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The $165 Tasting Menu at Willows Inn, in Pictures

By Leslie Kelly
July 29, 2014

Food lovers from around the world make the pilgrimage to remote Lummi Island, over two hours north of Seattle, to eat at Willows Inn. Nestled into a pastoral paradise with jaw-dropping views of Orcas Island and Vancouver Island, the on-site restaurant is where chef Blaine Wetzel creates a menu that's earned him numerous accolades and awards, including a Best New Chef nod from Food & Wine in 2012 and a Rising Star Chef of the Year award from the James Beard Foundation this spring.

Before arriving at Willows Inn, Wetzel did a stint as Rene Redzepi’s chef de partie at Noma in Copenhagen. And it would be fair to note the influence of that storied place on his artistic preparations. Yet there are no tweezers involved in the plating of his absolutely exquisite lineup of snacks and dishes, which appear over the course of four hours on the dining room's beautifully set wooden tables. There are just nine two-tops and two four-tops, yet the small space feels expansive with a spectacular view of the water. This is an epic experience, one of those rare meals that truly exceeds sky-high expectations. Here's a photographic recap of each and every bite in the $165 nine-course tasting menu, complete with lots of extra "snacks." Note that wine pairings are an additional $85 per person, and guests who reserve overnight accommodations receive priority reservations. (For more tips on how to score a seat, read here.) 
 

  • Photo by: Claire Nelson

    Guests are encouraged to arrive a little early for the 6:30 PM seating and enjoy a cocktail and snacks on the patio or in the bar. Drinks feature produce from the Inn's Loganita Farm, including a gin-based cocktail that gets its power to quench from muddled snap peas and cucumbers. Brilliant.

  • Photo by: Claire Nelson

    The warm, friendly staff tells diners to think of this first snack as finger food. Just-harvested tomatoes pair up with flavorful lamb prosciutto in a sweet-salty combo that reminds us of the best BLT ever.  

  • Photo by: Claire Nelson

    Shigoku and Kumomoto oysters from Taylor Shellfish stay chill on a bed of frozen rocks. The perfectly briny bivalves are served unadorned by sauces or citrus so the taste of the sea comes through loud and clear. 

  • Photo by: Claire Nelson

    Steelhead roe is blended with cream and rolled into a whisper-thin pastry — a one-bite textural sensation that's embellished with chives.

  • Photo by: Claire Nelson

    Blossoms from the farm are almost too pretty to eat, until you dredge a sweet pea or a petal through the slightly spicy purée made with nastursiums. Then you want to ask for seconds of those tender flowers.

  • Photo by: Claire Nelson

    Kale is oven-toasted into a squiggly shape that reminds us of a dragon. And this snack does have monster-size flavor: it's dotted with a truffle purée and toasted rye crumbs.

  • Photo by: Claire Nelson

    Halibut skin is rolled into a crispy cone and filled with succulent meat from the fish, another artful study in contrasting texture.  

  • Photo by: Claire Nelson

    Pristine albacore tuna comes in a room-temperature broth that's made with the smoked bones of the fish. Meat from the belly and the loin are buttery rich in this crudo, adorned with pungent beach mustard flowers foraged by the kitchen crew, which spends part of every day foraging.  

  • Photo by: Claire Nelson

    Baked whole in a salt dough, and then sliced paper-thin, these tender slivers of beet make a gorgeous canvas for a sprinkle of teeny herb flowers. There's a gin-infused yogurt on the side. 

  • Magnificent Chinook salmon, caught by the island's reefnet fishermen, is smoked in the morning and served warm. Its ruby flesh flakes into perfect, melt-in-your-mouth bites. 

  • Photo by: Claire Nelson

    Seaweed harvested on the island tops a sweet pile of braised Dungeness crab. This preparation sounds like it would be over-the-top in terms of strong seafood flavors, but it was the picture of elegant restraint with a bit of brown butter to warm up the crab stock.  

  • Photo by: Claire Nelson

    Venison tartare was a million miles away from its cousin made with finely chopped beef. This unique rendition is served alongside thin slices of rye decorated with shaved smoked egg yolks and aged venison. Crisp tendrils of purslane brighten up each excellent bite. 

  • Photo by: Claire Nelson

    Ling cod is steamed with lovage and parsley in another prime example of the kitchen's willingness to let the pure flavors of incredible ingredients shine without fussy embellishments.  

  • Photo by: Claire Nelson

    Slow-roasted lamb shank is cooked and served en papillote. The tender, falling-off-the-bone meat is finished at the table by the polished waitstaff and kitchen crew who apply a spoonful of herb purée. Pickled Bing cherries provide a bright counterpoint to the luscious lamb.

  • Red huckleberries and tart blackberries on a parsley purée are the palate cleanser that sets us up for the final course.

  • Photo by: Claire Nelson

    Woodruff ice cream has a gentle herbal note that stands up to the blast of fresh blueberries and a malt-y cookie crumble. It's the kind of dessert that will leave you perfectly satiated and wanting to come back again. 

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Places Mentioned

Willows Inn Restaurant

American • Lummi Island

Food- Decor- Service- CostE
 
 
 
 
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