There’s a new place in Bellingham, but it’s been hard to find out much about it. We heard some gossip about it at Gretchens, then walked by it once just before it opened, when we went up to Bistro Zazou (now defunct, sadly). All we knew was that it was called Tivoli, and the menu was an interesting-sound melange of dishes from Scandinavia, France and Italy, based on the owners’ travels.
Finally, we heard that it was not only open, but fabulous. We took ourselves out to dinner there last week, and I would like to say to any of you in the Bellingham area – go there. It was not only some of the best food we’ve had between Seattle and Vancouver – it was definitely some of the best service. They are doing a beautiful job, and the place was half empty on a Friday night. Go eat there!
We wandered in off the street around 6:30 pm and were immediately seated near the front. The space felt a little odd, since the front of the house is mostly clear of tables, except for right in the windows, but it still felt cozy with the wood floors, brick walls and soft lighting. After arguing with ourselves a little, we ordered a bottle of Pinuaga Tempranillo, much to the delight of our waitress – and ours, after we tasted it. It was rich and delicious, and the markup was really reasonable.
For J’s first course, he ordered the gravlax. It arrived coiled attractively on three crackers, dressed with dill and mustard. It was very nice – I love gravlax. I sort of wished that it came on rye bread, as the menu said it did, but it wasn’t much of a complaint.
On the condition that I be given some of the gravlax, I ordered the Tivoli salad for my starter, and was surprisingly thrilled when it arrived. A salad of soft greens, fennel, dill and fresh sweet peas, it was piled into a bowl made from a crisp, slightly sweet pancake. The grape tomatoes on top had been peeled, so they didn’t explode in the mouth in the usual way. The whole thing was fresh and wonderful with a great attention to detail.
For my main course I got the cassoulet. This wasn’t quite as thrilling as the other dishes, but it was still very good, full of duck confit and escarole and topped with beautifully crisp croutons. The beans didn’t seem like they had absorbed much flavor from their cooking broth – I would have given the whole thing considerably more salt and maybe more duck fat. Still, I ate it happily enough.
J, on the other hand, hit the jackpot. He had been making sad noises about not having had short ribs recently, so when he saw a short rib on the menu his course was clear. And it turned out to be even better than it sounded: the meat was fall-apart tender, with a rich winy gravy, and it came on a bed of delectably chewy/crisp spaetzle with greens. I feel lucky that I got a bite of it at all. If we go back we may be hard pressed to order anything else (assuming it’s still on the menu, of course).
The service through all of this was pretty darn impeccable. The waitress was friendly but not obtrusive, and the pacing was excellent. Everyone at the other tables seemed very happy as well.
We decided against dessert, instead wandering down the street to the Temple Bar for a French press of coffee, but I dearly hope to make it back to Tivoli sooner rather than later. And if you go, tell me what you got!