By Mark Carlson Herald Writer
For several decades, folks have capped off visits to this tourism-oriented village with a delicious dinner in one of the handsomest buildings on the main drag, South First Street.
Two fondly remembered restaurants have occupied the two-level space: First, the Black Swan, and more recently, Kerstin’s. Now a new restaurant, Marion’s Bistro, has opened there. If a recent Sunday-evening visit is any indication, it appears primed to continue the tradition.
A small cocktail lounge occupies the public space on the ground floor. Diners walk up to an intimate room with a good view west to the Swinomish Channel and south down South First. An outdoor dining area, also small, beckons on warm summer evenings. The tables are closely spaced; try for one alongside the windows.
Wisely, Marion’s doesn’t overwhelm guests with a too-long menu filled with things the kitchen may or may not be able to pull off.
The fare is billed as “French-inspired cuisine (with) Northwest infusion.” If you haven’t eaten escargot since that French class field trip to the French restaurant in high school, you can have some here.
We started with a mixed-green salad ($8), which was nicely (read: not excessively) dressed, but undermined by the presence of a pathetically bland supermarket tomato on the plate. And this in the heart of the Skagit Valley in summer. The kitchen staff would do well to take a short walk up the street to an outstanding farm stand and buy some locally grown produce.
Other salad choices included a tempting seafood Nicoise, which for $12 would be a bargain light entree paired with some good bread.
We also tried a cup of seafood bisque ($5), which was arguably heavy on the tomatoey broth but remained a comforting, satisfying way to use up the sea’s bounty.
We also enjoyed a small plate of oyster fritters ($12), five delicately deep-fried Pacific oysters from Blau Oyster Co. This would be the “Northwest infusion,” since the fritters struck me as a more refined version of the way my mom fixed up oysters.
Our main courses were seared sea scallops served on a bed of saffron risotto and wilted spinach and drizzled with a balsamic reduction ($24), and spinach-gorgonzola ravioli ($16). The scallops were cooked through but not rubbery, and the risotto was fragrant and not gooey.
We didn’t ask if the ravioli were made in-house. We suspect they are, because they were toothsome and lovely (and if they did buy these, we want to know where so we can buy them, too). The gorgonzola was restrained, which we liked.
Accompanying all this was a chardonnay from a wine list that consists mostly of familiar Northwest choices. Happily for those who don’t want an entire bottle, most are available by the glass.
The sole server on duty was prompt and attentive but not overhearing, and quickly accommodated our request that the ceiling fan that was blowing a chilly breeze on us be turned down.
Desserts are made in-house; we selected chocolate pot de creme ($7) and ginger creme brulee ($6). Both were well-made renditions of these tried and true classics, and left us happy and well-fed.
Marion’s is off to a good start at the site of some of Skagit County’s best restaurants over the years. It’s well worth a visit on your next stroll through La Conner.
505 S. First St., La Conner; 360-399-1711
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
Speciality: French-inspired Northwest cooking
Vegetarian options: Some.