by Louis & Annette Bignami

James Beard called this bayside restaurant "his favorite seafood spot." You can't fault the site; it overlooks the The Ark's own oyster beds on the Willapa Bay, the largest unpolluted estuary in the United States. The restaurant is but half hour north of Astoria, Oregon, whose airport can accommodate business jets. Crashing waves at the mouth of the Columbia River and twenty-six miles of aptly name Long Beach repay a day trip.

The food has matched the gorgeous setting here since 1981, when owner-chefs Nanci Main and Jimella Lucas first served up fish fresh from their docks with light sauces featuring lime and cilantro. They offered, as Beard noted, "...not just run of the mill recipes, but new ways with fish, new ways with shell fish and new ideas." Diner then, as now, drove from the three to four hours from Portland, Olympia or Seattle, and reservations are still a must.

Many of Nanci and Jimella's revolutionary ideas -- crisp crab cakes with moist corn relish and red pepper coulis, or Calamari Dijonnaise where the squid's moist and the sauce hints of mustard -- have become often imitated but never equaled standards. The Ark's overall impression may not be as cutting edge as it was the case ten years ago, but the quality seems more consistent.

Salmon remains the Arks signature dish. Salmon Louise is sauteed quickly with local chanterelles, lime, cilantro, sherry and cream. Scotch Salmon comes lightly pan fried, deglazed with Scotch and orange juice, laced with Drambuie and garnished with crème fraiche and orange zest. Dungeness crab comes in many seasonal presentations and is best from October through March. Crab legs sautéed with gulf prawns, basil, prosciutto and wild mushrooms, and deglazed with brandy and cream. are a favorite dish.

During winter months when oyster flavor and texture both peak, gourmands savage the all-you-can-eat Ark oyster feast of lightly breaded, pan-fried Willapa Bay oysters. The record stands one hundred.

Carnivores find grilled lamb chops with polenta and curry Madeira sauce. The pleasingly blocky filet mignon is stuffed with Gorgonzola and pine nuts and slathered with caramelized garlic sauce.

Tip: Don't eat too much of their special breads and check the "Silver Desert Tray" for blackberry and cranberry desserts before you order entrees!

273rd and Sandridge Road,
Nabcotta, WA/206.665.4133