Spotlight

B-Town Kitchen & Raw Bar: The world is its oyster

B-Town Kitchen & Raw Bar

714 Lakeway Drive

Bellingham

360-392-6520

https://www.btownkitchen.com

The month it opened, B-Town Kitchen & Raw Bar sold a whopping 2,000 oysters.  

That was in May, and since then the restaurant connected to Four Points by Sheraton Bellingham Hotel & Conference Center has continued to draw welcome attention to itself by offering some of the freshest seafood around, prepared in ways both traditional and contemporary.

“It’s seafood with a twist,” the hotel’s general manager, John Burns, said on a recent sunny afternoon from a booth at the newly renovated space that formerly housed Poppe’s 360.

After a million-dollar transformation of the eatery on Lakeway Drive, it’s difficult to visualize what was here before. Instead, the eye is drawn to a warm and welcoming space full of sleek lines and innovative lighting. On the revamped patio you’ll find large, weather-resistant chairs sharing space with cozy tables, an outdoor bar and circular modern fire pits (no wood required).

At a grand opening ceremony in early May, the patio was packed with guests eager to sample the regionally sourced seafood, innovative appetizers, craft cocktails, locally procured beer and wine and a variety of other menu items inspired by the land and sea. I tried to restrain myself, but soon found my plate piled with Miagi and Kushi oysters (both from Hood Canal), poke and jumbo shrimp. And when a waitress made the rounds with offerings of slider-sized lobster rolls, it was impossible to turn her down. It tasted of the ocean, but also of summer and tradition. In short, it was delicious.

When Chef Evan Morrison joined Burns at the table at the late-June meeting, the rolls became a topic of conversation. What was his secret?

“I use only quality ingredients, and don’t take any shortcuts,” Morrison said, pointing out the hollowed-out hoagies the rolls are served on are sourced from Avenue Bread. (It should be noted that the lobster B-Town serves is one of the only seafood offerings sourced from the East Coast, as it’s not found on ours.)

It seems that Morrison’s “high-quality, no shortcuts” ethos extends to all of the menu—from the small plates (sriracha brussels sprouts, crispy calamari, Dungeness ceviche, sticky garlic wings, etc.) to the soups and salads (Pacific Caesar, spicy crab bisque and miso-glazed salmon are among them), to the big plates (Snake River Kobe Burger, pork chops, short ribs and ribeye steak from Blaine’s Double R Ranch, Lummi Island salmon, seafood stew and more), raw bar (oysters, salmon carpaccio, ahi sashimi, hamachi crudo) and beyond.

Asian-style noodles tossed with garlic butter, oyster sauce, parmesan cheese and scallions was another menu item sampled at the grand opening and brought up during the second visit, as they were exemplary. Burns said that in addition to spending six months fine-tuning the menu, they also sent someone to California to bring back the best noodles they could find in order to replicate the taste. Their research was spot-on, as the end product is more than mildly addictive.

“Other than what it says on the menu, I can’t tell you exactly what’s in it,” Burns said of the edible experiment. I accepted his right to privacy, and we moved on to another topic.

Although B-Town is connected to a hotel, Burns pointed out that he hopes Bellingham residents make it their own—whether it’s for happy hour oyster shooters, beers on the patio, romantic dinner dates or casual meetings with friends.

“We also want it to be a restaurant for the community,” he noted. “We’re even winning back some of the Poppe’s regulars—and we still have some of the employees from the old restaurant, including the assistant manager, the bartender and some of the servers.”

Almost three months in, Burns reports that the most-ordered menu items are the Kobe burger and the fried brussels sprouts.

“We pride ourselves on how we cook our veggies as much as we do our ribeyes,” Chef Morrison said. “Vegetables have to be treated with as much respect as anything else.

“The idea with our menu is that when you’re done eating, you’re satisfied,” he pondered. “It’s not a contest for how much you can eat.”

Taking his advice, when the meeting came to an end I ordered another popular dish—the Pacific Caesar salad—and spent some time on my own people-watching, observing a surly John McEnroe playing tennis on televsion, and enjoying an unexpected meal.

It’s not hyperbole to say it was one of the best salads I’ve ever eaten. Dungeness crab, Cortez prawns and Chilean bay shrimp were served atop lettuce and finished with garlic croutons and Romano cheese. A seared half-lemon was a welcome addition.

I’ll be back for this more-seafood-than-salad dish again soon, and because B-Town is a 15-minute walk from my house, I probably won’t have the need to book a room if I linger for dinner and drinks and end up over the limit. That said, it’s nice to know the option exists.

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