Lummi Island – The Willows Inn Restaurant (Dinner by Blaine Wetzel) – Part 5

Restaurant: The Willows Inn Restaurant – Part 5/5
Cuisine: Organic/Modern American/Seafood
Last visited: April 25, 2013
Location: Bellingham, WA (Lummi Island)
Address: 2579 W Shore Dr
Phone: (360) 758-2620
Price range: $50+ ($150/person for Tasting Menu)

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 4.55 (based on this Tasting Menu)
Service: 4.5
Ambiance: 5
Overall: 5
Additional comments:

  • Chef/Co-owner Blaine Wetzel
  • Modern American cuisine
  • Seafood focused
  • Unique dining experience
  • Award winning
  • Destination restaurant
  • “Seed-to-table” dining
  • Organic ingredients
  • Local/sustainable
  • Seasonal menu
  • Casual fine dining
  • Tasting menus only
  • Cocktail/wines
  • Reservations mandatory
  • Route requires 10 minute ferry
  • Twitter: @WillowsInn

**Recommendations: No a la carte. Tasting Menu is $150 (5 course dinner with 12 one bite snacks, taxes and gratuities not included in price). Wine pairings +$60, fresh juice pairings +$40. If you are not doing a juice pairing I highly recommend ordering the carrot juice a la carte ($10). Bed and breakfasts are found throughout the island, but guests of Willows Inn get priority reservations for the restaurant, while others must give 2 weeks notice. If you stay at The Willows Inn, breakfast at the restaurant is included. It is an estimated 3 hour dinner and they have recommended babysitters on the island for children under 12… read between the lines, not ideal to bring the kiddos.

See Part 1 – Follow Me Foodie to Lummi Island!

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (0.1)**For a better understanding of Lummi Island & The Willows Inn please read Part 1.**

I came to Lummi Island especially for The Willows Inn restaurant. It opened in 1910, but it was only in the last few years it took on a new vision and became an internationally recognized culinary destination. I guess it could be considered an “industry secret”, but this island is on the culinary rise and it hasn’t even hit its prime or peak.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (13.5)Make yourself at home. No, really. That’s what they want. It is considered a “fine dining restaurant”, but it isn’t fancy. What they do is progressive, but Lummi Island has a population of 1000 people and casual works best here. It is one of the most non-pretentious fine dining experiences I’ve had, and the quaint atmosphere makes it even more memorable than the perfect dinner time sunset and waterfront view.

If it wasn’t for all the press and media coverage calling it the “Top 10 Restaurants Worth a Plane Ride” (The New York Times, 2011) and “Top 10 US Travel Destinations for 2013” (Lonely Planet), The Willows Inn would be an unexpected surprise. Even being fully aware of its current awards and accolades, I was still surprised because it is impressive to see an unassuming tiny island pull off a dining experience as interactive and sophisticated as this.

Experience and context is key at The Willows Inn restaurant, and it is easy to be captivated by the small town charm of locals working there and tourists dining there. The tourists come from everywhere nowadays, especially after all the media exposure since Chef Blaine Wetzel took over, but everyone somehow absorbs the local energy which makes for an effortlessly genuine ambiance.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (33)I was invited to Lummi Island for the main purpose of trying The Willows Inn. I tried to avoid coming with high expectations, but I found myself more infatuated with the whole experience more so than the food alone. Mind you, the food was not disappointing.

I’m going to talk a lot about experience and environment because “culinary magic” isn’t really what happens here. I say that with no offence because Blaine is talented, but a major part of why The Willows Inn restaurant succeeds is because it is incredibly controlled.

Timing is everything here and the style of dining would not work in another context. Being on a rural, remote and eclectic island helps, and it already gets the diner in the mood to play along with Lummi Island time. It also helps that The Willows Inn is small and they only have one seating a night Thursday-Sunday by reservation only. (Wednesdays open starting May 15 and they close during the winter months). This is common for many fine dining restaurants focusing on seasonal and local though.

