nearly full.
In due time we got around to ordering off the wide menu. We noticed the prices were a little higher than some local restaurants, but the menu items looked interesting. There were hamburgers with such interestingnames as Almost Famous Billion Burger, which is a burger served with southwest dressing, sliced pickles,sautéed onion and chopped bacon rounded out with cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomato. And Johnny’s Hot and Sweet Maui Wowie Burger, which is topped and bottomed with pineapple habanero sauce, Canadian bacon and cheddar cheese. These come with fries or potato salad and range in price from $11 to $13. The burgers sounded tempting, but we wanted something different.
The menu gave a wide selection from which to choose. Starters included fries, Washington Orchard Wings and stuffed Portobello mushrooms. Everyday there are various offerings of healthy home-made soup. Salads include mixed or Caesar salads. Sandwiches included Portobello and Cookie’s special Reuben Sandwich. There are also seafood, pasta and vegetarian items, as well as gluten-free choices. These all sounded tempting. It was difficult to decide what to have.
After a discussion with Maria, my dining partner ordered Pineapple Habanero Chicken which is a chicken
breast that has been marinated in a glaze of habanero chiles and pineapple. This was served with rice pilaf and fresh mixed vegetables. The restaurant takes pride in serving locally grown produce, eggs, poultry and meat. My husband said the entrée was deliciously spicy, but not hot to the palate. He said he would definitely order it again!
I opted to start with a small Mixed Greenbank Salad. The greens were tossed with walnuts, dried
cranberries and Gorgonzola cheese drizzled with raspberry vinaigrette. The salad was crisp and flavorful,
but the salad dressing was a little on the sweet and heavy side. But I made it all gone.
For my main entrée, I ordered Shrimp Carbonara Greenbank Style. This very satisfying pasta dish included six jumbo shrimp, bacon, onions and garlic finished off in a heavy cream reduction, then tossed with linguini and topped with shredded Parmesan cheese. It was a savory version of the popular pasta dish and I will definitely order it again. The portion size was so large that I was able to enjoy the entree a second time as my lunch on the following day.
After our meal, we visited with Brian Cedar. We wanted him to know how pleasantly surprised we were to find such a good restaurant in the little, old-fashioned store. We let him know it was truly serendipitous.
Brian explained that besides dinner, the grille also serves a wide selection of breakfast items at their Sunday Brunch. We plan to return in the near future to try it out. We suspect we will probably be in for another big surprise. But come and see for yourself. Share in the serendipity!
It should be noted that the bar serves a full complement of wines, beers, ciders, call drinks and cocktails.
There is also a full range of non-alcoholic drinks. Come early and stay late. Until May 15, the restaurant is open Thursday through Saturday with dinner being served from 4:00pm to 9:00pm. Sunday brunches run from 9:00am to 2:00pm. Take-out is available by calling (360)678-3300. The Greenbank Grille invites you to follow them on Facebook for news, information and more, as the menu items and hours are subject to change. They may be found at www.facebook.com/greenbankgrille.
Please Note: for handicap accommodations, please call the restaurant at the number given above.
Our Rating: **** $$$
1-2-3 THAI FOOD: GOOD FOOD FAST
Why people keep returning to 1-2-3 Thai Food is as simple as - well, one, two, three. One is the tasty food, two is the wide menu selection, and three is location, location, location! Conveniently located in the shopping center near Safeway, the storefront restaurant is a favorite of shoppers and local business people, alike, looking for a quick, tasty meal at a reasonable price.
There is no pretense about the place. What you see is what you get! Upon entering, your senses are heightened by a large colorful menu covering one wall, the sounds of the Orient playing softly in the background, and an aromatic medley of savory foods being prepared in the open kitchen.
There is no evidence of waiters. A diner simply walks up to Jeanna, the cashier, and places an order for a dine-in or take-out meal. For a first time diner, the experience can be daunting, as the menu choices are wide and varied. No MSG is used and there is, also, a gluten-free menu. Most of the entrees come with a choice of either chicken, pork, beef or tofu. But once a diner knows the routine, ordering becomes easier and the meal that follows is well worth any initial confusion.
