Chef Blaine Wetzel was just 24 when he started at the Willows Inn in 2010. He was recently awarded the James Beard 2014 Rising Star Chef of the Year award. Prior to coming to The Willows Inn, he was a chef at Noma in Copenhagen (considered the No. 1 restaurant in the world, still).
Everything I start to write about this meal sounds cheesy, and I've deleted sentence after sentence. The truth is that this is likely the best meal we've ever had. If you know us (even just from this blog) you probably know we love this kind of dining experience…the chef's tasting menu. No choices, no food restrictions, no substitutions. We love the opportunity to experience a good chef's craft and creativity. Chef as artist.
Blaine Wetzel is a rare and talented artist, and has built a kickass kitchen team at The Willows Inn.
Most of the ingredients on the menu have been foraged, fished, or farmed on the nine square mile Lummi Island, and the menu changes constantly.
We began out on the patio with a cocktail and this view.
Pretty soon, someone brought us a cold bowl of rocks topped with four balanced oysters: two shigoku and two teeny tiny Olympia oysters that were fabulous. I ate my shigoku before I remembered I wanted to take a photo of each course:
Next was a small charcuterie plate with lamb, venison sausage, and a slice of rhubarb, topped with I think some dried lemon verbena:
The seating here is cool…everyone starts out on the deck with a cocktail or whatever and some small bites, and they move people inside to the dining room table by table. It's smooth and the wait staff and the service was wonderful.
Once inside, our waitress poured us a glass of Eaglemount semi-sweet Homestead cider from Port Townsend, WA (fabulous).
The next course arrived inside of a small lidded box. Removing the lid revelead a perfectly smoked Samish Bay mussel – with a waft of smoke still trapped inside the box.
Crispy crepe on the outside, steelhead roe, cream and herbs on the inside. The texture of these was insane:
Kale with black truffle and rye crumbs. This is the half after I took a bite and remembered to get a photo. Incredible flavor:
Shiitake mushroom roasted over the fire, served with sea salt. At some point in here we moved on to a 2012 Lemelson Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay from the Willamette Valley, OR.
Crispy halibut skins filled with a Manila clam puree:
Salt-baked beets with gin ice cream. These were paper thin and so good!
I missed photographing one dish (a spot prawn grilled with its roe).
This next dish was one of my favorites. Aged venison tartare, wild greens, and a rye "cracker" with shaved/(dried?) egg yolk.
Put it all together to make this (I want this again RIGHT NOW):
A simple, exquisite piece of smoked salmon (paired with a Boundary Bay IPA from Bellingham, WA), along with a piece of smoked halibut to share. That salmon was the best smoked fish I've ever eaten.
Braised wild seaweeds with Dungeness crab:
Next wine: 2009 Dusky Goose Pinot Noir from Dundee Hills, OR.
Lummi Island ling cod steamed in parsley and lovage:
Oh my god, the bread!! The bread was chewy and soft and crunchy and perfect. Served with butter and sea salt, and…hold yer britches!!!…chicken drippings!!
This was slow-roasted lamb, cooked en papillote, topped with tiny flowers, served with some cherries, and in that little dish with the wooden spoon: thin-sliced porcini mushrooms in honey — crazy good!! Another one of my favorite dishes of the evening.
Wild forest berries and a wild grass "sauce" and paired with a 2012 Brooks 'Tethys' Late Harvest Riesling from Eola-Amity Hills, OR:
Blueberries with woodruff and malt (I think the ice cream was woodruff ice cream):
I found this fabulous article about the chef Blaine Wetzel and the Willows Inn, and I think you'd enjoy learning how the whole thing came to be. It's a fantastic story.
After dinner we sat out on the deck and watched the last of the sunset.
What a magical evening.