To be frank, when I first got the invite to check out Semiahmoo Resort and Spa, along with a visit to Pierside Kitchen, I was indifferent. Was this going to be just another default restaurant serving up standard eats for people trapped at a resort? Well, let's just say that I was about to be pleasantly surprised. Little did I know that the place had gone through a change in ownership back in 2013. Since then, the resort has been going through renovations in stages. One of the biggest changes was the total revamp of Packer's Oyster Bar and the adjacent dining space.
With its waterfront location across from White Rock, Semiahmoo Resort is only a short drive from the Peace Arch border crossing. Viv and I took advantage of this by heading down to Bellingham prior to checking in. We were put up in a water view King bedroom on the 2nd floor of the resort. The room was spacious and had undergone some of the aforementioned renovations including bathroom marble counter top and top-of-the-line Simmons Beautyrest Black mattresses. Suffice to say, I liked our mattress as I have the model one step below at home. The completion of the remaining renovations (including change of furniture) will be completed by the end of 2014. We were given a tour of the facilities which included a full-service spa, pool, steam room and hot tub. On the floor above, there was an impressive fitness facility complete with a small jogging track. An indoor tennis and racquetball court completed the recreational options within the building. If one wanted to play golf, a shuttle could take them to either Loomis Trail Golf Club or Semiahmoo Golf and Country Club.
Now enough with the resort itself, onto the food! We were first treated to freshly shucked Drayton Harbor Pacific Chilled Oysters on the Half Shell. Sourced locally and super fresh, these were really good being naturally sweet while accented by a wonderful brine. As much as I loved adding sambal and horseradish, these were perfectly fine eaten as is. This exemplified their commitment in working with local farms, artisans, ranchers and fisherman to ensure both freshness and representation of Pacific Northwest food. We then moved onto Packer's for some cocktails and a Margherita wood oven fired pizza. Although not particularly authentic in a Neapolitan-style manner, the pizza was still delicious. The relatively thin crust was crispy while elastically chewy on the inside. The dough was seasoned without being salty where it exhibited a nuttiness from the char. I found the tomato sauce hid in the background and gave way to the fresh tomatoes on top as well as the plethora of pesto (their take on a Magherita).
As mentioned, we also sampled 2 drinks including Hoist that Rag consisting of Square One Basil Vodka, cucumber puree, lemon and rosemary simple. On my initial sip, the cucumber really came through with a fresh and bright lightness. As a result, the drink did not go down heavy, rather it was extremely easy to finish. The nice hit of tartness from the lemon and balanced amount of sweetness made this a dangerous drink (as one could drink many). Next, we tried an experimental cocktail of sorts being the Magneto made with gin, Luxardo, sweet vermouth, Fernet Branca, lemon tarragon foam, egg white, lemon juice and simple syrup finished with an edible flower petal. Again, this went down easy with a certain smoothness thanks to the egg foam. Furthermore, the balance of sweetness vs. acidity was just right. All herbs used in their drinks came from their garden which were used in the house-made simple syrups.
After this, we moved back to Pierside for an unexpectedly large feast. Already awaiting us at our table was a board of Charcuterie made up of figs, capicola, salami, prosciutto, fruit, grain mustard, cornichons, pickled garlic, roasted hazelnuts and almonds with rosemary country bread. Arranged beautifully with a balanced mixture of different items, it ate as good as it looked. We felt that the menu price of $14.00 was fair for the amount and quality. Next up, we had an amuse bouche (Smoked Yogurt Panna Cotta) that I was so excited to eat, I forgot to take a picture of it! This was something different with the tartness of the yogurt playing off the smoke essence. It was served with braised artichokes, heirloom carrots, black pepper tuile, watercress and pine nut hummus. The sweet and pepper tuile as well as the even sweeter carrots were necessary to counteract the tartness of the yogurt. We weren't sure if the artichokes (which were tart as well) were necessary.
I made a conscious effort to take photos of the following dishes starting with the RR Ranch Tenderloin Carpaccio with Cloud Mountain Farm summer legumes, pecorino and Marcona almond. Cleanly presented while highlighting the ingredients, we knew from this point on that this wasn't "Plain Blaine" as some have remarked in years past. At first, I was concerned with the thick slice of beef, but with one bite, it practically melted-in-my-mouth. A subtle aroma emanated from the eye-pleasing chive oil while the pink peppercorns added a background bite. We felt the flavors were in harmony as well as the textures. Immediately after the carpaccio, we were presented with a Plum Sorbet to cleanse our palates. I guess this was a sign that there was a whole lot more to come... As simple as this was, the taste was natural with a good mix of tart and sweet. Texturally, it was as smooth as ice can get.
