MagoGuide is pleased to report that the Washington State Ferry System is far superior to any Italian ferry line we have ever used—although to be fair that is setting the bar pretty low. Reservations are honored, cars are parked rationally in the hold, the staff is competent if a bit curt at times, and one never ever has to back out of the bowels of the ship along with a couple hundred insane scofflaws. But the best part of the ferries in this neck of the woods, at least as far as MagoGuide is concerned, involves the three types of craft-brewed and premium draft beer onboard (although the numerous electrical outlets in convenient locations are a close second). One thing has not changed from the Mediterranean, however. It is May and I am trapped on a ship at sea with a veritable myriad of school kids shrieking and swarming throughout the vessel… sigh.
The slow travel gateway to the San Juan Islands and Canada is Anacortes Washington. Team Mago rolled into this rather unprepossessing town only to realize that we were victims of a bait and switch perpetrated by the evil Sunrise Inn, which claims to rent “villas and suites” to a credulous public. Our king bed suite “with luxury appointments,” Jacuzzi bath, fully furnished kitchen, etc. was anything but. The online description and misleading pictures of the actual room we rented (there was only one such “suite” in the hotel) were blatantly fraudulent. The staff had minimal English and was about as helpful as the IRS hotline on April 14. Team Mago is unanimously awarding the Sunrise Inn at 905 20th St. our infamous “Assholes of the Trip” award, confident even at this early stage that our assessment will hold up for the next ten days.
Telephone: (360) 588-0653
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Rostra rating: 4
There is, however, one very good reason to visit Anacortes. That would be the Adrift restaurant. The restaurant either does or does not take reservations (depending on who you talk to) and it really does not matter. Getting seated is a semi-random but pleasant process.
Team Mago ended up at the front of a line that stretched back to the door, “checked in” about three or four times with the young man apparently in charge of seating patrons, perused the interesting collection of books clearly designed for waiting customers, and still managed to begin ingesting nourishment at about the same time as three stressed out businessmen who kept insisting that they had reservations made for thirty minutes prior. With each demand for priority, the young man would smile ingenuously, assure the suits that they were next, and then seat the same number of non-reservation guests who had just showed up. I characterize the selection process as semi-random because it did seem upon reflection that hotties (of either gender) were given a slight priority.
Team Mago ended up at a twenty plus person copperplated counter that faced a large open kitchen. This type of locale is Mago country, where you get to eat while you watch the kitchen operate. Find the counter awkward? Don’t like to watch your meal being made? Are you uncomfortable with a long line of hungry people right behind you throughout your meal? Well, YOYO baby since we never even saw the dining room on two separate visits.
Our server Chelsea absolutely made the meal. She’s way cute with a striking profile, fetching kitchen tats, and a totally infectious personality. I asked her the total number of covers at Adrift and she rushed off to get an answer. Her first three attempts drew frowns and blank looks from fellow wait staff, but she eventually ran down the manger and returned to inform us that the legal seating figure was 89. Adrift was certainly approaching critical mass when we sat down. And yet despite a full restaurant and a seemingly infinite line of peckish patrons, the kitchen did not seem slammed, nor was there anything other than professional verging on friendly action between the line, the servers, and the other kitchen denizens. In other words a regular night in downtown Anacortes.
Things that you normally get all at once in a restaurant are delivered ad seriatum at Adrift. Our young host gave our menus to the bevy of beauties behind us, but I retrieved some from his station and no one seemed to mind. Then Chelsea went on a napkin search that led her far from her station when the front room hostess came looking for her. This nice lady managed to get us knives and when Chelsea returned sans napkins, the hostess pointed them out while Chelsea exclaimed “Oh they’re at my station. How did that happen?” The two of them then located forks and spoons at an adjacent station and we were ready to indulge in Adrift’s rustic and tasty fare.