The set up is almost like a formal dinner party or event and all guests are asked to arrive for dinner at 6:30 pm. Everyone gathers on the outdoor patio of The Willows Inn restaurant which is under the same roof as the check in/lobby area for the Inn. You’re welcome to order cocktails or drinks (at your own expense) and by 7 pm your host comes out to bring each individual party to their seats. The anticipation only builds from here.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (112)The dining room holds about 30 and from the moment I sat down on those fur cushions I was hooked… and tempted to steal them. The service is warm and the dining experience is so personal it almost feels like playing house.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (46.5)There is only one Chef’s Tasting Menu and they space out the orders and it feels like they are cooking just for you. This is small scale cooking so there is little room for error. At times I felt a little bit rushed (I am incredibly slow and can make a 3 hour dinner 6), but the dinner generally takes about 3 hours. They do have front of the house staff, but often it was the cooks, chefs and Blaine himself coming out to serve dishes. That rarely ever happens, but I appreciated it.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (4.5)From the staff to the dinner, everything about The Willows Inn was down to earth.

I mentioned in Follow Me Foodie to Lummi Island – Part 1 that I met with Mary VonKrusenstiern, who is the culinary gardener for the exclusive specialty garden dedicated to The Willows Inn. Her dedication and passion to farming is the essence of what Blaine tries to bring to the table. Eventually he will be sourcing most ingredients from the Willows Inn farm starting as early as spring/summer this year, but it wasn’t quite ready during my visit.

For the time being, Blaine is currently sourcing from Nettles Farm, another family owned and operated farm on Lummi Island. Therefore what I tried is not necessarily representable of what his food will taste like months from now, but it gives me an idea since his current ingredients are still premium.

Mary is an asset to Blaine’s culinary vision and together they will team up to exceed the “farm-to-table” concept and execute a seed-to-table menu. Farms are global and Willows Inn is not the first “seed-to-table” restaurant – see my posts for Blue Hill in New York, Hastings House in Salt Spring Island, and Au Goût d’Autrefois in Quebec City just to name a few. Farmers have existed and ate like this for centuries, but Mary and Blaine take it to another level. Farm-to-table restaurants are more common, but seed-to-table restaurants are more rare, and few are capable of bringing this calibre of dining without the proper chef. The Willows Inn is special.

As organic as they are, what they do is very controlled, just like their dining environment. With her expertise on producing a pristine ingredient, and his culinary skills exceeding some chefs with years more experience, they are creating food Lummi Island locals haven’t even seen or tasted. The Willows Inn restaurant is truly unique to Lummi Island and it can’t be experienced anywhere else.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (125)I wrote about Chef and part owner of The Willows Inn Blaine Wetzel (on the right) in Follow Me Foodie to Lummi Island – Part 1, but I didn’t get into his cooking philosophy, culinary vision and style.

Just a brief recap, but Blaine is locally born and bred in Washington and he is only 27 years old. He worked at Noma (#1 in Top 50 World’s Best Restaurants) for 2 years before taking over at Willows Inn and therefore gained a reputation as “Rene Redzepi’s protégé”. This year he was named a finalist for Rising Star Chef 2013 at the James Beard Awards and he is getting a lot of attention especially at his age. His whole team of currently 8 chefs are also young, but all of them have experience at world renowned restaurants. Nonetheless I still feel this is only the beginning and I look forward to seeing Blaine’s career and The Willows Inn farm blossom and grow. 

Blaine’s food philosophy and style are somewhat already moulded and heavily influenced by Redzepi, who is known for reinventing Nordic cuisine. Blaine approaches the bountiful harvest of Lummi Island in the same way and everything he serves is fished, foraged and farmed right on the island. It is a small scale restaurant which makes concepts like this sustainable for a business as well.

Not every meal has to be “the best meal of my life”, but when I can see a chef’s culinary vision I feel as though he has succeeded. Of course it still has to be good, but that’s not a problem for Blaine. Course by course I got a clear understanding of what he was trying to do and showcase. It was simply the bountiful harvest of Lummi Island.

