As part of a weekend getaway, we spent a couple of nights at the Willows Inn as well as enjoying a meal in the restaurant. Situated right on the coast of Lummi Island, the Willows looks somewhat rustic like many country inns. It has a nice lodge-like feel complete with an outdoor porch and a fantastic view over the water. With a single seating each night, dinner guests collect in the open lobby/lounge to enjoy drinks before being called in for dinner.
With our cocktails we enjoyed some pre-dinner snacks that featured two kinds of oysters which were fresh and tasty. But once seated for dinner, the real meal began. Given that was only their second week open for the season, the menu was comprised of a large number of foraged items including wild dandelion roots, wilted nettles and kale. With the exception of one venison dish, seafood was the primary protein that night with dishes including mussels, scallops, salmon, halibut and spot prawns .
Several of the dishes were cooked outside over wood or smoked, an apparently vigorous and strangely satisfying production we could observe through the windows between courses. The pervasive theme of smoke began with the initial mussel snack , right through to the pear baked in embers. This elevated dishes with relatively simple ingredients, like shitake mushrooms, or alder smoked salmon to new heights with an amazing depth of flavour. But a skilled hand prevented these from becoming simply one note dishes and the subtle taste of the base ingredients was always respected and preserved. That's the key here - great product, cooked simply without obvious technical wizardry.
For those that keep score, there were seven 'snacks' and nine distinct 'main' courses. Of these, very few had a significant starch content, which was probably just as well given the sheer number of dishes. Later in the meal a basket of dark bread did appear, served with chicken drippings and butter, but that was pretty much it for anything remotely approaching heavy. Delicious all the same.
Not all courses were knockouts. The spot prawn dish could have used a more concentrated stock and the dandelion roots were challenging to say the least. But the meal worked as whole and you could see there was thought put into every dish in the progression. The wine pairings too were very well considered with selections like a Dundee Hills Pinot Noir really transforming a dish of venison, with lettuce and rye cracker, into a complete dish.
The open, windowed main room where we sat was nice and airy, with reasonably spaced tables and a nice use of candles. There is also another dining area adjacent to the bar, which looked at little dark and quite a bit smaller to me. Service was friendly and the pacing was excellent, with the tempo slowing down as we became progressively more stuffed. Some of the dishes were served by members of the considerable kitchen brigade which was also a nice touch.
If this restaurant was in certain parts of Europe, it's quite possible it would have at least a couple of Michelin stars by now, and certainly meets my definition of worth a special trip. We're lucky in that even though we have to cross an international border, the Willows Inn is only a pleasant 90 minute drive away. We will be back, in fact, we've already booked our return for the Fall.
I suspect little on the menu will be the same, but I'm sure the experience will be no less outstanding.
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