Chinuk: Hidden Gem or Undiscovered Treasure?

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I’ve heard the radio commercials referring to Chinuk restaurant as Bellingham’s “hidden gem”. Recently, part of the DDB team visited this classy spot for an evening out that included beverages, a breakfast selection, appetizers, dinner, and dessert. In retrospect, I have begun to refer to Chinuk as an undiscovered treasure.

Chinuk is located in what is now called the Four Points Hotel by Sheraton, but those living in town will remember the location as the former Best Western Lakeway Inn.

It’s been over a year since Starwood Resorts bought the hotel, rebranded it as the Four Points, and extensively remodeled it, including updates to the lobby, pool, fitness center, many of the rooms, and the restaurant.

Chinuk LogoOne of the goals of the remodel was to vastly improve Chinuk restaurant with the intent it reflect the colors, and more importantly, the flavors of the Pacific Northwest. The menu was revised and expanded to reflect this culinary direction and also reflects the restaurant’s focus on sourcing as much of the ingredients used to prepare the food from local and regional suppliers.

While wanting to broaden the appeal in the local community, hotel management was sensitive the fact that the restaurant had to both appeal to a wider variety of customers, while not lose its appeal to the hotel guests. This placed certain restrictions on both the remodel and the menu choices.

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The result? The new Chinuk is a classy, yet versatile restaurant. The decor is upscale without being pretentious and is suitable for a prom date or a dressy night out with that special someone. However, casual attire is suitable, and Thursday night the restaurant “dresses down” a little, and offers a family night special (more on that later). The space looks out to the remodeled hotel lobby, giving it an open and spacious feel.

As the sole restaurant in the hotel, the price points have to accommodate variety of budgets, and the restaurant achieves this well. The breakfast menu offers lighter fare to full breakfasts with prices ranging from $4.00 to $15.00, and the all-day menu (lunch and dinner) including starters, sandwiches, salads, burgers, and entrees ranging from $5.00 to $21.00.

And while this is all important information, what’s really important is that the food is really good.

To be fair, we discussed coming in to eat with then hotel manager Larry MacDonald, prior to our arrival. We wanted to try a broad spectrum of the menu, so we needed to be sure that we could try items from both the breakfast and all day menus. We have eaten there a number of times since, and the food has always been up to expectation.

I was joined for dinner by fellow writer Kathryn Garras, better known at DDB as StreetTooth. We began our evening by sampling a few of the unique libations created at Poppe’s, the bar next door to Chinuk’s, and by trying two of the appetizers, the Penn Cove Mussels and the Calamari Fritto Misto.

penn_cove_mussels_autotone_autocolor_brightened_35_500_330Penn Cove mussels (left) are recognized throughout the region and beyond as being some of the most flavorful, and our mussels lived up to that reputation. They arrived steamed to perfection in a tomato based brine served with an Avenue Bread mini-baguette, a large section of lemon, and covered in a tomato and parsley garnish.

The mussels themselves were fresh, plump, and flavorful. Dipping one in the rich broth and popping it into my mouth, followed by a chunk of the Avenue baguette dipped in the same broth, made for an satisfying combination, with the bread soaking up an extra dose of the brine.

Both Kathryn and I have Greek roots, maybe that’s why we both like good calamari. While I’ve tried it in many places (including Greece), I’ve found well prepared and flavorful calamari to be pretty rare. As such, I was prepared to be let down– but in this case we were both pleasantly surprised, agreeing that it was some of the best we’d eaten in a long time.

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The breading was light, crisp, and seasoned with herbs. In addition to the calamari, the dish included artichoke hearts, lemon slices, and anchovies, also in the fried in the breading. The zesty lemon-garlic aioli served alongside featured a nice balance between the lemon and garlic. After the calamari arrived, we were joined by Food and Beverage Manager Douglas Metzger, and Restaurant Manager Toby Varick.

Douglas noticed I was pulling the slices of lemon out of the calamari and mentioned that they were meant to be eaten. I had assumed the lemons were there as a garnish. Intrigued, I picked up the lemon slice and put it in my mouth. Deep frying the lemon had made the rind crisp – the breading combined with the lemon slice made for a new type of crunchy lemon candy – thoroughly enjoyable.

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Our dinner began with breakfast, in the form of the Mushroom Swiss Omelet, a robust
omelet filled with mushrooms, topped with Swiss cheese, and a Béchamel sauce that is “enhanced by sautéed mushrooms, cream, and sherry”. That’s right, mushrooms in a creamy sauce on top of more mushrooms! The Swiss cheese and Béchamel sauce combined for a wonderfully rich flavor.

