I am one of those annoying people who keeps a list of goals; some are short-term and some are long-term (life goals). I find keeping a list helps motivate me to move towards my goals. One of the items that has been on my list for about a year or so, has been to have dinner at the famed Willows Inn on Lummi Island. I have been hearing impressive things about the chef, Blaine Wetzel, and his passion for cooking with seasonal foraged and locally sourced ingredients. Last weekend, I got to find out for myself what all the fuss is about (and check off a life goal!).
B and I booked our trip months ago to ensure that we could enjoy a summer long weekend on Lummi so this trip had been a long time in the making. When we finally pulled up at the gorgeous Willows Inn, I was quite giddy. I won’t go into too much detail about the accommodation but you should know that guests of the Inn are given priority for restaurant reservations. Thankfully, there are many options (at varying price-points) for accommodation with Willows Inn. We were fortunate enough to secure the “Sunset” room which was perfect for us as we could stumble up the stairs to bed after enjoying some cocktails and the wine-pairing menu.
The simple, rustic decor was welcoming.
The restaurant at Willows Inn only does one seating a night – at 7pm – and the small dining room (we guessed it seated about 30 people) is attended to by the chef and his team of sous chefs and wait-staff. After having a cocktail on the ocean-front patio we were escorted to the dining room, where chef Wetzel greeted each and every table. This was a first for us and something that impressed me – a well-respected chef that takes the time to greet his patrons and introduce himself and some of his dishes. Once we sat down to our first “bite” – the menu is made up of five plates and ten bites – the food really didn’t stop coming for about 2.5 hours.
Chef Wetzel presented us with the first bite of the night…what’s in the box?Bite 1: A house-smoked oyster (complete with a cloud of smoke).Bite 2: Crispy crepe with salmon roe.Bite 3: Kale with black truffle emulsion and rye crumble.Bite 4: Puffed Halibut Skin stuffed with clam and finished with seaweed powder.Bite 5: House-made Rye bread to pair with… …young goat tartare.Bite 6: Grilled shiitake mushroom with sea salt.Plate 1: Geoduck with ancient grains and watercress. Bite 7: Smoked sockeye salmon. Easily the best piece of salmon I’ve ever eaten.
Plate 2: Wild seaweeds with braised Dungeness crab and brown butter. Bite 8: Hearth bread with chicken drippings, served on warm rocks. That’s right; a delicious bowl of chicken drippings!Plate 3: Dried beets with glazed lingonberries and bone marrow.Plate 4: Smoked black cod with slow roasted leeks and elderberry “capers”.
My thoughts about the experience:
- This was like no other dinner that I’ve experienced before. I would classify it as fine-dining, however, the experience is so relaxed and unpretentious, that it would be easy to not think of it as fine-dining at all. The restaurant decor is rustic and welcoming, and the staff are friendly and approachable.
- The food was fresh, light, and uncomplicated. The ingredients were not masked with heavy sauces or overpowering ingredients. Because of this, the flavours were able to “speak” for themselves.
- I loved the experience of having the chef introduce himself to the table and present us with a few of the courses. He was extremely humble and he seemed genuine in his enthusiasm for having us there. Of all of the fine-dining restaurants that we have had the pleasure of eating at, none of the chefs have even been present, let alone introduced themselves (I’m thinking Thomas Keller, Gordon Ramsay, etc).
- I was pretty much in love with all of the dishes, however my absolute favourite dishes were the house-smoked salmon (absolutely incredible), the kale with black truffle emulsion, wild seaweeds and Dungeness crab, the puffed halibut skin, the dried beets with lingonberries and bone marrow, and the crispy crepe with salmon roe (see, I told you, they were all good).
- My least favourite, and only due to personal taste, was the dessert of blueberries with woodruff and malt and meringue. I had never tried woodruff before and learned that I don’t like the flavour.
- I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed so many of the seafood dishes, as I am typically more of a meat girl. These seafood dishes were in a league of their own.
- I’m really interested in returning to sample the fall menu and what ingredients the change of season will bring with it.
- We arrived early to have drinks on the patio prior to the dinner. Unfortunately, the drinks took a ridiculously long time to be served so by the time we finally got them, it was time for dinner.
- We opted for the wine pairing ($65) with dinner and we were a little under-whelmed. Typically, we will sample one or two wines at a wine pairing that really stand out, unfortunately, none of the wines were memorable. The apple cider that was included to start the meal was a nice touch though.
- The setting was unrivalled. The view from the patio was breath-taking. At sunset, diners felt comfortable enough to go onto the patio to take photos and enjoy the moment.
Sunset from the patio.
Not only was Willows Inn an amazing dining experience, but the Inn was a romantic spot to stay (complete with hot tub), and Lummi Island is a perfect little spot for a quick romantic getaway. B and I were so happy with our experience that we are trying to figure out a way to return before they close for the year (in November). I am thrilled that this piece of foodie paradise is merely a 1.5/2 hour drive from Vancouver. Highly recommended, but be sure to book in advance.