Best. Meal. Ever.
A couple weeks ago we loaded ourselves in the car and headed to Willows Inn on Lummi Island, one the islands scattered across Puget Sound. We’ve had a brief flash of summer here (cue the Decemberists’ Summersong), and taking the tiny Chief Whatcom ferry across, we could see up and down the length of the Sound.
Willows Inn is part farm, part restaurant, and its brilliant young chef Blaine Wetzel has been in the press for his extremely local cooking. He trained at Noma in Copenhagen (world’s “best restuarant”), where the chef drew a circle 44 miles around the restaurant and cooks within its radius in all seasons. Blaine Wetzel stays close to home as well – everything is foraged, fished, and farmed around 7-mile-long Lummi Island. (I’m half convinced that Lummi is really the Clam Island in Michael Chabon’s Summerland – a great, great read!) Biking around the island felt like biking around Clam Island – boarded up houses, tall cedars, boats reef netting (an almost-forgotten Lummi fishing method), gray driftwood, old fishing sheds, and the occasional cow.
All of this sounds very twee – but it was a great place to bring a kid. Luke dug around on the beach, helped feed the chickens, nibbled on tomatoes and herbs (which he won’t touch on his plate), and chatted up the Willows Inn staff, who made a big fuss over him.
And then dinner. O dinner – you started with one small plate after another. A review described the dishes presents fairies might leave on your doorstep – oysters, sprinkled with roe, served on pebbles frozen in ice;
rye bread served on warm rocks with nutty local butter on the side… I don’t think we were speaking much at that point.
The salad made me realize I’ve been disrespecting vegetables my entire life. I deeply, deeply apologize. Erik was blinking back tears – he later told me it was a Ratatouille (ok, Proustian) moment. It took him back to the salads his grandmother used to make with vegetables straight from her garden, dressed with peppery oil.
The wines were incredible. Near the end of the meal, after the crispiest, most perfectly cooked duck breast ever, I babbled to the somalier, “This malbec foreshadows the next course, doesn’t it? There’s pine in it! How did you do that?” We were four or five glasses in at that point, and by the time the pine ice cream with blackberries and I don’t know what else arrived, I was very, very happy.
The most amazing thing, aside from the meal, was how humble and genuine the chef, somalier, and entire kitchen crew were. Blaine made the rounds of the tables, stopped to talk earnestly with Erik about dairy allergies, and looked completely abashed when some tables gave him a standing ovation.
So there you go – a post without any mention of challenged pancreases, and yes – our duck was a happy little guy, and his name was Colin.