Emulating a work of art, the multitude of eye-popping colors from the Chef's Garden Petite Greens with young Walla Walla onions, blackberries, raspberries, macerated strawberries, goat cheese, edible flowers, baby lettuce mix and Verjus Blanc Vinaigrette was a refreshing and light course. I liked how the sweetness of the fruit worked with the acidity of the vinagrette and gaminess of the goat cheese. Onto the mains, Viv had the Wood-Fired Halibut with artichokes, piquillo sauce, English peas, cherry tomatoes and olive tapenade. As evidenced in the picture, the halibut was the beneficiary of a golden sear which added a crispiness and caramelization that gave way to moist and flaky fish (which was only lightly seasoned). Despite appearing spicy, the piquillo sauce only had a slight kick on its finish. Due to my personal love of olives, I welcomed the addition of tapenade to the plate as it added the necessary saltiness. It was smartly accented by plump tomatoes and firm English peas.
For myself, I had the RR Ranch All Natural Beef Tenderloin with local summer vegetables, bacon lardon, carrots, young turnips, thyme jus and shaved black truffle. Oh man, that shaved truffle...! From appearances alone, this dish meant business. Blessed with a caramelized crust featuring a good dose of cracked pepper and salt, the tenderloin did not long for any more seasoning. It was prepared a nice medium-rare where the meat was tender. The thyme jus was silky with the essence of red wine while completely cooked down. As for the veggies, they were on point texturally, yet a bit oversalted. Another interestingly plated dish was the Aerated Brie with seasonal accoutrements (berries, figs, grapes and kumquats). At this point, I had to remind myself I was in Blaine, not some big North American city. As straightforward as this dish was, the thing that brought it all together was the crusty house-made toasted bread. It provided texture as well as being the vessel to combine the soft, airy brie with the sweet accompaniments.
For dessert, we had the Whipped Citrus Cremeux with short bread crumble, fennel-crème fraîche ice cream, orange curd, marshmallow fluff, grapefruit, orange and grapefruit fennel gelee. Again, attractively presented, this was another study in various uses of citrus. First, the cremeux was super light and creamy. The citrus showed up at the finish with no tartness. Same with the curd and gelee as they were more floral than citrusy. Of course the wedges of grapefruit and orange did offer up an acidity that was needed. Lastly, the ice cream was smooth and semi-sweet with only a mild fennel taste. With all the things going on with the plate, we felt the marshmallow probably didn't need to be there. Ending off the meal, we had the Chocolate Royal Bites where the layers of hazelnut crunch, 70% Valhrona mousse and ganache emulated a Ferraro Rocher. The varying textures of airy, rich chocolate and crunch were pleasant in our mouths. Furthermore, the bites were not sweet, rather, they were aromatic with a touch of bitterness.
Oh wow. Really. Okay, it is true that this visit to Semiahmoo Resort was comped and they really pulled out all the stops to impress us. Well, consider myself and Viv thoroughly impressed. As I've said before and I'll say it again, despite being an invite, an establishment can only do their personal best. They cannot be significantly better just because they want to. I never would've thought that this level of gastronomy would be available in Blaine. Considering the relatively reasonable-pricing and inviting dining space, there is much to like about Pierside Kitchen. I guess we shouldn't have been that surprised because both Packer's and Pierside are under the direction of Executive Chef Eric Truglas, hailing from Paris and a Michelin Star trained Epicurean World Master Chef. As much as the resort is still in transition (from the renovations), the restaurants represent a bold refocus. If this was just a taste of what's to come, I'm definitely coming back to see the finished product.
*Accommodations, food and beverages excluding gratuities were comped*
- Shocking level of refinement and execution
- Prices are in-line with the food quality
- Bright, modern rustic dining space
- As much as the restaurants are completely renovated and revamped, the rest of the resort is in transition (until it is completed, some parts are old)
- Not really a bad because the pizza was good, but I'd like to see true Neapolitan pizza from the wood-burning oven