To be honest, the majority of his cooking methods and techniques are not necessarily cutting edge, but instead very simple and an ode to how things were done in the past. It was back to basics. Ingredients were stripped down and appreciated in their pure state. Sure there were courses with progressive and modern approaches, but that’s what gave the ingredient driven menu fine dining umph. It was more than what one would do at home, but never complicated or fussy. However, some dishes didn’t reach their full potential and would benefit from further refinement or even one or two more components and/or textures.

The flavours were simple and clean, but executed professionally and therefore most things tasted more complex than they looked. The seasoning was almost home-style with less salt, but it was never bland either (I have a high tolerance for salt). There was surprisingly little acidity in many dishes, but he always found a way to bring umami to every dish even if it was only in one component.

Working with the highest quality ingredients is already half his work done, but to be innovative yet respectful of each ingredient is no easy task. Blaine creates a story through presentation, aromas and garnishes, and the menu really sings in tune with the season. He delivers a memorable dining experience and I am eager to come back during the summer.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (49)I don’t want to give too much away, so I won’t go through every page of the menu, but the leather bound menu was such a nice touch to the theme of the restaurant. It has a couple notes from the kitchen as well as descriptions of some of the ingredients featured on Lummi Island.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (70.5)Lummi Island would not be where it is today without The Willows Inn, and vise versa. Without Blaine’s skill and the many talents in the kitchen there would be no culinary excitement or desire to celebrate what the island has had all along. The Island was always equip with good and easily accessible food resources, but Blaine helped develop it to what it is now. He is literally and figuratively planting new seeds on Lummi Island and with more time and experience I can only see it getting better.

The words forage, local, and sustainable have more or less become meaningless buzz words, but at The Willows Inn it goes without saying. Their philosophy comes with a degree of honesty and pride, and their dedication is rewarding for those living on Lummi Island, and for those visiting.

On the table:
Lummi Island - Willows Inn (50)Westcott Bay Traditional Cider San Juan Island, Washington – Everyone starts off with a complimentary glass of this award winning cider. It is not sweet, but a bit tart, crisp and slightly bitter. It is not a dessert wine and it is more appropriate with savoury food.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (121)Their smoke house is outside the restaurant and you can see the chefs putting it to use during dinner.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (60)Baked Sunflower Roots4/6 (Very good)

  • The Tasting Menu includes 15 snacks (similar to Chef Hamid’s Diva Snacks) and it starts with this baked sunflower root. 
  • I’m sure the ingredient changes with the season, but the presentation is likely similar.
  • Each diner was presented a cedar-wood box and as soon as I lifted the lid I was hit by the scent of smoke.
  • Inside was a precious piece of sunchoke and it was giving off as much smoke as a bundle of incense.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (62)

  • The sunchoke (sunflower root or Jerusalem Artichoke) was baked with moss and rock.
  • It was baked on low temperature in an oven and then smoked. 
  • The flavours were very earthy and natural and it was simply sprinkled with salt, which could have been also smoked.
  • It was lightly warmed with a wrinkly skin and naturally sweet and nutty.
  • If you’ve never had a sunchoke it is a root vegetable that tastes like a potato meets an artichoke heart meets a turnip or radish.
  • It smelled like a camp-fire and the smokiness was intense that I could taste it in my nose and almost smell it in my clothes.
  • Yes, it was just a smoked sunchoke, but the quality of the sunchoke was very good.
  • The smoking technique (top 10 food trends of 2013) was well done and applied without masking the sunchoke flavour too.
  • The intensity of smoke reminded me of the Smoked Castelvetrano Olives at Wildebeest.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (65)**Crispy Kale with Truffles and Rye5.5/6 (Excellent!)