I chose our second course. As I heard from a friend the burgers at Chinuk were second to none I selected The Painted Hills Beef Burger, which could be eaten for either lunch or dinner.

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This half-pound, grain fed burger is topped with maple-pepper cured bacon and horseradish cheddar cheese, includes lettuce, tomato, and onion, comes with a basket of fries salted with Chef Gio_250_373_autotone_brightness_25Malden Sea Salt, AND one of the biggest, tastiest onion rings I have ever eaten. The onion rings are worth a side order unto themselves. About an inch-and-a-half thick, they are battered in buttermilk and then panko-breaded. We’ve included a couple of photos of the burger, onion ring, and fries, and yes, they taste even better than they look.

We were pleasantly surprised to have this gigantic burger brought out to us by Chef Gio. Up until that time, our excellent service had been provided by our friendly, knowledgeable, and efficient waitress named Savannah. Gio D’Aguino is the head chef at Chinuk, and his creative vision has been instrumental in the development of the new menu and choice of dishes.

Kathryn chose our third course, the Grilled King Salmon which was presented on a small plank, topped with a Merlot-cherry jam, served with seasonal vegetables and rice pilaf. I must admit the combination of Merlot-cherry jam at first seemed a bit odd to me but I found the flavors complemented the deep, rich flavor of the salmon well, enhancing the flavor of the fish rather than overwhelming it.

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Now having a full table, Kathryn and I listened to Douglas talk as we continued to eat. He discussed the thought, care, and effort that the staff had put into the re-design, and especially in selections found in the menu.

Aware that restaurants located in hotels are often viewed as being there to serve primarily the needs of the guests, he reiterated the management’s desire to have Chinuk appeal to the broader, local community, and to be a vibrant part of that community as well.

To that end, the restaurant added unique breakfasts, such as the Mushroom Swiss Omelet to the more traditional breakfast fare, and added a northwest flair including dishes like Crab-Cake Benedict, and the King Salmon dinner entree we had just enjoyed.

They focus on sourcing as much of the fare locally as is possible, and in addition to the Penn Cove mussels, feature cheese from Gothberg farms in Bow, WA, dip their Alaskan Cod Fish and Chips in Kulshan Brewery IPA, and source other fresh fruits and vegetables from local suppliers whenever possible.

Chinuk Winning Chili Team Dirty Dan Days 2016_300_250You will also find the Chinuk staff at various events, and the hotel/restaurant actively works to benefit the Bellingham community. Their chili-cooking team of Douglas Metzger and Chef Gio recently won the Chili Cook-off Contest during Dirty Dan Harris days in Fairhaven. You can get a bowl of their tasty, award-winning chili in both Chinuk, and next door in Poppe’s 360 lounge.

Both share the same kitchen, so if you would prefer to eat Chinuk fare in the bar while watching the game, you can get the entire menu there as well. Poppe’s also features happy hour versions of some of the entrees, I recently had a smaller portion of the Kulshan IPA Alaska Cod Fish and Chips while at Poppe’s.

To give families on a budget a break and an opportunity for a nice evening out, Chinuk features Family Night every Thursday night. The deal is – kids eat for free! For each entree purchased from the regular menu, you receive 1 free meal from the kids menu.

If you are a Twitter fan, follow Chinuk Restaurant ‏@ChinukDining for other specials. For example, they offered all nurses discounted meals during National Nurses week.

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As we wrapped up the evening, Savannah appeared with a sample of the decadent Chinuk  desserts. Although thoroughly satisfied at this point, it was impossible to turn down these wonderful treats. Beignets with powdered sugar and cinnamon, Crème Brule, and a rich, moist Chocolate Cake topped-off our wonderful dining experience. Needless to say, we went home with a few “to go” boxes.

I have added Chinuk to my regular dining rotation, now including The Mushroom Swiss Omelet on my list as one of my new favorite breakfasts. If you have yet to give them a try, then take a moment to get in and discover Chinuk. Conveniently located right there on Lakeway Drive between the freeway and Fred Myer, Chinuk is an undiscovered treasure rather than hidden gem.

Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner 7 days a week, Chinuk is located in the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, 710 Lakeway Drive, Bellingham, WA 98225. (360) 671-1011

  • Breakfast: 6 am. to 11 am.
  • Lunch: 11 am. to 4 pm.
  • Dinner: 4 pm. to 10 pm.

See the Chinuk listing in our directory.