Posted on | June 3, 2013 | 23 Comments |
I know, I’ve been gone a long time. 14 months to be exact! I am sure all my regular readers have given up on this space by now. I have no excuses for my absence other than the fact that I lost interest in blogging! I tried to find the lost mojo week after week for some time and at some point I just gave up completely. Also, almost all of my spare time has been totally and completely taken over by my latest addiction – photography! Then all of a sudden, when I wasn’t even trying, I had this great meal! It was such an amazing culinary experience and so unlike anything I’ve ever had, I just had to blog about it. Thanks to a fabulous dinner at Willows Inn on Lummi Island, I am finally out of the blogging rut.
Lummi Island is a small island about two hours’ drive from Seattle, accessible via a short 5 minutes ferry ride. The main (not-so-secret-anymore) attraction of this island with a population of 816 is the dining room at the Willows Inn that has been getting a lot of attention in the foodie scene lately. In 2011, the New York Times declared Willows Inn as "One of the 10 Restaurants (in the world) Worth a Plane Ride." Last month Bon Appetit magazine listed Willows Inn as #3 on their THE BEST FOOD LOVER’S HOTELS IN AMERICA list. Chef Blaine Wetzel is only 27 years old and he already has an impressive resume that includes a stint at NOMA! Last year Food & Wine magazine named him Best New Chef of 2012 and he has been a James Beard Award semifinalist in the Pacific Northwest for three years in a row now.
With all this accolades, it is such a shame that we waited this long to try out the place when we don’t even need to take a plane to get there. But better late than never and we finally made the trip to Willows Inn to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary this weekend. We were lucky to have chosen a beautiful sunny Pacific Northwest weekend for our Lummi Island adventure.
You can stay at the Willows Inn or any of the bed and breakfasts on the island, but it is easier to get dinner reservations if you stay at the Inn. Willows Inn offers onsite hotel rooms and offsite homes for accommodation. We wanted to stay in an onsite room to be close to the action, but they were all booked up weeks in advance and the only available option was a two bed room house they call "The Aerie". After checking in at the hotel, we drove about two minutes to get to our beautiful house in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by greenery.
The "No Hunting" sign scared us a bit even before we got out of the road.
This driveway that seemed to go on forever did not help either.
And then we saw this guy in the front yard and the No Hunting sign suddenly made sense.
The house itself is nothing to write home about, your basic northwest home with the basic amenities.
But the view from the living room sure was breathtaking!
I could just sit there and watch the view for hours, but instead we walked down to the sunset beach to work out an appetite before our big dinner.
Finally, after a couple of hours in the sun, we were ready for our big night. We got dressed up and reached the restaurant at 6:55 pm with big expectations and an even bigger appetite.
The menu is prix-fixe and there is only one seating at 7pm. You could get there early to enjoy some cocktails at the bar, but everyone gets seated around 7pm in the dining room for the dinner that lasts three-four hours. The food here is almost entirely sourced from local ingredients on the island. It takes the whole concept of farm-to-table to new heights. The chef forages the island to find ingredients like salmonberry flowers and wild mosses and wild rose petals to create the truly unique one of a kind menu. The menu consists of five courses intermingled with 12 other "snack" sized bites. They ask you in advance about any kind of food allergies and other preferences you might have, with that ends your part in choosing the menu for the night. With dinner you can opt for wine pairing or there is an option of fruit juice pairing (!!!) for the teetotalers. Or you can choose to order your own wine from a nice little selection of bottles. We both chose wine pairing even though four out of five wines listed for the pairing were white, as we wanted to get the full experience.
As soon as we were seated we were offered some sparkling pineapple cider to go with the snacks.
Then the food started coming, plate by plate of deliciousness served in bite sized pieces. Crazy ingredients that you would never expect to see on a plate made into these amazing dishes which not only taste good but are a visual treat as well!
First snack was Smoked Mussels served in closed cedar wood boxes that trapped the smoke in. The presentation was impressive, but the taste and the freshness of the clams were beyond any expectation! We knew we were in for an unforgettable night with this first bite.
Toasted Kale with Truffles and Rye.
Crispy Crepe with Salmon Roe and chives.
Reindeer Moss with scallop paste.
Pickled Oyster with tapioca pearls
Crispy Halibut skin, the dark one from the belly and the lighter one from the back.
Weathervane scallops with mustard leaves.
By now we were in gastronomic heaven and we were not even on the first course yet!
First Course was Turnips steamed in whey with Lovage. It was paired with a 211 Ross Andrew Meadow Pinot Blank from Columbia River Gorge, Wa.
The first course almost was like a break from the on pour of snacks. As soon as we were finished with it, the snacks started again.
Smoked Sockeye Salmon smoked in the smokehouse outside the restaurant.
Then came the only carbs of the night. Hearth bread with Pan Drippings and butter. I didn’t want to fill up, but the bread was so good, especially with the chicken drippings! I could just drink it up!
Second Course was this Roasted Endive with onions and thyme, adorned with some purple wild flowers. It was paired nicely with a 2010 Boedecker Cellars Athena Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Or.
Third course was Shaved Porcini Mushrooms with grilled Asparagus. The sautéed mushrooms got a final topping of fresh porcinis shaved right on the table.
This was paired with the 2011 DeLille Chaleur Estate Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc from Columbia Valley, Wa
Main course of the night was Black Cod with Wild beach plants paired with 2008 Amaurice Chardonna from Walla Walla Valley, WA
Then came a palate cleanser – Wild Roses with Salmonberries served with fresh rose petals and a rose granita.
Dessert course of the night was this light Steamed Rhubarb with spring pine and angelica whipped cream paired nicely with a 2007 Lucien Albrecht Cuvee Marie Gewurztraminer from Alsace, France.
And a final snack of flax seed bites to finish off the meal with some delicious French press coffee.
I know it sounds like a lot of food, but the portion sizes were so perfect that this was the right amount of food and alcohol. We were full, but not stuffed. We were a bit tipsy, but not wasted!
I almost forgot to mention that the dinner was set with a backdrop of this beautiful sunset; it was just the icing on the cake. Nobody really seemed to care about the fabulous view outside, in fact one grumpy old guy was even heard asking the waitress whether she could get the blinds down as the light was bothering him!!! Thankfully, the windows there don’t come with blinds. J
The meal was perfect in almost every aspect, except for the fact that there was no meat in it! As you can see, it was a lot of vegetables and seafood, so good but our carnivorous palates really craved for some meat. The chicken drippings that came with the bread was so good that we were hoping to meet the chicken that dripped all that delicious fat! We asked the chef but he didn’t take us seriously! J Talking about the chef, here is the friendly, handsome chef Blaine Wetzel who graciously offered to take a picture with us. Did I mention that he is only 27 years old? Some people are born with so much talent! This dude is going places for sure!
I think this place is going to get so famous that it is going to be impossible to get a reservation pretty soon. Even now you have to reserve a few weeks in advance to get a table, but I have a feeling it is going to get harder. So I urge all of you local folks and even the out-of -towners to get on the list as soon as you can. The dinner is a bit pricey; it came to about $600 for the two of us including the drinks, taxes, tips etc. But if you are a foodie, it is one of those culinary experiences that you will remember for a very long time to come.