Bellingham Cider Company
Bellingham Cider Company’s head chef Dirul Shamsid-Deen has been a chef for more than 17 years, cooking in culinary meccas like New York, L.A., and Chicago. Far from the bustle of those big cities, Shamsid-Deen is making some noise at the new Bellingham Cider Company, tucked away in a downtown location that has quietly become the talk of the culinary community. A couple doors down from the Whatcom Museum’s old city hall building, the restaurant’s rough-hewn overhanging wooden sign leads to a soon-to-be-completed outdoor patio seating area and entrance.
The interior is clean, elegant, and modern. High ceilings, along with natural and warm lighting, make the venue inviting and intimate. Housed in a reclaimed space in the new Sylvia Center for the Arts building, thoughtful features include original wood accents, along with tables and a bar from reclaimed wood.
An hour and a half into service, not only were all the tables full, a line had formed. The restaurant came alive, and you could hear lively conversations. Starting a cider restaurant in a city known for its craft beer might raise some eyebrows, but the place delivers. First-timers will do well ordering the cider flight ($9)— five inviting pours in striking colors, each with a distinctive taste and feel. The ciders, made from Washington apples (of course) include Dry, Semi-Sweet, Perry, Blood Orange, and Northwest Blackberry Ginger. The restaurant will have additional flavors and seasonal releases, along with a reserve series, to come. Beer, wine, and cocktails are also served.
The food reminds me of the type of home cooking that, as a youngster, you would look forward to when your parents decided to make a special meal. Comfort food is reflected in Shamsid-Deen’s simple, yet thoughtful and well-executed dishes. Dishes feature locally or regionally sourced components and ingredients.
The short ribs ($24), slowly braised in beer for hours, are fall-apart tender, so the large steak knife is overkill. With the burnt carrots ($8), lightly grilled or charred — and fantastic on their own—the meal reminds me of my mother’s pot roast, in the best of ways. The kitchen is open, and you can sit at the bar and chat with Shamsid-Deen. The chef has a warm, light personality, and enjoys conversing with his patrons.
Customers patiently sip ciders as they wait for a table to open. Yet the restaurant doesn’t feel overcrowded and hectic when busy. The reason is the place’s layout — a large loop, Shamsid-Deen explained, where servers move around the center bar in one continuous circuit as they clear tables and serve.
The most popular item on the menu? The chicken and waffles ($17). “In all honesty, it started as a joke. It just kind of stuck,” says Shamsid-Deen, who got his start on Orcas Island before the cider restaurant’s February opening. His advice: If you order the burnt carrots, ask for them extra dark. They are called burnt carrots for a reason, he jokes.
Shamsid-Deen’s inspiration for the menu comes from his multitude of experiences, both personally and as a chef, but ultimately it comes down to what he wants to cook, he says. The challenge is weighing his vision for what he wants to put on the menu and what his customers ultimately want to eat. “There is always a balance that you have to strike,” he says.
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