Food

Family Dinners

Seasonal splendor at Nell Thorn

Attend

What: Nell Thorn

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WHEN: 11:30am-9pm Tues.-Sun. (PSA: Nell Thorn will be temporarily closed this week for a kitchen repair, but keep an eye on their website for reopening and to see when specials will be offered—always a good idea anyway.)

Info: http://www.nellthorn.com

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

As big fans of Nell Thorn in La Conner, my husband and I love most of their regular menu, and tend to fight over who gets to order the crab pasta and who gets the steak frites.

The menu is constantly changing depending on what’s in season locally, so often our plans will be derailed by some spectacular-sounding special such as singing scallops or the first halibut of the season—or maybe wild mushroom pasta.

But then, just to make the choices even more difficult, for the last couple of winters the kitchen has been coming up with seasonal Wednesday specials, which typically end when tourist season picks up in April. One of the true benefits of being a local is getting to take advantage of these winter-Wednesday specials, like Family Dinner and Fried Chicken Night.

We went to our first Family Dinner almost exactly two years ago. Served family-style, it was a delightful meal of meatloaf, wedge salad and apple pie—very unlike what we usually order at Nell, but just as well prepared. Since then we have attended many more, including a Swedish dinner on the occasion of the passing of the founder of IKEA (featuring Swedish meatballs, of course), a French dinner in honor of chef Paul Bocuse, and a Mardi Gras celebration.

Each one was a feast. The Paul Bocuse dinner in particular included variations on his most famous recipes, such as a truffled potato soup served inside a domed pastry shell, a rabbit fricassee, and a lovely apple tart shaped like a flower. Mardi Gras was a vast spread of fried seafood, crawfish etouffee with house-made andouille sausage, crab hush puppies, dirty rice, collards, beans, banana pudding, beignets and, finally, king cake. (They don’t call it Fat Tuesday for nothing!)

Some of the menus have had a few special drink options, like Sazerac cocktails for the Mardi Gras dinner and a shot of ice-cold aquavit with the IKEA dinner, as well as discounted wine selections.

This winter Nell Thorn has mixed things up a bit, currently alternating between a Fried Chicken Night every other Wednesday, starring a different culture’s take on fried chicken each time, while the in-between weeks have been featuring either a particular cuisine or event like Dia de los Muertos, or a particular ingredient like turkey, pasta or short ribs. Some are full prix-fixe menus like past family dinners, others are a single plate offered as a special.

The two Fried Chicken Nights we’ve made it to were very different from each other: one was Tuscan-influenced, with a side of delectable fried artichoke hearts, intensely cheesy polenta, and greens cooked with olives, while the other was Japanese-style, accompanied by seaweed-flecked rice, bok choy, and roasted squash.

In both cases the chicken was served in small, boneless pieces and was incredibly tender and juicy with a thin and very crisp coating, although the Italian chicken was battered and the Japanese was breaded. Because these are offered as single plates, it’s not necessary for the whole table to commit—although they’ll probably want to.

For all events, quantities can be limited, so it’s recommended to make a reservation and let them know that you’re coming for the Family Dinner. Other specials like fried chicken, however, might be first-come, first-served, so have a backup plan. I recommend the crab spaghetti. Or maybe the steak frites.

Sugar Ray
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