  • I could have eaten a whole bag of these. It is one per diner and it left you craving 100. 
  • I’ve had kale chips before, but they never tasted like these.
  • These kale chips were so frail, thin, crisp and delicate that they were almost fragile.
  • I felt like I was biting into a single sheet of crisp phyllo pastry and it was nutty with a mild bitter aftertaste.
  • The truffle purée was the dipping sauce and I liked how it was dotted all over to I had some in every bite.
  • I could smell the truffle lifting off the potent purée and it had great umami, but I think it was enhanced with truffle oil.
  • I’m not keen on truffle oil used in fine dining contexts – see why here, but I could still eat a bag of these.
  • The truffle purée was sprinkled with rye breadcrumbs and I could taste some toasted fennels seeds in it too.
  • It had the perfect salt content and the rye bread crumbs tasted like nutty seasoning salt.
  • My ideal bag of “modernist chips” would have these alternating with Chicken Bacon and Baked Potato and Chives “Chips”.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (66)Grilled Shiitake 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • It was another simple snack, but the flavours were enhanced and it delivered more flavour than it showed. 
  • Shiitake mushrooms originate in Asia so it would be nice to see a local mushroom.
  • I’m not sure if Morels or Oyster mushrooms grow there, but being spring it would have been suitable as well.
  • This mushroom was incredibly meaty in texture like a filet mignon.
  • It was tender yet firm with a slight crunch and they were not wrinkled or dried out from being roasted.
  • The Shiitake was compressed in Shiitake mushroom broth and I think grapeseed oil, so it was infused with extra mushroom flavour.
  • Mushrooms naturally have umami, but the umami was further intensified with the methods used.
  • It was also fire roasted outside and as soon as I put it to my lips I could smell and taste that smokiness.
  • It was smoky sweet and earthy, but also juicy and savoury and it was a fantastic tasting mushroom.
  • I’ve also had compressed Shiitake mushrooms before though so I wasn’t crazy blown away by this, but it was still very good.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (68)**Crispy Crepe with Salmon Roe 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • I loved this! It was almost like a savoury cannoli. It was 1 per person and I could have had 10. 
  • The crispy crepe was almost like a wafer and it was super thin, light and crisp.
  • It was filled with a cream that tasted like crème fraîche and folded into it was cured and smoked salmon roe.
  • It was a very light and unassuming bite, but there was an explosion of flavours and textures.
  • I’m big on textures, so I loved that this was crispy and creamy with savoury pops of salty smoky roe.
  • Chef actually gets the roe from a whole fish and cures and smokes it himself.
  • It reminded me of smoked salmon, cream cheese and onions with the chives, but it was much lighter and elegant.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (70)Singing Scallops 4/6 (Very good)

  • These were Puget Sound scallops which are native to the Pacific Northwest. 
  • They are small scallops often served steamed in their pink shells.
  • These were served sashimi on top of chilled rocks and an ice cold bowl.
  • They were super fresh and smelled like the ocean and I felt like I was eating them on the beach.
  • Singing scallops are naturally more briny than sweet and these were topped with ramp oil, cream and micro herbs.
  • The meat melted in my mouth like silky tofu and the cream tasted like horseradish cream with a mild heat.
  • As much as I love West Coast oysters, it was refreshing to see scallops in their shells which is surprisingly rare.
  • I usually only see steamer scallops served in their shells at Chinese restaurants.
  • At Chinese restaurants they serve it with sweet minced garlic and vermicelli noodles underneath. It’s one of my all time favourite appetizers.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (71)Fried Mosses3/6 (Good)

  • This was another snack and it was totally new for me. I was excited!
  • The basket was made from kelp and weaved locally by a woman on Lummi Island.
  • I’ve never tried moss like this before. I’ve tried Chinese “black moss” (Nostoc flagelliforme), but not moss like this.
  • This was fried reindeer moss which is a source of food for reindeer, caribou and other herbivores.
  • It is available for retail although trickier to source, but this was likely foraged on Lummi Island. I saw lots of it.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (72)

  • It was very light and it reminded me of a hair net and it sort of had a rougher texture. 
  • It smelled salty and it was light and flaky and not oily.
  • It was crispy and crunchy and lighter than a potato bird’s nest.
  • Piped into the bundle of moss was a dollop of sweet and savoury grilled and caramelized scallion purée.
  • It was almost like chips and dip again and I can’t say I’ve ever had anything like it.
  • I enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t crave it although I would eat it again.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (70.5)The next day I went on a personally guided tour of Lummi Island and I unexpectedly found the reindeer moss! (At least it looked like it.) The food cost on this snack was the labour in picking it. Picking berries and fruits is easy, but it takes a professional forager to go beyond fruits and vegetables. It requires knowledge and experience and not everyone can do it so I really valued this course even if it wasn’t my favourite.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (75)Foraged Beach Peas and Clams 4/6 (Very good)