I had an extended discussion with Chelsea concerning the menu. She talked me into a fried oyster appie and a Brutus (aka “the garlic bomb”) salad. The oysters were a solid “A”. Pan fried rather than fryolatered, these Kumamotos were some of the freshest I have ever eaten. They were expertly cooked with a crunchy exterior giving way to a juicy unctuous U-freakin’-MAMI center. My quibble was with the breading, which consisted of panko breadcrumbs, toasted nori, and sesame seeds. The seaweed thing was pretty cool, adding a distinctive oceanic layer to the dish’s briny flavor profile. Oysters this good, however, scream for a much lighter batter, a mere dusting of flour and then cooked just long enough to seal them so that they become liquid flavor bombs when eaten. That nit aside, Adrift’s oysters are clearly addictive when consumed with the accompanying cilantro chili aioli that can be further spiked from vats of Sriracha deployed at short intervals along the counter like old-school liquid-fueled ICBMs.
The Brutus was brutal dude, a paleo Caesar with a century’s worth of vampire protection. It screamed for anchovies. Chelsea was only too happy to comply. First she wandered the line, a pixie amongst bandana-swathed giants, in search of the genus Engraulis. Then she made a foray into the walk-in and returned with about five decent looking specimens, which she microwaved just long enough to bring them to room temp. They were excellent and smoothed out the salad’s rough garlic-imbued edges. Patti felt required to have a bite of Brutus “in self-defense.”
Unfortunately, both she and Bobby were victims of self-inflicted bad ordering. They plumped for catfish tacos (when a fresh wild caught salmon version was available, no less) and fries that were oven baked (eh?). The tacos were OK; but this ain’t catfish country and it has been my experience that fish tacos are what you do with kitchen scraps for people who do not like fish. However, I was not consulted on the decision. The fries were not bad if you like your roasted potatoes cut into long quarter inch-wide strips and baked in a fair amount of oil until brown yet soft and tender.
It turned out that Chelsea not only handles the dessert station but is also Adrift’s baker. She told us that she brought her signature rosemary shortbread home for her son recently. He informed her that “it tastes like hippie.” Chelsea also pinch hits as Adrift’s oyster shucker, as I learned when I ordered a half dozen of what she referred to as “sea puppies” for dessert. Her technique is excellent. First she ran off and personally selected my six Kumamotos, opened them expertly, loosened each one, and then gave it a 360 degree turn to insure that it slipped down one’s throat like umami silk. If anything, these sea puppies paired with a simple squeeze of lemon were better than the fried version.
Bobby and Patti got back in the game with a shared bowl of coconut ice cream that they declared divine and refused me even a molecule as penance for my unnecessary and obnoxious comments concerning their catfish tacos and oven baked fries. Throughout the meal we drank an excellent Washington State IPA and a very potable pinot grigio by the glass.
Chelsea told us that Adrift’s breakfasts were great, but we replied that we had an early ferry to catch. She said that she would be in baking when the restaurant opened at 8 AM and that if we called her at ten of, she would have our order waiting when the doors opened. It did not quite work out that way. We got there and called from outside Adrift at the appointed time, but the hostess from the previous night answered the phone and when we told her our situation, she decided to open early just for us.
Back at the counter with Chelsea weaving through the line cooks towards the ovens balancing huge trays of scratch biscuits, we felt like we had never left. I had a sandwich that consisted of two local free range fried eggs on toasted Breadfarm white bread with melted Jarlsburg cheese, toasted garlic aioli (as if I needed more garlic after a close encounter with Brutus), and a choice of avocado or Hempler’s peppered bacon. Care to guess my choice? It was superbly messy. The line cook fries the eggs so that when he cuts the sarny in half you get a yolk in each one. Although the menu describes the eggs as over medium, they do tend to ejaculate rather forcefully with the first bite. I nailed my shirt good, but I loved it.
And that peppered pig candy? Bobby got a small mountain of it for a side and instantly declared it BBE (that would be best bacon ever). Patti found her eggs and bacon to be equally delectable. Chelsea gave Bobby a parting gift box of freshly baked biscuits and killer raspberry jam so that we could fill in the corners on the ferry.
Team Mago will almost certainly return to Adrift and we might even make it into the dining room.