BAINBRIDGE ISLAND — Bainbridge Island has been an appetizing lure for Seattle diners for a while, with some two dozen wine bars and bistros anchoring Winslow Way East, the main drag. This summer gives you still more reasons to jump on that 35-minute ride across the Sound, not least of which is perhaps the most anticipated high-end restaurant opening of the season.
After much hype, Brendan McGill’s Seabird restaurant will be ready for its close-up on June 9. The chef already owns two popular casual spots downtown, the Neapolitan-style pizzeria Bruciato and Café Hitchcock. He envisions Seabird as a celebration in fine dining, with an oyster bar that includes a Champagne list and a dinner menu that reaches far beyond the island’s past fish-and-chips fare. Think albacore tartare with duck-egg yolk and seared sturgeon with fondant potatoes.
With entrees ranging from $24 to $37, Seabird is McGill’s big bet that the economy won’t tank, and that islanders and tourists are ready to put the pandemic behind them and open their wallets. “I believe the time is now,” said McGill, who partnered with executive chef Grant Rico on the venture. “People are out in force. While folks may not return to the office, they seem to be traveling and dining. There doesn’t seem to be a shortage [of diners].”
Seabird is just the latest entry along restaurant row. Fletcher Bay Winery just unveiled its rooftop bar across from the Bainbridge ferry landing and will bring in live entertainment and also set up an oyster bar up there. Two excellent restaurants, Proper Fish and Ba Sa, also opened in downtown before the pandemic.
And there are plenty of other dining options along the five-block drag, including former Canlis chef Greg Atkinson’s Restaurant Marché. The strip is only a five-minute walk from the ferry dock. Leave your car on the mainland and walk onto the ferry. Or, make a day of it on a bike. You can have lunch, pedal around, then not feel guilty about having a great dinner.
Here are more spots worth your time:
Early risers get rewarded with croissants and hot orange rolls at Blackbird Bakery. Those coming off the afternoon ferry run, however, might stare at a case full of crumbs. Your best bet then is the buttery quiche, an impossibly fluffy-yet-thick egg custard with the ideal ratio of egg, crust, cheese and potato filling.
For lunch, hit Proper Fish, which The Seattle Times anointed as the city’s best fish and chips in 2016 when it was a humble food truck named Nosh. In its second act, this former fish shack on wheels now boasts a new name, a permanent address and an expanded menu that includes a fish sandwich. This isn’t some McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish copycat. It’s a cheffy take, with a thick cod loin enrobed in a crackly beer batter and then topped with a sweet-and-tart layer of roasted tomato and fried onions. Served in a toasted Macrina potato roll, it may be the best sandwich on the island.
Between meals, make a pit stop for a cone at MORA Iced Creamery. Or hoist a glass at Bainbridge Brewing or one of the four wine-tasting rooms nearby. To get the pulse of the local scene, though, sidle up to the bar inside Isla Bonita Mexican restaurant. On these shorts-and-sandals weekends, many islanders will cede downtown to tourists, but they won’t surrender this watering hole. The bar serves giant goblets of margarita for only 10 bucks with free chips, salsa and the cheese-bean dip to fortify you between stiff drinks. It’s one of the best dives around the Sound.
At 5 o’clock, people line up for a table at Ba Sa. Billed as a Vietnamese and pan-fusion bistro, Ba Sa celebrates beef by glamming up Vietnamese street food in various ways, whether it’s a banh mi stuffed with kalbi steak or pho topped with slices of 21-day-aged rib-eye. But Ba Sa’s best steak play is its most gluttonous: strips of medium-rare beef coated in brown butter and served with garlic fried rice.
Not ready for butter steak? Get some culture at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art complex, then go next door to a local favorite, Agate Restaurant, with its well-curated craft cocktail and wine list. Islanders swear by the cheeseburger, but delve deeper into the menu from Susanna Turner, Agate’s chef and owner, and you’ll find some stellar New American comfort dishes including a juicy, dry-aged pork loin.
Getting there: Go to the Colman Dock on Pier 52 along the Seattle waterfront to catch the ferry, a 35-minute ride to the island. The restaurant row in downtown Bainbridge is only a five-minute walk from the Bainbridge ferry landing, so consider walking or biking on to the ferry for a cheaper fare. Check rates and the ferry schedule at wsdot.wa.gov/ferries.
Update: May 18, 2022 12:48pm This post has been updated to reflect the new opening date for Seabird as June 9.