Once you have placed your order, you take your number, then go and sit at either one of the tables situate
d in the front and along one wall of the restaurant, or you move to one of the back booths. Each table contains a selection of sauces, as well as chopsticks, forks, and a napkin holder. If you haven’t opted for a bottled soft-drink beverage from the case in the front of the restaurant, there is a soft drink dispenser toward the back. Hot coffee or tea is also available. Several service areas are placed in conveniently located areas with a selection of glasses and other necessities. Copious stacks of take-out containers are available when needed. It all contributes to the homey atmosphere of the place. The first time a diner may come as a guest, but after that, it seems you are family.
After being in the food business over thirty years, owner Sam Chong, who hails from Bangkok, has a firm philosophy and grasp of how to please his customers. Fresh, wholesome food is offered in a clean, relaxed atmosphere. He strives to serve authentic Thai food that is both healthy, as well as pleasing to the eye - and not swimming in a lot of sauce. It is obvious that he takes a personal interest in pleasing his diners. (He has even posted his phone number in case anyone has a complaint or suggest!)It is apparent that he has a lot of regular customers. On several occasions when we have eaten there, the restaurant has been busy. During our last visit for a Saturday lunch, the sixty-seat restaurant was semi-full when we entered around noon, but by the time we left, it was completely full. Maybe it was because it was the first of the month., but we would venture to bet that it was because the diners had been there before!
On a previous visit, we spoke to one of 1-2-3 Thai Food’s “regulars.” Bob Watt of Northwest Plumbing and Mechanical Company, said he eats there an average of three times a week. Asked why, he simply stated, “I love this place!” He said his favorite entrée is “Emperor Cashew, ” a stir fry that he prefers with the chicken option. Rice is always added to the entrée at no extra charge, unlike other Asian restaurants. Many other restaurants add a two or three dollar charge for rice. Chong wants to keep his charges reasonable for his diners. Who doesn’t appreciate that?
Later I was to learn first hand why Bob Watt keeps returning for the “Emperor Cashew,” as I ordered that delicious entrée on our last visit. It is stir fry chock full of fresh vegetables such as green bell peppers, onions, zucchini, baby corn, carrots, celery, mushrooms, and cashew nuts mixed in a homemade cashew sauce. I, also, chose the chicken option to be added to the stir fry. When it was served, the colorful combination looked nearly too pretty to eat. Nearly, but not quite! The next time I go in, I think I will have the same entrée sans the chicken, and with extra cashews. If I don’t look out, I could become a “regular.”So far I have eaten their Thai Teriyaki with beef, their Pineapple Curry, and the above. With such a full menu of over forty separate dishes to try, it is a little difficult making a choice. For instance, you decide to have a curry, but what kind? They have Massaman Curry, Panang Curry, Pineapple Curry, Red Curry, and Green Curry. So far I have tried one. So many choices, so little time! As with any good dining establishment, the food and service comes first, and it is obvious that this is the case at 1-2-3 Thai Food, but we would be remiss not to mention the décor of the place.
As stated elsewhere, the restaurant is relaxed and homey, but the décor adds much to that ambiance. You probably will never find this eatery mentioned in any decorating book, but it has a certain retro charm. Crayoned pages out of children’s coloring books adorn the walls, along with colored prints of Thai temples. In short, it is the food that counts, but the ambiance is one of family brought together by great food. Whatever it is, Sam Chong has it down to a science, for there are three 1-2-3 Thai Food restaurants in Washington. The first restaurant is located in Pt. Townsend, the second is in Oak Harbor, and the third 1-2-3 Thai restaurant is located in Seattle. They are all open Monday through Saturday from 11:00am to 9:00pm, closed Sunday. The Oak Harbor restaurant is located at 31595 SR 20 and can be reached at (360)679-7600.
Their web site is www.123thaifood.webs.com The next time you get the urge for Asian food, think 1-2-3 Thai Food. It’s fresh! It’s fast! And it is delicious! As Sam Chong states, “Good food fast not fast food fast!”