  • This was still a snack, but the size and plating was enough to pass for a course.
  • It was fresh, elegant and delicate with many layers of savoury flavours and again he nailed the umami factor.
  • It was a mix of razor clams and geoduck which are very popular in Chinese cuisine, but very rarely appreciated outside of it.
  • The two kinds of clams were tender and perhaps sous vide in a seafood broth because they were infused with savoury flavour.
  • The spinach underneath was a bit wet so it reminded me of fresh seaweed and I was a bit indifferent with it served with clams.
  • The creamy dots of green purée looked like avocado, but the flavour was very savoury and it was actually an oyster emulsion.
  • I could taste a seafood broth in the purée and I think it was green from mixed herbs. This was my favourite part of the dish.
  • The dish had a bit of bitterness from the pea shoots, sweetness, and saltiness, but very little to no acidity.
  • I actually would have loved this served with a seafood broth or light vegetable broth to take it up another level.
  • It felt slightly incomplete and missing one component, but I did appreciate the clean flavours it carried.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (79)Boedecker Cellars Athena Pinot Noir, 2010, Willamette Valley, USA – It was an Oregon pinot noir with flavours of dark cherry and spices. It was earthy and quite bold to bring out as a wine pairing for the first course.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (81)Aged Venison Leg 2/6 (Okay)

  • With forest flavours
  • The description wasn’t particularly appealing and it was the only course I didn’t quite understand.
  • Serving it with a whale bone (?) paring knife was a nice touch though.
  • This was the only meat course in the Tasting Menu and everything else was seafood or vegetarian.
  • Variations of this venison leg course has been done by many chefs, but this was Blaine’s interpretation of it.
  • It was about 1/8 of an inch sliced aged venison leg sashimi covered with Lovage celery, watercress and dry grated blackberry powder.
  • They are house ageing the venison in their fridge and it was quite tender, but not tender enough to cut with a fork so I actually did use the knife.
  • It was smoky sweet and a bit chubby in texture with a mild gamey flavour and lots of earthiness from the toppings.
  • The combination of the powder and celery was a bit woody and dusty, so the texture was a bit off for me.
  • The flavours were just a bit muddled and dark and it needed a pinch of salt and maybe some sweetness too.
  • It wasn’t really rich or creamy and it had no acidity so I found it a bit one dimensional.
  • The Lovage celery and celery salt were also very aggressive, so the celery flavours dominated and it got quite bitter as well.
  • Lovage celery is a very strong herb and it almost has to be used very sparingly or it can really take over the plate.
  • Wildebeest in Vancouver made an Elk Tartar which was reminiscent of this too.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (84)Crispy Halibut Skin4/6 (Very good)

  • I love fried fish skin and it is a common Asian snack. 
  • I’ve seen this in Modernist Cuisine before, but it was done way before the book came out.
  • The chip was crispy, puffed and naturally a bit oily from the fish oils and frying. It was almost like a prawn cracker.
  • It was dotted with halibut emulsion, pickled stir fried Little Neck clams, and seaweed powder.
  • The texture of the sauce was thick and creamy and almost like cream cheese in texture.
  • The sauce was not cheesy, but savoury with a nice umami.
  • The Little Neck clams were so small they almost got lost, but thy gave the chips a bit of chew and texture.
  • I love fish skin, but if you think you don’t like it, try it this way.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (86)**Smoked Sockeye Salmon – 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • @$#%. This was my favourite bite in the entire meal. I loved this!
  • I honestly loved it so much I ate it so slowly and almost cried at the last bite. 
  • It is one of his signature bites and being from the West Coast (Vancouver) I’ve had a lot of smoked salmon in my lifetime, but never has it tasted this good.
  • He smoked it for 5 hours over green alderwood from Legoe Bay.
  • It is meant to be finger food and it tasted like the best Indian Candy ever.
  • I really hate saying anything is “the best”, but I actually blurted out loud “this is the best smoked salmon ever” after the first bite.
  • It was warm and smoky with a glossy finish from perhaps a brush of maple or brown sugar glaze.
  • It was so moist it was almost falling apart as I picked it up.
  • I could smell and taste the smoke, but it did not over power the natural flavours of the high quality fish.
  • It was buttery and savoury and I was surprised how rich and oily it was for being salmon.
  • It was a bit sticky on the outside and just tender with a silky flesh on the inside.
  • Usually people use lower quality salmon if they plan on smoking it or making it into candy or jerky, but they used a high quality one here.
  • High quality salmon is usually eaten sashimi, but in this case I was more than happy to have it smoked and served like this.
  • It was so perfectly cured and savoury with just a hint of sweetness and smoky aroma… it made my knees weak.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (89)Diners enjoy the sunset and waterfront view during dinner. See… I do enjoy the outdoors!

