Off La Conner’s main drag and up a hill sits The Oyster & Thistle Restaurant & Pub. Originally a hotel and restaurant (and for a year a barbershop), it was designed in 1976 by architect Glen Bartlett in an English country theme. Going for authenticity, Bartlett salvaged stained glass from a London building that was about to be demolished and installed it in the restaurant windows.

Thomas and Danielle Palmer bought the restaurant in 1991 after both worked in the food industry, including a stint at the now closed Oyster Creek Inn near Taylor Shellfish Farms. Having owned four restaurants at the time without the intention of leaving Seattle, they sold Oyster & Thistle in 2001, only to purchase it again four years ago. We’re glad the Palmers decided to return, bringing their talents and passion for good food and drink back to our neck of the woods.

The restaurant is up a slight incline from downtown La Conner, but worth the short walk. It’s a two-floor layout with a white tableclothed restaurant upstairs and a cozy pub on the lower level. The restaurant seating area, with its fresh cut flowers and beautiful stained-glass windows, is comfortable for a leisurely lunch, but also sets the tone for a special night out. Seating in the pub is come-as-you-are, and intimate. A group of friends can easily spend a few hours in the grouping of leather chairs, or huddled around drinks in a corner booth. Vintage

French posters and black-and-white photographs decorate the walls, while candles in glass votives add soft lighting and atmosphere.

Customers eat well-executed, elevated dishes here. It’s not pretentious, it’s just excellent food prepared with care. Palmer explained their fresh-to-finish mentality with a focus on classical French cooking techniques using local ingredients: “When you respect food and prepare it with French fundamentals, you’re able to do so much.”

Just take a look at their pub menu: Shepard’s Pie made with braised lamb and a fluffy potato topping. It’s the comfortable Shepard’s Pie we know and love, but each ingredient is braised, sautéed, and baked accordingly, which elevates the classic pub meal.

Oyster & Thistle takes the time to prepare food with care. Their pastas are handmade using semolina flour and an egg-rich dough. They are also hand-cranked. The zesty Caesar salad dressing is made with raw egg, the way it’s supposed to be. The crisp romaine salad is garnished with a single fresh anchovy and, if you like, a flurry of grated parmesan.

Their paella also contains a surprising ingredient: escargot. It’s a “pure protein that takes on whatever seasonings are present in a dish,” explained the chef. His supplier is a Denver chef, the sole importer in America for wild Burgundy escargot. Danielle, a Parisian, used to pick and clean escargot back home. It’s a timely process, so the couple feels fortunate about finding a high-quality supplier here in America.

What else is there to order? Start your meal with some of the house bread: crusty with a soft interior and made with fermented grains. The dough starter is 15 years old! For an appetizer you can’t go wrong with any of the fresh oysters served with a red wine granita mignonette.

Off the dinner menu, try the seared sea scallops served on a bed of shiitake mushroom and saffron risotto. The medium-rare scallops are sweet, succulent, and perfectly caramelized. The risotto, creamy with a slight kick, pairs well with the fresh peppery arugula and blistered asparagus spears and cherry tomatoes. Overall the dish’s layers of flavors are pronounced when each component is singled out, but it’s an incredibly satisfying bite all together.

Pair your meal with a glass of wine, pint of local beer, or one of the incredible cocktails. The pub follows classic cocktail fundamentals and its fresh-to-finish concept. Head bartender, David Kas, implemented practically a can-free pub, using fresh-squeezed oranges, lemons, and limes. The only cans you’ll find contain cranberry, tomato, and Clamato juice.

Kas also recently took up making homemade bitters which taste fresher and purer than the best bitters on the market. The result is elevated cocktails that pair perfectly with their exceptional food menu.

See their menu here.

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"'When you respect food and prepare it with French fundamentals, you’re able to do so much.' Danielle Palmer said "