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PRIMA BISTRO: A BISTRO WITH A FRENCH ACCENT
Prima Bistro is one-of-a-kind on Whidbey, and well worth any drive. If you haven’t been there before, look for the unobtrusive sign attached to the old Star Store building on First Street in Langley, then enter the red door. As you climb the stairs to the second floor, colorful framed posters transport you up to the restaurant and a unique dining experience.
We entered to find six diners chatting amiably at three tables overlooking a rooftop patio. My dining partner and I opted for a table with a partial view of Saratoga Passage and Camano Island. The setting was very comfortable. The walls and furniture were bright and shiny, while simple white china and cloth napkins added to the fresh ambiance of the place. This was, indeed, a bistro.
One look at the wide-ranging menu reflected a bistro with a French accent. Not only a French accent,but a gourmand’s delight! Where else on Whidbey do you find such appetizers as fried marcona almonds, chickpea fries with curry mayonnaise, chicken liver mousse, and roasted marrow bone?
Later, when speaking with co-owner Jan Jurriaans, she explained that her husband Sieb, co-owner and chef, was born in Holland, but came to America when he was five years old. In his desire to recognize his European roots, he chooses to cook in his favorite French style of cuisine. They have owned the restaurant for seven years and stress their use of fresh local produce. When time allows, the couple enjoys foraging for local seasonable herbs and mushrooms to use in their gourmet recipes.
A unique addition to the bistro’s menu are “small plates,” which also come in seafood variations. These smaller portions appeal to smaller appetites, as well as to diners who like to order several dishes to share within their party. Among the interesting dishes are a pate maison, which includes honeyed filberts and chicken and pork livers; tartare de boeuf, which is made to order; raclette, made with roasted alpine cheese, potatoes, cornichons and speck; and a tarte flambé made with flatbread, crème fraiche, thyme and bacon. Seafood variations feature northwest oysters, smoked wild salmon, truffled prawns, calamari fritti, and Penn Cove mussels.
But lunches don’t stop there! Entrees found on most northwest menus are also available. My dining partner went for his standard away-from-home lunch, fish and chips. Of course, these were prepared ala Francois and are called “fish frites.” Two pieces of semolina dusted white fish were served with a fennel and red onion slaw on a huge bed of shoestring potatoes. They were a tasty change from the usual beer-battered deep fried fish and chips usually served on the island.
As I also ordered from this selection of luncheon entrees, I opted for a Croque Monsieur, a delicious French version of a ham sandwich. This was served on long, thin slices of sourdough bread upon which French ham and gruyere cheese were slathered with Dijon mustard and béchamel sauce. Paired with a crisp mixed green salad dressed with a red wine vinaigrette, this more than satisfied this hungry diner. For dessert, we shared a ramekin of delicious crème brulee. We left sated and happy in our choices.
From the time we entered when Kevin, one of the two waiters on duty, seated us, throughout our meal we found the service to be quiet and unobtrusive. Our wait person, Sonya, was friendly and efficient, andmost solicitous when I requested some bleu cheese crumbles for my salad. Neither waiter hovered around, but were there to refill our water glasses, both signs of good service.
Besides lunches, the bistro serves dinners. “Plats du Jour,” or daily specials are listed on the menu. They include: Sunday - Coq au vin, (chicken with mushrooms, bacon and spaetzle ); Monday -Bouillabaisse, (made with mussels, clams, and white fish); Tuesday - Foie de veau au poivre, (panseared veal liver with polenta); Wednesday - Cassoulet (Rockwell beans, lamb, pork belly, ham hock,duck confit); Thursday - Saucisson de maisson or Choucoute (house made sausage, new potatoes, beer braised sauerkraut). On Fridays and Saturdays, diners must ask their waiter for the daily special, as it varies.
“Steak Frites” or steak platters are also available for dinner. Selections include an 8 ounce hanger steak or a 6 ounce filet mignon. Both are served with Oregon bleu cheese aioli, braised greens and the bistro’s special fries. A Cote de Boeuf for Two is a 32 ounce ribeye steak served with herb butter and the above.