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (90)Cucumber Juice5/6 (Excellent)

  • I opted for half wine and half juice pairings (alternating). 
  • Wine pairs better with food than juice, but the fresh juices here are some of the best I’ve had.
  • There I go again saying “best”, which I hate, but if you’re going to do a juice pairing then this is the ideal place to try it.
  • It does not get any fresher. Think of using the highest quality fruits and vegetables to make juices and that’s what they do here.
  • I’ve never had cucumber juice that tasted quite like this.
  • It was not watery, naturally sweet, clean, pristine, and so refreshing and not bitter at all.
  • If you think you don’t like cucumber juice, try it here and it may change your mind.
  • They use a Champion juicer which is supposed to make juices richer, sweeter and more full, but I actually take a liking to the Hurom juicer.
  • The Hurom juicer has a slow speed motor and it makes juices even creamier and fuller than the Champion juicer (at least from what I’ve experienced).

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (92)Wild Onions 5/6 (Excellent)

  • With caramelized mussels and toasted bread
  • I really wanted a warm broth with this. It would have made it even more amazing, but it was still excellent.
  • The local mussels were sous vide and tender with a beautiful savoury flavour reminiscent of mushrooms. Again umami success!
  • The mussels weren’t even the highlight in the dish and it could have been any seafood, but I still liked the caramelized mussels.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (91)

  • The wild onions were in long strips and they were sweet and semi caramelized with a bit of a crunch. 
  • I really liked the textures of the plump mussels, wilted onions, and crispy breadcrumbs which gave it a nuttiness.
  • The breadcrumbs were so buttery and I could taste the browned butter which contributed to the nutty flavours.
  • It was sweet, savoury and nutty, but there was no acidity and I missed it.
  • It was garnished with spicy onions flowers and I really appreciate garnishes which serve a purpose to the dish.
  • Each component was good, but I appreciated it more eaten all together.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (93)**Hearth Bread with Pan Drippings6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • To have the “complimentary bread and butter” come out 3/4 of the way in was unexpected, but it worked! 
  • This bread was way too easy to get full off of, and at this point most would still be hungry enough to be able to eat a full slice.
  • I liked this bread so much I would have bought loaves to bring home. It was amazing! This bread would make Europe envious!
  • It was served with chicken pan drippings and very good quality salty and creamy Oregon butter.
  • The garlicky, herby chicken pan drippings was almost like a sauce and it had intense umami!
  • It was very savoury and not salty and there wasn’t a ton of oil floating on top either.
  • It had a red tint from perhaps tomato paste, but it was not acidic. It just tasted like beautiful good quality chicken pan jus.
  • As much as I loved the chicken pan drippings I think it would be even better to serve a mussel broth with the bread.
  • Being such a seafood focused restaurant I think a seafood broth or mussel broth would suit the theme perfectly!

