Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Restaurant review: Willows Inn, Lummi Island WA

Weathervane scallops and horseradish

We were in Seattle for business, and decided to combine it with a small vacation in the San Juan Islands, specifically on Lummi Island. My brother-in-law Pete, a Seattleite, and Pacific Northwest expert suggested it as a quiet getaway, and also because of the world-class restaurant nestled on the small, sleepy island.

The Willows Inn is a small Bed and Breakfast that was thrust onto the world dining stage three years ago when they hired the boyish Blaine Wetzel to run their restaurant. Wetzel was 24 at the time, had grown up in Olympia, Washington, and was a sous chef at Rene Redzepi's Noma in Denmark. His foraging bona fides established, Wetzel sought to create a similar experience using the delicate ecosystem on Lummi Island. “Fished, foraged and farmed. Every day.” is the motto at Willows Inn, and they certainly put their money where their mouth is (a side note- the day after our meal we went for a hike through Baker Preserve, a protected forest and steep trail leading to a beautiful overlook, and ran into one of our servers from the previous evening on the trail. She was kneeling down among the fauna, and we asked her what she was foraging. From her bag replete with sweet woodruff she produced the root of some licorice ferns that she told us she would be using for a new bitters recipe).

Wetzel quickly gained a reputation as a mini-Redzepi, and attracted diners eager to make the two hour drive from Seattle, and further environs. Frank Bruni declared it one of the top 10 hotel dining destinationsin the Times. Wetzel justifiably won a James Beard Young Chef award this spring.

Reservations are difficult to come by, but we luckily managed to secure one on Anne-Marie’s birthday (!).

We opted to not stay in the B & B, and instead rented an upscale Yurt 1500 feet from the Inn (glamping personified). There is one seating per night, so we strolled down the hill at 5.30 to have drinks on their deck and enjoy the killer views over Rosario Strait while we waited for the 6.30 dinner.

We started with a Spotted Owl: Gin, Nettles, Douglas Fir and egg whites, with Juniper oil drizzled on top:
Next up, the Woodruff Martini, with the aforementioned sweet Woodruff swizzled into a Vodka Martini.

Dinner was served. Here is the meal as best I can remember it. 17 courses with the optional wine pairing (wine and beer served were Willows Inn Sparkling Rhubarb wine, a 2011 Ross Andrew Pinot Blanc Blend from Walla Walla WA, Boundry Bay Brewery IPA, Bellingham Wa, 2010 Sandhi Chardonnay, Santa Barbara CA, and a 2012 Tethys Late Harvest Riesling, Eloa-Amity Hills OR).

Course 1: A smoked Samish Bay mussel served in a lidded cedar box, that when opened revealed a puff of alder smoke

Course 2: Crispy crepe with Steelhead Roe and Creme Fraiche

Course 3: Weathervane scallops and horseradish (see top)

Course 4: Kale with Black Truffles

Course 5: Grilled Caraflex Cabbage with Herring Roe on Kelp. Maybe my favorite dish of the night. The sweet cabbage was smoky from grilling, and the roe was cured and shaved over the kelp like a bottarga/parmagianno umami bomb.

Course 6: Halibut Skin

Course 7: Shiitake roasted over fire with Alaskan sea salt

Course 8: Roasted Razor Clams

Course 9: Spot Prawn poached with it's roe

Course 10: Smoked Ling Cod and Copper River Salmon

Course 11: Aged Venison Leg on Rye with Wild Lettuce

Course 12: Sourdough Bread from local grains with butter, salt and chicken pan drippings. This was served on hot rocks

Course 13: Porcini Mushrooms in Sweet Woodruff

Course 14: Lummi Island Ling Cod steamed with Parsley and Lovage

Course 15: Salmonberries with Wild Rose Petals and shaved Iced Rose Water

Course 16: Hazelnut Ice Cream and warm Chestnut Puree

Course 17: Flax Seed Caramel

Sunset as dinner finishes
The smokehouse