BOW, WA: The Oyster Bar

I’ve been known to drive some pretty long distances for a good meal.  When I lived in Indianapolis, my wife and I drove to Cleveland – some 5-1/2 hours – just to eat at Chef Michael Symon’s restaurant, Lola.  So yesterday’s 100-mile jaunt was a Sunday drive by comparison.

With thoughts of a lovely lunch in mind, I jumped in the car and drove north to The Oyster Bar, a little place near the town of Bow, overlooking Samish Bay and the San Juan Islands beyond. My wife and I had been to The Oyster Bar perhaps 20 years ago so I wanted to see if it was still there at all, and if it was as good as I remembered. 

It is still there – has been since the ‘20s, according to my server – and the view is still as spectacular as always, though the picture doesn’t come close to doing it justice.  As an added bonus, the restaurant is configured so that every table in the place enjoys the same panorama.

The food.  Ah, the food.

Despite the drive, I wasn’t ravenous enough to take full advantage of the many items on offer, so I opted to start with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a half-dozen oysters.  The sample of six came with two of each variety: Samish Bay (obviously very local), Penn Cove from nearby Whidbey Island, and Nootka from Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.  Each was excellent, though different varieties of oysters have different characteristics.  The Penn Cove oysters were my personal favorites.

Between the oysters, wine, and rolls with butter, my appetite was already being sated but I couldn’t stop there.  I had to try a cup of the Wild Nettle and Artichoke soup made of locally gathered nettles, artichokes, Yukon gold potatoes and finished with dry vermouth.  A very pretty deep green color, the soup had little aroma and was far too subtle in flavor for my taste. The most notable sensation was a slight sting at the back of the throat from the nettles.

When my server saw that I’d eaten less than half and asked whether I had not cared for the soup, she then offered to bring me a cup of the Samish Bay clam chowder instead.  THAT was delightful.  While the soup was white as one would expect in a New England-style chowdah, the broth was very light – more like a Rhode Island clam chowder than the thick New England variety. Tasty and light; a great combination.

The one drawback was the speed of service.  While very gracious, it was far slower than it should have been considering that the two servers had no more than eight occupied tables between them (and sometimes fewer).  It took nearly an hour and a half for my lunch of a half-dozen oysters, a glass of wine, and two rounds of soup.  While The Oyster Bar isn’t a fast-food establishment, my simple lunch should not have taken that long.

Despite that one hiccup I will definitely return – but this time with my wife to complete the trifecta: good views, good food, good company.

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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