I would have taken a picture of every dish we had at the Willows Inn on Lummi Island if I could have. But given lighting and my desire to enjoy rather than document my dinner, I am left with only one visual memory of one of the best meals of my life: the marinated cheeses we started the night off with.
To backtrack a bit, I will say that I booked our night away at the Willows Inn B&B before a New York Times article declared it one of ten restaurants worth taking a plane ride to get to…. which it turns out was lucky because not only did I already have a reservation to what has become an impossible-to-get-into inn, but I got a room/dinner deal that was being offered early this winter for Sunday nights. It was a whim, really – I had picked up a copy of some travel magazine which had Lummi Island listed as an easy drive from Vancouver and a place worthy daytripping to. So our timing was good, and we certainly felt lucky to have stumbled onto this place!
The Willows Inn is on one of Lummi Island’s high bluffs, with a view of the ocean and some of the other San Juans. Like many of the Gulf Islands, it has small-community pictaresque hands down as we passed by miles of fields and beach on our way from the ferry to the inn. The main lounge is comfortable, with a fireplace and several comfortable chairs, a bar and coffee service – and our room was decent – modest and clean, with a comfortable bed. But really, we were there for the food. And in that regard, our expectations were well met with fresh ingredients, local to the island and surrounding environs, and prepared with great attention to detail.
After our pre-dinner hors d’œuvre in the lounge, we were seated in the small (ten table) dining area and treated to a number of “tastes” over the first hour which included smoked salmon in a bentwood box (served over smoking cedar chips), potato chip with saurkraut and black cod, a bread and browned butter bite with foraged greens and herbs, and pickled oysters with sorrel served on a plate of frozen beach rocks. And then the bread came out – a wheat/rye with an intense crust from baking in a wood-fired oven, served in a basket of warmed rocks to keep the heat in…. giving Brian breadbaker’s envy as we both swooned over the perfection that bread can be.
After this fabulosity, the main meal began and was served over an hour and a half with many replenishments of wine and bread. The dishes included sliced beet with seeds and tarragon, weathervane scallops with cabbages and mussel sauce, potates with havarti and whey, olympic peninsula steelhead with radishes, celergy and mustard sauce, and green apples with a buttermilk and licorice ice. We had decided to add on the wine pairings on offer with the meal, which meant that each course came with another round of fine wine – leaving us giddy with food and drink by the time coffee was served at 9:30. Not to mention completely sated with one of the best food “events” in my life.
For Vancouverites – Lummi Island is just a short journey away, about twenty minutes from the border crossing. The ferry ($20 roundtrip with car and 2 passengers – make sure you have cash!) runs until around midnight, which makes the Willows Inn dinner a possibility without staying at the B&B (though I wouldn’t recommend the wine pairings if you were planning on driving back home afterwards!) It’s not a cheap meal, but easily one of the most spectacular you will find in the Pacific Northwest.