Last night I had the pleasure to go to Willows Inn up here on Lummi Island in the San Juan's. Being in the industry for years (sous at a local Seattle restaurant) I have to say this was by far the most amazing night/meal I've had in god knows how long. The food was special, and by special I mean the food was something worth traveling across the world for IMO. I've been to 2 star and 3 star restaurants and only a few can even come close to the quality and thought put into each and every plate that came out. Enough blabbing though and onto the pics!!!
first we started out with a few drinks, a local Junmai sake
the sake was perfect for the season Light and just a slight hint of fruit, it had a nice salt finish which was perfect for the setting.
the next thing they brought out was a local hard cider made specifically for them by a local brewer with apples from their farm, I forgot to take a picture of it. I'm not too into hard ciders but this was an exception, a nice apple flavor that wasn't too sweet it had a finish that was there and then gone which I can appreciate since most ciders sit on your palate for an hour and ruin a lot of stuff following them.
Then came the food all of it was local from the island, I think the farthest piece of produce came from Aberdeen which is about 40 miles away.
We started off with a crisped kale, with moused truffle and fried rye bread crumbs. The Kale was especially wonderful, it really was the star of the dish even though truffle can be oh-so overpowering in certain situations. Not on this occasion though, it was all perfectly balanced and really let the kale shine.
next up was a bite of Rhubarb. The rhubarb is pickled in their sauerkraut brine and then finished with a crushed lemon verbena. This was my least favorite item of the night although it was still delicious, it might just be my jadedness with lemon verbena at the moment as everywhere in Seattle is using the damn stuff. Nonetheless the rhubarb was delicious.
The Rhubarb came out with another dish of a pickled oyster, Not sure I even need to elaborate on this one. Pickled oyster? I'm in! the pickling must have been done right before service as it was not overpowering at all, The oyster really shined right through you still got the fresh taste of seawater as you slurped it down and proceeded to pound sake and ask for them to just keep bringing these all night long.
Next up was an amazing smoked black cod. Not just was it a normal smoked black cod(is there even such a thing as a "normal" one?). It was wrapped in doughnut and flash fried with crisped truffle shavings on top. Again the theme worked perfectly, the cod shined through and all the other ingredients seemed to be just there to add to the cod. The doughnut was perfectly fried and still chewy on the inside which I can appreciate the difficulty of this =/.
Up next was a krispy crepe with a char roe. The whole bit just melted in your mouth perfectly creamy, the crunch on the crepe was absolutely insane.
At this point there were 2 small plates left and I was already deciding that what we had so far was worth the 2 hours drive. The second to last one was a local species of shiitake grilled over alderwood, it was a fantastic bite. It left a little to be desired but I couldn't complain, I could eat twenty of them and be one very happy man.
The last small plate was really special. It was a halibut skin flash fried like chicharone then it was filled with a clam and halibut mouse. I was so happy to see someone do something with fish skin that I almost jumped out and hugged Blaine (the chef/owner) right there. It really was something special, the mouse was absolutely perfect and highlighted the surrounding ocean perfectly.
At this point they move everyone into the dining room, and the meal really starts to kick into high gear. Each course is brought out in the perfect timing, you are left with just enough time to enjoy a few sips of your perfectly paired wine and analyze each dish with your party before the next dish is served. Willows Inn really shined in their service, it was second to none.
the first dish inside we were served was a shaved Zucchini with a Zucchini root puree over the top of it. Again the dish highlighted the local surroundings perfectly the oil blended perfectly with the root puree and coated your mouth letting the puree sit on your palette. Ive never had such a simple Zucchini taste so good before.
Next on the table was a Raw geoduck with sunflower oil and cucumber seeds. I am a HUGE fan of geoduck and I was so happy to see this when it came out. It tasted like the pacific ocean smells, absolutely delicious. This dish really made me fall in love with the ocean again, being from here and being able to cook here everyday you take these things for granted but this really made me remember why the PNW is so special.
Next up was a Dungeness crab over a pureed pine nut broth with roasted pine nuts on top. With pine nuts being so powerful I was very surprised by this dish, the crab exploded with flavor and dare I say it overpowered the pine nuts? Nonetheless I am glad by this fact as the crab was absolutely ridiculous.
The next dish was an Albacore in a cold pressed albacore bone broth with a splash of grapeseed oil. Everything shined in this dish The first thing that came to mind is if this fish was still alive? It exploded with the salt taste from the sea which IMO is one of the best flavors the tuna was absolutely perfect. The broth did nothing but highlight the fact that the fish was so fresh anything hot would have done the fish a disservice, the oil added a viscosity to the dish that let it sit and meld on your tongue that just brought the dish to all new heights. This was one of the highlights of the night.
Then we came to another dish that simply highlighted the setting that we were in, it was a fantastically fresh farm in a bowl. Local herbs and flowers in a broth of their roots with fig oil. The herbs were all perfect, they still had a crunch to them that made me think they went and picked them and directly put them on my plate (which they probably did =/). I can't remember specifically what herbs were in the dish (I was 1 bottle of sake, 3 ciders and 2 glasses of wine deep by this point)
A steamed local Ivory King salmon was up next, over a protato broth with grilled young heirloom tomatoes. The tomatoes kindof overpowered the dish on this one so I actually ended up eating it in parts. Alone the ingredients are wonderful the Salmon was some of the most moist salmon I've ever had, the layers of flavor in the salmon alone were wonderful the richness of the meat accented the saltyness of it wonderfully. It was one of the fattiest(in a good way) Salmon i've had.
Then came the last protein of the night. It was a great way to end the main courses of the night. A local lamb with roasted eggplant and roasted rigs. Normally I'm not a huge fan of Lamb, yes it can be amazing but 99% of the time it tastes like ****. This was the 1% of the time, It did not have any semblance of the gamey/nasty lamb flavor that can come from an overdone lamb. The young eggplant was again delicious and worked perfectly with the fig to highlight the almost sweetness of the lamb.
Then came desert, by this point I was 4 glasses of wine in on top of all the other alcohol I had drank. Photos were of no concern to me for desert but I did remember to take a photo of the first two desert courses that came.
first up was a blackberry and wild chamomile Since I get hives whenever I eat blackberries I unfortunately had to pass on this dish and stupidly I forgot to notify them of an allergy to this. Another person in our party was allergic to clams and every clam dish we got she had gotten a 1 off dish specifically for her, while our dishes came presented by our servers(bar our appetizers which are presented by blaine and the cooks) the dishes that were 1 off for allergy people came from blaine himself. This fact I can appreciate 100% and wish that more chef's would do this.
Since I missed out on the blackberries we ordered the cheese plate with rye bread with flax seeds. All the cheeses were delicious and if I could remember a single name of them I would be overjoyed but alas at this point I was past this point.
All in All this was a special night, the staff at Willows are amazing and the food did what it was supposed to do, It highlighted the island and the scenery perfect and you really got a sense for what this special place had to offer. If anyone has any questions feel free to ask or if you've been there too you should drop a note, I'd love to hear about your experience there!
TL;DR Willows in is Fruckin awesome and I advise anyone to go there even if you have to fly there!
Side note, this was the view I had during dinner, it really made it that much more spectacular.
If anyone is curious as to the wine pairing, here is a snapshot of the list. Each wine was paired with 2-3 courses over dinner and they all were the perfect compliment to the dish.