It looks like it's been awhile since there's been a recent post on Willows Inn on Lummi Island so I thought I'd start a new discussion. I'd been dropping hints to my husband about how much I wanted to go there and apparently he was paying attention because he surprised me with reservations for my birthday. Really amazing and fun experience starting with the road trip from Seattle along Chuckanut Drive, the quick ferry ride, exploring the island, lounging on the deck with cocktails before dinner, and of course the meal itself. And I have to add, the overnight stay. I've read about people driving back to Seattle, but I highly recommend staying on the island so you don't have to worry about limiting your drinks or watching the clock so you don't miss the ferry.
I'm not going to list and describe each and every dish in detail (please see blog link below for that including photos) but I'll focus on the experience and mood. The food is Pacific Northwest regionalism to an extreme with everything farmed, foraged and fished within the 9 miles of Lummi Island and its surrounding waters. There are many good NW restaurants in the region - some exceptionally so - but this brings our regional cuisine to a world-class level.
There are five "official" courses with many more bites and snacks in-between. Each taste brought out the essence not only of the thing itself, but where it's from. The oyster tasted like the ocean; the shitake mushroom tasted like the forest floor. Everything was about an absolute purity of flavor and any additional ingredients served to highlight or complement that flavor. Some of the dishes served were not particularly unusual or some may have not sounded that exceptional - but then you took a bite and magic happened. We've all had smoked salmon before, but never like this. I can't really describe it because it was so experiential but it was a perfect balance of the meaty fish, smoke and wood. The crab hidden beneath the seaweed was the sweetest, most delicate crab I could imagine. The single smoked mussel was perfection. All the dishes were beautifully presented and elegantly represented the season.
I also appreciated that the dessert courses weren't overly sweet and at odds with the rest of the dishes; they really kept with the concept of the overall meal. The cocktails before dinner were delicious - try the Spotted Owl and you'll feel like you're drinking the forest. We also did the wine pairings - a bit pricey but were a nice complement to the food and I recommend the pairing (and they have juice pairings for non-drinkers.)
The atmosphere is relaxed and unpretentious, yet it's clear everyone knows there is something very special going on. The service was friendly and several courses are served by the kitchen staff including Chef Wetzel himself who almost appeared surprised when we complemented him on the meal. At just 27 years old, Chef Wetzel has an incredible future ahead of him. He is now a part owner of Willows Inn so hopefully that means he's going to stick around for awhile. I really hope to go back again in different seasons to see how the menu changes. It's an expensive weekend especially if you stay overnight, but it's a fabulous experience worth saving up for.