Jim and I thought to drive up the Skagit yesterday to see the colorful deciduous trees in their glory since rain was expected for the next three days. By the time we were ready, after getting up late and doing those Saturday must do errands, however, it was time to rethink and I consulted the map to consider a loop through Darrington. After living in Seattle for over 20 years, we finally took this day trip Jim had been told to check out in residency.
The route we took coursed through Granite Falls, past Pilchuck, and along the Mountain Loop Highway, stopping to photograph a stand of trees in the sunlight for the 350 ppm campaign and moving on to the Big 4. This is a large mountain with pinnacles and massive formations. A very picturesque and perfect place for a picnic with kids, there was once a luxury inn the present meadow. Between 1921 and 1949 the a gas powered train brought visitors to the Big Four Inn; sadly, it burned in 1949 and there was no interest in replacing it. There is a wetland boardwalk hike and ice caves in the area.
Further along, the road turns to excellently graded gravel at the blocked turn off to the ghost town of Monte Cristo, center of gold and silver mining, now accessible on foot. Easy to navigate, the road has little elevation variation as it follows the river. The colors along the stream were enhanced by the alternating blue sky and fog among the trees. From the previous day's rains, there was a tremendous amount of water filling cascading waterfalls and the rivers. The map we had showed paving in the middle of two courses of gravel, each about 8 miles (~13km). We drove along these, not really measuring but noticing the increasing length of the gravel road. We never did find a paved road between the areas marked on the map, and there were a number of forest roads leading off this local highway 20.
We continued to Darrington and checked data for a place to dine in Arlington, settling on Bistro San Martin. The kitchen is very talented and skilled. Really enjoyed special pork tenderloin and flat iron steak, and their special pour wine to sample 3 different Washington state wines was a good value for me who doesn't drink much. Sauces were flavorful, not overly salty nor rich. Vegetables steamed and lightly dressed. Edamame risotto was intriguing and a good foil for the tenderloin's sauce, but the addition of cheese (not always de rigeur but often expected) made it too rich. Chanterelle soup not distinguished: creamy and flavored with brandy or sherry, so mushrooms didn't come through as much as other cooks' soups can. No vegetarian options on the menu, but indicated they would cook especially for you. On a menu like this, in western Washington, I was surprised to see no provenance on the menu, and they featured [gasp!] Chilean sea bass. Also, including raspberries and blueberries in the vanilla mousse cake dessert in October didn't suggest local. (The cake and mousse were delicious, if a shade too sweet.) But what they do, they do very well. We didn't try the bread which was served with olive oil and herbs. If I were a regular, and we later consulted with our Arlington friends who are, I would try the duck and veggie options. Also atmosphere was warm, genial without being overly familiar, and not obscure. Our friends say it's considered the romantic place in town.