“You know you had four utensils when we started this meal and now you’re using none of them,” Hailey informs me, raising her eyebrows. We are in Cassoulet, and I am knuckle deep in brined, spit-roasted local chicken, rubbing butter from my fingers onto a hunk of their homemade bread to make the perfect savory bite.
“This is visceral,” I explain, happy to be in company unbothered by my unstoppable desire to pluck from other’s plates, abandon my fork, and fall into an eye-rolling, food-noise-groaning caricature of myself.
An 11-mile drive can seem pretty long when you’re used to functioning in downtown Bellingham’s radius of eateries, but after zooming through the pastureland and finding yourself seated in the unassuming little space of Lynden’s Cassoulet, you could be in a whole other country.
Strangers talk childhood food memories at one of the several farmhouse community tables, but my friends and I have a table to ourselves so we don’t have to inflict our shared slurping and laughing on anybody but each other.
The place evokes the atmosphere of a country kitchen in France, where the mood is quiet and pleasant, the service leisurely and heavy plates of well-made food arrive throughout our stay. We are there for lunch, entrées are $12, and side dishes for us to share come along with the meal. Though there is a list of available sides, we leave it up to the chef to choose them for us—it’s the kind of place where you don’t question the cooks.
First a bowl of the loveliest mushroom soup arrives, and we pull it to the center of our table to collectively dip our spoons and dribble it all over the place. Simple and wonderfully rich and earthy, it’s little more than some chanterelles and crimini mushrooms with stock and parmesan, but as we scrape the sides of the bowl with the fresh bread they brought us, we breathe heavy sighs of appreciation.
The ratatouille comes next, along with our entrees. Amy gets the chicken that I later find myself falling in love with. Hailey gets the beet salad with a spicy, complex harissa dressing and goat cheese, and I get the brandade gratin. The gratin is comprised of house-made salt cod, swiss chard, potatoes, and cream so rich I could cry.
Before too long we are swapping bites of each other’s dishes, scooping up the ratatouille with forkfuls of chicken, potatoes or sweet, pungent beets. The fried chicken arrives and Amy and I nearly lose it. Our resident vegetarian looks on in amusement as we pick the crispy skin apart, suck the bones, press the bread into the tender flesh to soak up the flavor and generally overdo it.
And this was only lunch. Sous chef Dan Ryan tells us dinner is where the food really shines, and one look at the menu leaves no doubt he’s right. A five-course dinner menu with an option for wine pairings is written in chalk on the wall, and I want it, despite my too-full and aching stomach.
The dinner menu will change weekly or possibly even more often, with the entire menu changing seasonally and featuring a range of local products and house-made accompaniments. The cocktail menu is beckoning me back for happy hour, with syrups, ginger beer, tonic, and pink peppercorn pickled peaches all made from scratch. We will come back, and we’ll order one of everything.
If you, like one of the lovely elderly women at the table next to us, miss the terrine your farmer father used to make when you were a kid, this place is for you. If you crave bones and butter and cream like the French, you should certainly stop in to feel sated. And if you need the heartache and poetry that only good food—really good food—can provide, Cassoulet is going to become your second home.
Check out more of Sally’s food writing at http://www.wolfsoup.com
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