Of course, other entrees are also available, as is a tantalizing dessert menu. A special brandy, grappa and eau de vie menu is on hand, along with special offerings of imported and domestic versions of traditional absinthe drinks. A diner could not begin to take all this specialness in during one visit. We look forward to the time when we can return and try some of the more adventuresome offerings.
As if to emphasize this, as we were leaving we spoke to a couple sitting nearby. They were visiting from Victoria and said they come to Whidbey often. When they do, they always head for their favorite restaurant, the Prima Bistro. Invariably, they said they begin their meal with Truffled Prawns followed by Pan Fried Sweetbreads. They were delighted to mention that last April they were fortunate enough to be there in time to savor some freshly-picked Braised Fiddle Head Ferns sautéed in butter and garlic.
These were truly happy gourmands who had found their Nirvana.
As the Ciao ad says, “ Take a trip to Italy without leaving the island.” But if you are expecting red-checkered tablecloths and melted candles in wine bottles, you are in for a big surprise!Upon entering the restaurant, you might notice the open kitchen takes up nearly half of the room which opens to a second floor. You are immediately engulfed in a bouquet of spicy Mediterranean aromas while your attention is drawn to walls painted the colors of Tuscany and adorned with framed prints and posters. Simple black wooden chairs flank eight four-top dark wooden tables. The decor is fresh and the ambiance is warm. This is the new Italy.
Nearly two years ago, owner Mark Laska introduced Whidbey Island to the “Slow Food Movement” in Italian cuisine. In order to learn the basics of this method of cooking, Laska apprenticed in Naples, Italy under Enzo Coccia, whom he describes as “the Master of Masters” in this style of cooking. Coccia is the owner of “La Notiza,“ said to be the only pizzaria listed in the Michelin guide. “The Master” stresses that every ingredient in a recipe should be grown or made locally and by hand whenever possible - from the olive oil to the flour to the tomatoes.
In Coupeville, Laska, who is also considered to be a master pizza maker, follows the same rules. He says his “peasant food is close to the earth.” The fresh items on his menu verify this and the owner is proud of the fact that over seventy percent of his produce is grown locally and within sight of his upper balcony. The Mozzarella cheese used at Ciao is made fresh daily on site, as is the hearty bread that is served with the entrees. Other local foods include Penn Cove mussels and clams, Whidbey-grown salad greens and oyster mushrooms. What is not produced locally, is imported directly from Italy.
While Ciao’s menu features a wide variety of entrees, salads, and gelati, the owner maintains that his pizzeria is just that - a pizza-centered Nuovo Napolitana pizzeria. From the classic red, green and white Ciao Margherita to the white, Ciao Bianco, there is a pizza to suit most everyone’s taste. All are baked in a special wood-burning oven imported directly from Naples, where historians say the first marinara pizza was baked in 1738. Authentic Neopolitan pizzas must include fresh Mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, and flame-blackened blisters. Some aver that Ciao’s is the best pizza this side of the East Coast. Cocciamust be very proud of his student!
Traditional pastas are also available including, Spaghetti with Meatballs, Baked Ziti, and Fettuccini with Clam Sauce. Lasagna is always listed and when we last visited Ciao, three kinds of Lasagna were available: Lasagna with Mushrooms, which was the specialty of the day, as well as Beef Lasagna and Hubbard Squash Lasagna.If your taste runs to seafood, a variety of “Seafood Bowls” are served. These may be ordered as appetizers or as entrees. Three featured on the menu include, Amalfi Coast Mussels, Spicy Sicilian Shrimp, and their special, CIAOppino, which includes a combination of mussels, clams, scallops, and shrimp in a blood orange/wine broth with fennel.
For the salad lover, three combinations are served on flatbread. These are made of locally grown salad greens, vegetables, fruit and nuts. Homemade dressings are available to dress the salads. These include avocado Caesar, orange and Balsamic vinaigrette, and a hazelnut-lemon vinaigrette. Eating healthy has never been so delicious, and you can always share the flatbread!A wide range of starters or antipasti is available, as is a wide assortment of beverages. The usual American sodas are on hand, as well as a variety of Italian labeled water, coffee, beer and wine. For the discriminating diner, there is a rotating wine list.
