By Mark Carlson Herald Writer
ANACORTES — You would need to venture into the big city to find a better-looking restaurant than A-Town Bistro.
The bistro, which opened about a year ago, occupies a stylishly remodeled space in an older brick building on Commercial Avenue in downtown Anacortes.
A see-through gas fireplace greets guests in the vestibule — and shields most, but not all, folks in the dining room from icy drafts of air through the open door. Word to the wise: On chilly evenings, you should decline the table closest to the door if it’s offered.
The dining room offers table seating, or you can perch at the bar and watch a couple of chefs work in the open kitchen. Acoustics are excellent — the buzz is lively and convivial, but you can converse with your tablemates without raising your voice or repeating every other sentence.
The A-Town’s wine list is good, and imbibers can choose from a list of specialty cocktails such as one called “Yes Please”: gin liqueur, honey syrup, grapefruit bitters and prosecco ($8). The sweet and sour were well-balanced, and the drink was delicious.
The sensibly sized A-Town menu offers about 10 starters and salads. For our first course on a recent Saturday evening, we considered the Scotch egg, an English pub favorite that’s a soft-boiled egg coated in pork sausage and bread crumbs and deep-fried, and served with ale mustard and pickled onions ($9). It would have paired perfectly with the pint of nitrogen-tap Guinness I enjoyed.
I also was tempted by a plate of crisp fried Lopez Island smelt with roasted red pepper aioli ($8). We did rule out the chicken liver pate ($11), which we found bland during a visit in December.
This time around, we chose herbed flat bread topped with house-made cherry preserves and dots of goat cheese ($7). Some pepper flakes added a bit of heat and interest. I thought the preserves made it too sticky to be finger food, but that’s where forks and knifes come in handy.
For our salad course, we selected grilled romaine with a ceasarlike dressing and a crisp parmesan wafer garnished with an anchovy fillet, presumably so anchovy-phobes can look upon it with disgust, make a whiny-baby face, and shove it off to the edge of the plate. But I believe diners with adult palates would want the anchovy incorporated into the dressing, which I found lacking in complexity without the fish. Anchovy haters can just order something else.
The romaine hearts in the $9 salad were trimmed properly and grilled with care, with no nasty, bitter burnt bits.
Also offered are a bistro salad of greens ($7) and a locally grown apple and beet salad ($9).
Perusing A-Town’s 10 main-course offerings, I chose a dish that consists of half a Rock Cornish game hen (aka small chicken, $17), which was brined, floured and fried, and served with waffles over which a maple-bourbon syrup was poured. Also on the plate was butter flavored with a few squirts of Sriracha sauce.
The game hen, which was a lot bigger than the diminutive single-serving birds I remember from Mom’s Sunday suppers, was cooked perfectly, and the crisp waffles, thick as framing lumber, would have passed muster at Sunday brunch (which the bistro also offers). But for me, the dish’s sweetness became monotonous. A bit more Sriracha might have helped. That said, your mileage may vary; I think a lot of folks would really enjoy this dish.
Other main-course offerings include rib-eye steak ($29, and highly recommended by a family member also dining at A-Town that night), Alaska weathervane scallops ($29), and more affordable fare such as fish and chips — the fries are seasoned with truffle and dipped in curry ketchup — and angel hair pasta tossed with mushrooms sauteed in cognac, fresh herbs and parmesan cheese ($15).
For my wife’s main, I recommended a dish called New York pork, which I enjoyed during our visit in December ($21). The hog meat enveloped sun-dried tomatoes, gorgonzola and pine nuts, and was served with a mushroom-marsala reduction sauce, parsnip chips and buttery spaghetti squash.
Alas, about an hour after we placed our order, our server informed us that the kitchen had run out of the pork. Our consolation choice was butternut squash ravioli, which arrived in a pool of sherry cream sauce and studded with some toasted hazelnuts. It was enjoyable enough, but not particularly memorable — and it seemed overpriced at $19. Given the circumstances, it probably should have been on the house.
The pork foul-up was one of several service blunders during our Saturday-night visit. Our friendly, but — by her own admission — inexperienced, server failed to clear away dishes in a timely fashion. The glass that contained the beer, which I ordered soon after we took our seats, was still on the table when we left.
Before we did leave, we shared a slice of gateau au chocolat (flourless chocolate cake, $7). Also available: creme brulee ($6), rosemary cake with candied lemon rind ($8) and a “stout float” ($7).
Despite a few bobbles during our visit, we will be returning to A-Town. Relaxing in attractive, comfortable surroundings is a big part of the dining experience, and A-Town has that part nailed. Given the effort and thought that have gone into this restaurant, we’re confident that next time, everything on the plates will be equally memorable.
418 Commercial Ave., in old town Anacortes; 360-899-4001; atownbistro.com.
Specialty: Contemporary American fare.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to close, Friday and Saturday; brunch served from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.
Vegetarian options: A few.