Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Drizzle: Gourmet Heaven

Fairhaven District in Bellingham, WA is the best eating I've ever had (other than my own cooking). 

My trip to Washington was about mountains and hiking.  I loved the idea of a several week trip out there for months because I could look forward to beaches, mountains, forests, basically everything.  What I did not expect when heading to the Cascades though, was accidentally finding a gourmet mecca.  Fairhaven District is a 3 square block historical zone inside the town of Bellingham at the end of the comically-named Chuckanut Highway (not worth driving).  I headed there because a sign for "Colophon Cafe" on the freeway (I-5) caught my eye when I was hungry.  Immediately as I drove into this little downtown, I was a bit overwhelmed.  I threw on the nicest clothes I had (or at least the ones not covered with mud and mountain sweat) and decided to make an afternoon of things before heading into the Cascades National Park.

Once I found Colophon Cafe I got down to real business.  The menu grabbed me when I noticed a 3 soup sampler.  I was able to get a bowl of African Peanut (their specialty), Greek Lemon Chicken (their soup of the day), and the obligatory Clam Chowder, Northwest style.  I like that in Washington Chowder is Northwest Chowder, while in Oregon and California, they call it Boston Chowder.  Take some pride, Fairhaven!  

All 3 soups were great.  The chowder was very fresh with potatoes, carrots, and greens, not fishy at all or stale like canned varieties or what you find away from the shore.  The Greek soup was good, very lemony though not tart, with lots of herbs and rice.  The best though was this African Peanut soup.  Its marvelous.  Here is a link to the pdf of the recipe, which Colophon provides free on their website along with others:

And here is the main website link:

I am in shock that this recipe is readily available. I was scribbling down the ingredients off the menu, and trying to be sneaky about it.  It is probably too much work for most, especially when one is local and a bowl costs $3.95, and perhaps, when it fails at home, that drives more customers back, not less?  Well, let me say, the turkey is not necessary.  You could easily make this as a vegan option by starting with vegetable stock and I think it would still be amazing, maybe more so, as more could enjoy it.  The turkey is "gravy".  It was not bad or out of place, but it did not add anything for me. 

The cafe also serves great old fashioned ice creams and other desserts, and is connected to a gift shop and a fine local book store. Also attached to Colophon Cafe in back is one of the most remarkable businesses on earth: a tasting bar...for gourmet Balsamic Vinegars and Olive Oils!

Now I was full, but had to see what this was all about, so I wandered back to "The Drizzle."  My first sip of black cherry balsamic vinegar from a paper cup filled from a huge stainless steel drum later, I was dizzy with excitement.  It was amazing!  Fig blend was sold out (though I've since adored it at home), but apricot was another winner.  White apple was a bore. Champignon olive oil could be made at home cheaper.  And easily.  Just add mushrooms to your olive oil.  But there were also walnut oils, truffle oils, dark chocolate balsamic (meh), espresso balsamic (yeck), and one that nearly made me puke.  I think it was pineapple balsamic vinegar, which triggers my gag instinct right off, but I can't quite be sure of that.  Might have been mango balsamic.  Tropical, anyway.

The idea is simple: find what you like, grab one of the toadies to fill a bottle for you ($10, $15, or $20 sizes) and head home.  

Your other option for gourmet balsamic vinegars is to try this website, which is basically the same store but with an economy size option (100 ml for $5.95) and without the dark chocolate balscamic:

Or try infusing your own.  Apricot and black cherry were my favorites, and I was told fig balsamic is the very best seller.  At "The Drizzle" the toadies suggest olive oils and meals to pair with your choices.  I'd say if all else fails, put it on a salad, eat in on toast, or drink it straight like kalua.  They are good!

The entire town of Fairhaven in Washington is a foodie paradise.  Here is a picture of a macadamia nut mousse I had for dessert after eating 2 dinners (hey I hiked for a week and was hungry!)

Fairhaven is possibly my favorite place on Earth that the mark of human civilization has touched.  So far.  A charming town with an outdoor theatre, live music all summer, old-fashioned shoppes, hotels, no fast food or chain stores, ocean access, tons of options for amazing food, and it is right at the doorway to the Northern Cascades, a wild place to hike and climb.  Go there someday. It is technically part of the city of Bellingham.

If you do get to Washington, but not Fairhaven, some great soups can be had at any Safeway.  I enjoyed the uber-fattening "Beef Stroganoff Soup" (960 calories in one sitting), a great tomato and bell pepper bisque (always good: 540 calories) and a Coconut and Red Curry Chicken Bisque (720 calories) with rice and vegetables.  Many other flavors are available, not all disgustingly salty and bad for you, though if you want to hike 160 miles in 15 days like me, you will be eating these in under 3 minutes and still losing weight, like I did, and still being dehydrated and salt deprvied.  And you'll be going through whole jars of peanut butter every day too.  Exercise and eat what you like, that's what I say.  And then hit the wine or beer aisle of the nearest grocery.  So many options. 

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