Calumet rarely fails to please

Stacee Sledge

Dec 6, 2001 The perfect dining experience can be elusive. A delightful dish may be tainted by wretched service, while middling food can be overlooked when you have a friendly waitperson. When all the elements meld together a welcoming atmosphere, thoughtfully prepared food and an attentive server a memorable meal results.

When I finished grad school in Des Moines, Iowa, and moved to Bellingham five years ago, my idea of a satisfying dining experience was far simpler. Living in the Pacific Northwest has broadened my dining horizons, offering fresh produce and seafood of a quality that was rarely available back in the Midwest. The variety of cuisine available in our region's restaurants from salmon caught that morning to organically grown marionberries delights and intrigues.

The Calumet has become a regular stop on my never-ending search for the ideal meal in Bellingham, and it consistently comes closest to hitting the mark. Aside from one minor mishap long ago (impressive as it may be to some, I prefer when a server writes down the menu selections for a large group), I've always been rewarded with an evening of interesting food and considerate table service.

Tucked between the Newsstand and Cellophane Square downtown, the atmosphere at the Calumet is warm and inviting, with a lightly modern sheen tossed into the mix. In the winter, a wood stove burns brightly, adding coziness to the brick-walled, high-ceilinged space.

The Calumet is a great place for an after-work martini (they have a dizzying display of cocktails to choose from) and appetizers, or a full-on meal finished with a delectable dessert and glass of port.

On our most recent visit, the place was filled nearly to capacity, even on a Tuesday evening. All four of my dining companions ordered different items, and each one met with raves from a subtle yet sublime risotto with locally grown chanterelle mushrooms and fresh rosemary to the ravioli special, stuffed with white bean hummus, spinach, roasted garlic, and parmesan, then tossed with roasted red peppers, mushrooms, and extra virgin olive oil.

The Calumet

113 East Magnolia Street

Phone: 733-3331

Menu items sampled:
Insalada con funghi $7.95
Potato gnocchi $7.50
Ravioli special $16
Grilled tenderloin $19.95
Cuban pork $16.95
Chocolate crème brûlée $5
Fallen chocolate cake $5

One friend built his meal out of two of the Calumet's appetizers. He began with the insalada con funghi, which can be ordered as a starter salad or a full entrée. Its wilted baby greens rested under a layer of sautéed mushrooms, sage, and fresh asparagus, topped with mozzarella and roasted garlic cream. The combination of cold and warm was an unexpected and welcome departure from the average salad.

As an entrée, he ordered the potato gnocchi. The fresh potato dumplings were bathed in a rich basil cream sauce that included sun-dried tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms. The sauce was a full-flavored heavy cream, yet light to the taste.

My selection of the grilled tenderloin was outstanding. Served with a spiced merlot syrup that expertly balanced all the flavors on my plate, the meat was prepared exactly to my specifications and virtually dissolved in my mouth.

Side dishes grab attention at the Calumet. A savory wild mushroom bread pudding was served with my tenderloin, as well as a peppery braised kale. Not your average trimmings, just one of many reasons to love this eatery.

Another of my cohorts ordered the Cuban pork, a tender cut of meat braised in chili, cumin and lime. The roasting gave this fiery dish a pleasant crispiness. The jus was savory, but did not overwhelm. Another intriguing side dish was served with this entrée: plantain fritters, which were not as sweet as one might anticipate. The plantain was shredded, similar in texture to a sweet potato, drizzled with a chipotle cream sauce, and spiked with chilies.

I'm not generally a dessert fan, but my husband is, so he gladly offered to try the crème brûlée. The delicate, velvety custard was infused with Godiva and Grand Marnier liqueurs, then crowned with a crisp, caramelized topping. Airy and full of flavor, one nibble made me wish I had room for dessert the fallen chocolate cake with crème anglaise and raspberry sauce looked especially inviting.

Recipes from the Calumet have been featured several times on recent KCTS cooking shows. Hopefully this exposure will inspire even more patrons to experience this charming Bellingham establishment.

The Fine Print: I dine on my own dime. The opinions herein are mine alone, not the Bellingham Herald's. Agree? Disagree? Please drop me a line at


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