Friday, December 28, 2012

Willows Inn (Lummi Island, WA): An Unforgettable Experience

My favorite meal in 2012? Easy. Willows Inn at Lummi Island is a small inn on a small island in Washington, with a restaurant helmed by Chef Blaine Wetzel, a young native of the area who had worked at Noma (you know, the world's best restaurant). When they talk about local ingredients, they really mean it. It isn't just produce from the state, but really local. Chef Wetzel forages around the island. A lot of the fish used are caught in the waters around the island, just five minutes from the restaurant.

Willows Inn is a 2-hour drive from Seattle plus a 10 minute ferry ride, and it's not only worth it but the journey adds to the experience.

There's only one seating every night which is at 6:30. The ferry only runs every hour and we didn't want to be late, so we took the 5PM ferry and ended up with time on our hands when we got to Willows Inn. Time to sit on the patio staring into the sunset while sipping cocktails. The cocktails here had quite a few interesting ingredients. I loved the Pacific Gin Fizz (gin, wild pineapple weed, egg white - $14)

What is wild pineapple weed, you ask? I didn't know it then but apparently it's wild chamomile. Whatever it was, it was my favorite out of the cocktails we tried. We also had time to peek into the kitchen as they were prepping.

Finally we got called and seated in the small dining room.
The dinner is "five courses" with a lot of "snacks", which meant way more food than five courses. Our meal started with a small wooden box.

As you open the treasure box: a whiff of smoke, and baked sunflower root

Next is a Crispy crepe with salmon roe, sandwiched between green onions. The crepe was a thin crisped salmon that held everything in a perfect bite-sized morsel.

Pickled oyster with sorrel was beautifully presented on a bowl of rocks

Toasted kale with black truffle and rye, light and crispy and savory. If we could only get a stash of these for snacks.

Salt baked beets, berries, and goat's milk

King salmon, cucumber, and horseradish
A very clean flavor that really highlights the freshness of the king salmon.

The next snack is a simple shiitake over fire (one friend was allergic to shiitake so she got a pepper instead).
Shiitake Mushroom
It's so simple yet again it's unlike other shiitake mushrooms we've had before - yes, it's local to the island.

Organic grains with geoduck and watercress, paired with 2011 Efeste Feral Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, WA (all the wines are local, though sometimes they would have wines from Oregon)

Smoked sockeye salmon
This was salmon caught down the street and smoked in the backyard. This, all of us at the table agreed, was the best smoked salmon we have ever had. The texture was meaty, unlike the ones you get at the stores, and there was almost a candied flavor to it. This salmon would ruin all future smoked salmon for you. We begged every server and chefs that came by our table for more!

Grilled onion with rhubarb and thyme, paired with 2010 Ross Andrew Meadow Pinot Blanc - Columbia Gorge, WA
I couldn't believe that there would be a course of onions and that I would like it so much. Each piece held a puddle of delicious broth.

IMG_2268The bread came on hot stones to keep them warm while we eat. And even though the butter was great, it came with something even better. Something we could't stop eating and polished off with the last of our bread: pan drippings.
Bread and Drippings
Forget butter!

Pickled chanterelles with arugula and fresh cheese, paired with 2011 Mt Baker Vineyards Madeleine - Angevine, Puget Sound, WA
I was initially scared with the many pickled items on the menu, but all of them were excellent. They were not tart or briny, but gave it a unique texture. The cheese came from a neighboring island.

Crispy halibut skin with razor clams
This might be even better than chicharrons. Yes, I said it. It held more flavor than chicharrons.

Roast duck and charred frisee with homemade capers, paired with 2011 Boedecker "Athena" Pinot Noir - Willamette Valley, OR
Roast Duck
It's the only meat dish in our meal and this duck was lean and meaty.

Our palate cleanser was Wild Plum with a granita of some small berry I wasn't familiar with, but they did the job of cleansing our palates wonderfully.

For dessert: blueberries with woodruff and malt, paired with 2009  Brian Carter Cellars "Opulento" - Port style wine, Yakima Valley, WA

The woodruff ice cream in this dessert was the star, absolutely amazing. Not knowing how you would even approach making woodruff ice cream, this along with most of our meal, was utterly unique. One would have to come to Lummi Island to have it.

We loved the tea service as well. A box of loose leaf teas were brought to our table so we can open each bottle and smell them before deciding.
Flax bites
We rode the ferry and drove back to Seattle, sleepy and content, having had the best meal of the year at Willows Inn. The entire meal along with the ferry ride, sipping cocktails watching the sunset, made this into a very memorable experience. I can't wait for the occasion to return and see what other flavors Chef Wetzel will surprise me with.

Willows Inn
2579 W Shore Dr
Lummi Island, WA
(360) 758-2620
The Willows Inn on Urbanspoon



Sounds like quite the experience! One day...

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