The Willows Inn on Lummi Island

August 8, 2017

The Willows Inn is a current darling of American food writers. Opinionated about Dining 2017 declared it to be the best restaurant in the U.S.  Bill Addison, Eater‘s Restaurant Editor, called it “America’s truest destination restaurant.”

Chef Blaine Wetzel, 31, is a native of Washington state. He was only 25  when he took over the inn’s restaurant in August 2010, a job he accepted sight unseen after two years working at noma for Rene Redzepi, the high priest of locavore cuisine.  In summer and early fall about three-quarters of the food Wetzel serves comes from on and around 9-square-mile Lummi Island, a short ferry ride off the northwest corner of Washington state. Linda and I stayed at The Willows Inn the night of July 20, 2017.

Guests are encouraged to gather on the terrace at 6:00.

We were served sparkling Eaglemount ‘log cabin’ cider from Port Townsend, Washington. The snacks started.
loganita celtuce

Thin slices of a deep lettuce root were served in crushed ice. The celtuce, or root lettuce, was grown on Loganita Farm, just up the road from The Willows Inn. It furnishes a lot of The Willows Inn’s produce.

island berries

Three types of local cherries, local black and red raspberries, two types of mulberries, currants, red and green gooseberries and goji berries.

toasted kale leaves

The toasted kale leaves with local black truffle and seeded rye beans were an excellent snack.

savory donut

The savory donut stuffed with smoked whitefish and topped with salt was good.

sidestripe and rhubarb ceviche

Sidestripe shrimp are native to the Pacific northwest coast. These from Oregon made a good mild ceviche with rhubarb. They were easy to eat in the lettuce leaf taco.

blue clams with black radish

The blue clams were from a local bay. They were dressed with a frozen black radish mush that was a good match, but a bit too much if one ate all of it.

smoked mussel

The mussel was served with the cover on the box full of smoke. It was very good.

Now we moved to our table in one of the three inside dining rooms.

While wine pairings are offered, we decided to order a bottle of 2013 Crowley, Dundee Hills, Pinot Noir.

Enjoyable and right with the cuisine.

chilled hakurei turnip soup

The cold, clear soup had a definite good turnip flavor. The scoops are: turnip to the right, turnip greens at the left and Vancouver Island caviar in the rear. Lovely.

native oysters and wildcress

Four small local oysters were served in a cold watercress soup.

lightly-cured rockfish in a broth of bones

A broth was made from roasted rockfish bones.  The white blobs are gelled fishbone broth and the liquid is the fishbone broth. The rockfish slices were almost sashimi. This was a fine, delicate dish.

Bread was served.

grilled geoduck

These very large clams are native to the Washington coast. The grilling of these chunks did not sufficiently tenderize them for me. Nor did I enjoy the flavor enough to want to eat more than one bite.

spot prawns

These delicious large, local prawns were just finishing their two month season. The bull kelp underneath was not edible, but one can see some good prawn sauce under the spot prawns.  We thought it was very good dish.

roasted costata zucchini and nasturtium

A large, traditional Italian zucchini had been roasted with wild pineapple weed. The inside, including the seeds, was scooped out in front of us.  It was served topped with a nasturtium purée presented in a little bowl surrounded by nasturtium flowers that were lovely, but not served. This went against all my ideas of zucchini: that you should pick them small and that the flavor is in the skin. But we enjoyed the creation. 

herb tostada

The base is tempura-fried mustard greens topped with an oyster mayonnaise. It is covered with edible wild herbs and flowers. We
 were told to eat this with our fingers. Lovely.

 black cod collars and fermented flowers

The most interesting and best dish of the night was the grilled “fins of black cod”.  We were told that we should eat it like BBQ, with our fingers. The grilling created a great flavor in the skins.

bread from heirloom wheat and crab brain

This seemed to us to be Dungeness crab in butter. We could sense flaked meat and leg pieces. Other parts of the crab may have been there, but were less obvious. It was a very good, luscious dish. The whole wheat bread served with it was supposed to be dipped in the crab, but we did not see the point.

grilled king salmon and sweet onion

A piece of Ivory King Salmon was served with an assortment of mini vegetable pieces. The salmon was good. At this point all those veggies, many raw, were just too much to enjoy.

toasted birch branches

The toasted birch branch cold tea is supposed to be digestive.

stewed apricots and goat’s milk

A “glazed” apricot with goat’s milk ice cream. Nice.

anise hyssop with lavender

An anise flavored wild herb flavored both the cream and the mousse.

summer currants

The caramelized strip of black currants was picturesque, but hard to eat, and bitter. It was served with a little bowl of thick sweet cream.

flax seeds, black walnut

The caramel strip with flax seeds was fine. Black walnut fudge was sweeter.

Our meal lived up to much of the hype. It was consistent in its dedication to very fresh local ingredients. The culinary techniques were well conceived for bringing out the flavors while adding something to each ingredient without masking them. The success of the dishes varied, but only the geoduck did not work for me. The service was charming and efficient and the pace fine. We are certainly glad that we went to The Willows Inn.


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