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (96)

  • The bread was a rye bread baked in a wood stone oven that morning. 
  • They served it over hot stones so the bread remained warm the whole time.
  • It reminded me of San Francisco sourdough/levain style artisan breads.
  • Since it was made right by the water they have excellent climate conditions for making levain style breads.
  • It had a thick and crunchy artisan crust, excellent spring, even hole structure, nice stretch and moisture.
  • It was rustic, nutty and fluffy. The inside was super moist and soft and the chew was not tiresome.
  • The type of bread craved pan drippings, broths and sauces. It was absorbent like a sponge.
  • I had 3 slices of this high quality hand made bread and they even refilled it.
  • I could eat just this bread alone and it was unexpectedly excellent.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (97)Rose Andrew Winery 2010 Meadow, Washington – It was a dry, fresh and crisp Pinot Blanc style of wine with some added Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. The Pinot Blanc was most obvious, but it still had some complexities.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (98)Asparagus4/6 (Very good)

  • With woodruff and fresh cheese
  • I love asparagus and this had “spring” all over it!
  • This was the third course and the presentation was elegant, earthy, yet bright.
  • It was simple, delicate and beautiful in flavours and presentation, but perhaps a bit too delicate at the same time.
  • The fresh cheese was very neutral in flavour and it wasn’t salty or anything.
  • It had to get all the flavours from everything around it, but overall the dish was so light that it felt like it was missing something.
  • I think if the portion was smaller it would be better because it got a bit repetitive and one dimensional.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (99)

  • The dish really embraced the high quality asparagus and they only used the sweet tender centre of the asparagus stems. 
  • The asparagus pieces were compressed so they had intense asparagus flavour and the texture was better than if they were steamed or sautéed.
  • The texture was firm, but not crunchy. It was tender, but not soft.
  • It was very “Ideas in Food” to focus on such a specific part of the asparagus.
  • The rest of the asparagus was used for the grilled asparagus sauce which was more like a broth.
  • The broth was clear and made with perhaps mint or basil broth.
  • It was not obvious with any particular herb and it was naturally sweet and savoury.
  • It was garnished with foraged flowers and miners lettuce.
  • The dish had no acidity so some lemon might have helped, but again it was such a mild dish that I almost wanted a richer or saltier cheese.
  • The style of soup reminded me of Chef Quang’s Chilled Cucumber and Spring Onion Soup and Chef Hamid’s Green Almond Soup.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (97.5)I was surprised the asparagus Chef Blaine used was so thick. I thought the thicker the asparagus the woodier, but I compared it to a conventional pencil thin asparagus and the thicker Nettles Farm one was sugar snap pea sweet.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (100)**Carrot Juice6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • OMFG. It was another “best carrot juice of my life” moment. I downed the first glass so quickly that I had to get more. 
  • I’ve had many versions of carrot juice (organic and all), but it never tasted like this. This was lick the glass good.
  • Just like the cucumber juice, think of the highest quality carrots being used for juice. That’s what this was.
  • Again like the cucumber juice, it was not watery, naturally sweet, clean, and pristine.
  • I can’t even describe the sweetness. It made other carrot juices I’ve had taste woody and old.
  • Carrot juice is naturally high in sugar, but this was so delicate and almost floral and there were no added sugars.
  • They use a Champion juicer which is supposed to make juices richer, sweeter and more full, but I actually take a liking to the Hurom juicer.
  • The Hurom juicer has a slow speed motor and it makes juices even creamier and fuller than the Champion juicer (at least from what I’ve experienced).
  • It was still 6/6 with the Champion juicer, but it would be even thicker with the Hurom juicer so very likely even better!

