Check-in time at the Holiday Inn

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

I’m a big fan of eating at spanking-new spaces.

A restaurateur has to take time to really develop his or her menu, to select silverware and plates, to decorate according to a certain theme. In the best cases, there’s a budget that makes this a fun, creative project. That’s certainly true for northwater, the restaurant at the Holiday Inn Bellingham Airport that opened in late March.

Airport hotels are not known for their stellar cuisine, but northwater is an exception to that rule, with a surprisingly sophisticated menu created by Chef Christy Fox, a woman with an impressive resume.

Fox graduated from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, worked with celebrity chef Bradley Ogden, and a few years ago cofounded Evolve Chocolate Truffles with her wife Shannon, creating award-winning sweet delights. Not satisfied with the “same old, same old,” she’s added her distinctive culinary twist to northwater’s menu with items including chicken scaloppini, drunken green curry noodles, Korean beef lettuce wraps, and phyllo purses filled with roasted vegetables and chevre.

Yes, there are burgers and fries at decent prices. But Fox also offers a selection of customizable options including whiskey bacon, gorgonzola, roasted mushrooms, and fried eggs to elevate those old favorites.

We had two meals at northwater and were pleased with most of our selections at both. The meal began with what our server referred to as a “gift of friendship; our way of breaking bread with you”—a complimentary serving of warm parmesan and sun-dried-tomato-infused focaccia and a dish of olive tapenade. The tapenade was so good my daughters were digging into it with spoons.

The description of my Asian chicken and pear salad ($11) sounded fabulous on the menu, but was a bit disappointing. Cold, shredded chicken and sliced pear are not good partners in a green salad—so I was glad I’d ordered the roasted beet carpaccio ($12) too. On this plate, yellow and red beets are served with chevre, pistachio and citrus vinaigrette in a fabulous appetizer. Soup was also on our order, and the dairy-free tomato soup, rich and creamy thanks to the addition of coconut milk, had just enough heat to make it interesting and warm the belly on a cold day.

Presentation is crucial in a restaurant, and northwater puts in a lot of effort. The restaurant’s plates have wave-like patterns, there’s silverware with an oceanic theme and attractive décor features. Wavy glass between the booths looks like ripples on the sea and the booths have a calming, turquoise-green color scheme that adds to the Pacific Northwest feel.

The highlight of our meal was the rosemary chicken scaloppini ($16), a true testament to Fox’s culinary prowess. A dish of boneless chicken served with artichoke hearts, pine nuts, white wine and a bed of linguini, this is a creamy, memorable entrée and a perfect antidote to the chilly spring we’re experiencing.

Our waiter convinced me to order the ahi tuna special, which arrived with a delicious, hot quinoa veggie salad on a yellow beet puree. My daughter, usually a fussy eater, gobbled up the roasted vegetable phyllo purse ($17), which combined chevre, mushrooms and other roasted vegetables in a pocket of comfort food. And the white chocolate cheesecake, served with a blueberry compote and coffee whip cream ($8), was a fabulous finale to the meal.

The dinner menu ranges in price from $12 for a signature burger to $39 for the filet mignon, and Fox takes pains to source locally, using (among others) Twin Sisters Creamery, Bow Hill Blueberries, and Whatcom and Skagit county farmers’ produce whenever possible. That ethos applies to their breakfast menu as well, which features everything from cinnamon brioche French toast ($11), to a trio of egg sliders ($11), and an item dubbed the “Better Half” ($8 for a perfectly poached egg on top of house-made whole-grain bread, avocado and tomato jam, served with northwater potatoes).

It’s well worth it to stop in at northwater for a meal. When you do, ask for a window seat, as the booths can feel a tad dark. The food is swell, there’s a superb cocktail selection, service is excellent and the price-to-value ratio is decent.

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