On a remote island in a town not even big enough for a traffic light, there's a gas station and a convenience store housed in a tidy, dark-green clapboard building.
Above the gas station is a restaurant named Christina's.
Like hundreds of other unpretentious seashore eateries in America, Christina's features local seafood and such homey comfort food as fish and chips and pot pie. But at Christina's the local catch includes small oysters from Judd Cove ($10.50) just down the road. Six of them glisten like diamonds on squares of ice filling a white-rimmed soup bowl garnished with a lemon wedge, a lime slice and a shot glass brimming with cassis mignonette granita - tart shaved ice tinted with a drop of black currant liqueur.
You'll find the pot pie ($15.50) featured in the May issue of Food & Wine Magazine. It comes to the table looking regal in a footed white ceramic tureen, the pouf of pastry on top draped as lightly as a linen handkerchief.
Underneath is a medley of seasonal vegetables that includes sweet peas, pearl onions and morels in a silky, complex sauce fragrant with herbs. Small wonder that this 21-year-old restaurant run by Bruce Orchid and Christina Reid-Orchid in Eastsound, the commercial hub of bucolic Orcas Island, merits national attention. But it may be a surprise to learn that Christina herself is no longer at the stove. A year and half ago she anointed herself executive chef and installed an angel in her place - Jacob Angel, a 28-year-old graduate of Johnson & Wales' College of Culinary Arts, who came to Orcas on his honeymoon and never left.
His short menu varies weekly and is divided among appetizers, light entrees and larger main dishes. Among the latter, basking in mushroom demi-glace, is a filet of beef ($34) so tender little force is needed on the elegant Laguiole steak knife. But mostly his focus is on seafood.
Rhubarb butter gilds halibut ($26), roasted till just opaque.
Smoky paprika, garlic, cumin and coriander season ahi tuna ($28), grilled to your liking, and paired with a zesty salad mixing black-eyed peas, greens, tomato and red onion.
Ravioli ($16.50) made with Dungeness crab tucked between thin sheets of fresh pasta drift languidly in a rich crab bisque sprinkled with a balsamic reduction, basil oil and marigold petals, part of the wheelbarrow-load of herbs and flowers Christina delivers from her garden each week.
Perhaps nothing showcases the pristine freshness of the fish or captures the pure taste of the sea better than the stunning Pacific Rim seafood salad ($14.50) served in a deep bowl rimmed with a frilly coral necklace of whole shrimp pulled from nearby waters. Mounded in the middle, steeped in rice wine, ginger and sesame oil and adorned with a single, small octopus tentacle clutching a purple chive blossom, is a tangle of seaweed and cucumber sunomono mixed with lime-marinated halibut, salmon and octopus.
Unlike some destination restaurants forced to contend with a seasonal tourist trade and shortage of experienced help, Christina's staff is well trained and efficient. They know the food and can talk knowledgeably about the lengthy wine list that, though appropriately heavy on West Coast vintages, is international in scope and includes half bottles as well as many by-the-glass choices.
The restaurant is as polished as the smooth pebbles that cover the island's beaches. Steep, thickly carpeted stairs give way to hardwood floors and an airy room graced with mahogany wainscoting and well-spaced copper-topped tables. The dining room and deck look south over Fishing Bay. The intimate lounge with its pub-like bar offers a bird's-eye view of the town.
The atmosphere is so gracious that even on this assiduously casual island men and women alike have been known to slip into something less comfortable, like pantyhose, blazers and even (gasp!) ties, to dine here.
Donning your Sunday best is certainly not required, but it's a token of respect that the Orchids - and their Angel - richly deserve.
Providence Cicero can be reached at email@example.com.