When we went to Ciao recently for a Saturday lunch, we both had a special of the day. My dining partner had Mushroom Lasagna, while I had Steak Florentine. We had been to the restaurant for dinner on a number of occasions, but this was the first time we went for lunch. We thought we wouldn’t find as many diners as we usually see during dinner, but by the time we left all but one of the downstairs tables was occupied. Nevertheless, we received excellent service from Emma, our waitperson, who was both gracious and efficient. Before we ordered, I asked her to describe Steak Florentine, but when it arrived, I was still surprised. The “steak” was a well-done piece of baked beef topped with a small medley of tomatoes, kale and spinach. It was tasty, but not what I expected. Along with the meat, the sizzling skillet had a base of au jus and a serving of polenta. This was accompanied by a fresh mixed green salad topped with a tangy gorgonzola dressing, and two chunks of homemade bread. My partner’s Mushroom Lasagna was just what he expected it to be and was served as sizzling as my steak. The portions were so large that both of us took home a container of food. But, of course, we opted for coupes of gelati! With so many choices, it was hard to decide on a flavor! As it turned out, his was coconut. Mine was peanut butter with chocolate chips. A cup of full-bodied Caffee Umbria added a perfect touch to our meal.
Ciao is definitely a welcomed addition to Whidbey’s list of restaurants. Besides offering good food, live music is presented for the diner’s listening and dancing pleasure from Thursday through Saturday. At the time of this review, featured musicians include Eddie McGhee on Thursday, the cool jazz “Trio Nouveau” on Friday and “Strait Ahead Duo” during “Jazz on Saturday.” Besides using local food and musicians, Mark Laska is proud of the fact that he employs twenty local people during the year. When we dined there recently, we noticed only two cooks and one waitress.
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The answer is “Flyers.” The question: “What is the name of the triple treat restaurant/bar/brewery in the heart of Oak Harbor?” That is a no-brainer.
But when Flyers was established in November 2005, Jason Tritt, Tony Savoy, and Gary and Rosa Tritt gave much thought to the concept. They wanted “to celebrate their passion for craft beer, quality and aviation…” They also wanted to honor their family’s legacy of military service to our country that pre-dates the American Revolution.
Five members representing three recent generations of the family have served in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army aviation. The name of the restaurant is to honor them, as well as the men and women who have served, who are serving, and who will serve in our nation’s Armed Forces. The large propeller sign out front is the first indication of the theme of the restaurant.
Upon entering Flyers, you are drawn into the large open space which houses the dining room, bar and brewery. All are visible from the door and the wooden interior seems as friendly as a family den. There is also an aura of British pub about the place, but with a difference. From beer-can to well-crafted airplane models, pictures and aviation memorabilia, there is no doubt about the theme of this place. Televisions hanging from several walls add a sports bar quality. This is a comfortable place to relax, as well as to enjoy a meal or drink. Owner/Manager Jason Tritt should be proud.
The owners’ commitment to excellence is apparent. And one look at the wide-ranging menu suggests that there is something to suit all tastes, no matter from what part of the country you hail. The “Starters” list on the menu features a wide variety of seafood ranging from locally grown Pacific oysters to wild caught salmon. Calamari, crab cakes, Penn cove mussels, and Ahi tuna are also available.
Of course, chicken wings are available with a variety of sauces, as well as other favorites like nachos, loaded and served with salsa or sour cream. Tortilla chips are made to order. One very unique appetizer is “Fried Pickle chips.” These tasty panko-encrusted pickle chips are deep fried and served with their own special sauce.
The menu also features a wide selection of burgers, sandwiches, wraps, and deli sandwiches made to order. Add soup, salad or fries for a little extra. Chili and chowder is always available.
Hungry for pizza? A variety of popular pizzas is available ranging in price from cheese pizza to a pesto and artichoke pizza, to which you can add chicken. Want a salad with your pizza? They range in size from a small garden salad to a full entrée-size salad, including my favorite, the Steak House Salad
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