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (102)Sablefish 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • With black trumpet mushrooms and crushed herbs. 
  • This was the 4th course of the 5 course menu and the rest were snacks. Lots of snacks, which I love!
  • I felt like the could have done more with the sablefish, but it was cooked perfectly.
  • That being said sablefish is the “fool proof fish” and it is so fatty and oily that it is near impossible to overcook. It’s always good.
  • If I had this early on I probably would appreciate it more, but it was still nice.
  • The fish was tender, flaky, moist and silky as sablefish always is.
  • It was lightly smoked and seared, but it had no skin which I tend to like (I’m minority) so I wish it was served even puffed and fried on the side.
  • The fish was almost leaking juices and it had a bacon like flavour.
  • It was topped with marjoram which was used a bit heavily so it got slightly perfume-y if I didn’t get the right ratio of everything.
  • The black trumpet mushrooms were the texture of kelp and it was almost blending in with the silky texture of the cod.
  • I almost couldn’t tell the difference and I’m not sure if that texture similarity was done on purpose.
  • The sauce had excellent umami, but I missed some texture in the dish (eg: crispy, crunchy, creamy).
  • I liked how Chef used stacking presentation because it had to be eaten with some of everything or it was a bit unusual.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (104)Goats Milk and Grasses 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • This was the palate cleanser. Again it was very delicate and elegant. 
  • The goat’s milk was a hybrid of sorbet meets frozen yogurt.
  • It was very refreshing, light and not icy, but it was not creamy either.
  • The goat flavour was not gamey and very mild. It was not sweet and more savoury if anything, but not salty.
  • The broth was made from wheatgrass and dill and it was super grassy. It tasted quite healthy, so I liked it with the goat’s milk sorbet.
  • I expected more acidity and there was not much in the broth, but the previous courses were not meat heavy so I didn’t have to have it either.
  • It was garnished with cherry blossom, elderflower, salmonberry flowers and alpine Forget-Me-Nots.
  • I actually paired this with the carrot juice and it made the goaty/savoury flavour of the cheese come out more which I liked.
  • Many people loved this dish, and I did too, but I loved other things more.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (103)During my guided tour of Lummi Island I actually got to forage salmonberry flowers myself! They were all over Lummi Island!

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (106)Elderflower Juice4/6 (Very good)

  • They steeped the elderflower in sugar syrup and then added water. 
  • It was very refreshing and not too sweet and you have to add sugar with elderflower to bring out the floral qualities and balance the tartness.
  • It has a tart finish which is natural for elderflower infused liquids.
  • I probably would have liked it earlier on in the dinner, but I still liked it.
  • I didn’t find the elderflower necessary special, so I wouldn’t mind some creativity with this drink, although the other juices were great with one ingredient.
  • It brought back memories of bartender David’s home made “St. Germain” – see here.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (108)Steamed Rhubarb3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • With spring pine and angelica. 
  • I’m an advocate for pastry chefs in kitchens of this calibre so I would have loved to see one in there, but this was still good.
  • Upon serving this they poured a rhubarb consomme on top.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (109)

  • The rhubarb was sous vide so the texture was different than just being steamed. It was firm, but not crunchy.
  • It was sliced thin and translucent, but the dessert got rhubarb heavy and most of it was tart, sour and savoury.
  • The pine garnish was also too large so I would have liked smaller pieces or they looked like they weren’t meant to be eaten, and they were.
  • The angelica mousse was on top of a hazelnut crumble to hold it in place.
  • The cream for the mousse was infused with angelica leaves. The flavour is quite aromatic and similar to juniper berry.
  • It is a flavouring herb so it has to be used subtly, but I could taste it in the dessert although not to the point of showcasing its bitterness.
  • This type of earthy/herbal mousse reminded me of Boreal Gelato’s Balsam gelato.
  • The hazelnut crumb was lightly sweetened and I loved it for texture, but it looked woody, so next to the pine tips it was very forest like.
  • I’m not quite sure what direction the dessert was going in, but it felt like a pre-dessert because it wasn’t quite sweet enough.
  • I love dessert but I don’t like things that are too sweet, but this could have used more sweet components or less savoury/tart ones.

Lummi Island - Willows Inn (110)Petit Fours – Flax Bites – It was unusual to see caramels crusted with flax seed in an upscale context, but it suited the naturesque theme of the restaurant. They were buttery creamy caramels and together with the flax seed they tasted just like kettle corn. A nice tip is to add a sprinkle of salt which is at the table. This felt more like dessert than the rhubarb course, but it was the petit fours.

See – Follow Me Foodie to Lummi Island – The Willows Inn Part 1

See – The Willows Inn Part 2

See – The Willows Inn Part 3

See – The Willows Inn Part 4

 See – The Willows Inn 2nd Annual First Harvest Dinner

The Willows Inn on Urbanspoon


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