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Willows Inn on Lummi Island - Extreme NW Regionalism

ksyoung Jul 24, 2013 12:57 PM

It looks like it's been awhile since there's been a recent post on Willows Inn on Lummi Island so I thought I'd start a new discussion. I'd been dropping hints to my husband about how much I wanted to go there and apparently he was paying attention because he surprised me with reservations for my birthday. Really amazing and fun experience starting with the road trip from Seattle along Chuckanut Drive, the quick ferry ride, exploring the island, lounging on the deck with cocktails before dinner, and of course the meal itself. And I have to add, the overnight stay. I've read about people driving back to Seattle, but I highly recommend staying on the island so you don't have to worry about limiting your drinks or watching the clock so you don't miss the ferry.

I'm not going to list and describe each and every dish in detail (please see blog link below for that including photos) but I'll focus on the experience and mood. The food is Pacific Northwest regionalism to an extreme with everything farmed, foraged and fished within the 9 miles of Lummi Island and its surrounding waters. There are many good NW restaurants in the region - some exceptionally so - but this brings our regional cuisine to a world-class level.

There are five "official" courses with many more bites and snacks in-between. Each taste brought out the essence not only of the thing itself, but where it's from. The oyster tasted like the ocean; the shitake mushroom tasted like the forest floor. Everything was about an absolute purity of flavor and any additional ingredients served to highlight or complement that flavor. Some of the dishes served were not particularly unusual or some may have not sounded that exceptional - but then you took a bite and magic happened. We've all had smoked salmon before, but never like this. I can't really describe it because it was so experiential but it was a perfect balance of the meaty fish, smoke and wood. The crab hidden beneath the seaweed was the sweetest, most delicate crab I could imagine. The single smoked mussel was perfection. All the dishes were beautifully presented and elegantly represented the season.

I also appreciated that the dessert courses weren't overly sweet and at odds with the rest of the dishes; they really kept with the concept of the overall meal. The cocktails before dinner were delicious - try the Spotted Owl and you'll feel like you're drinking the forest. We also did the wine pairings - a bit pricey but were a nice complement to the food and I recommend the pairing (and they have juice pairings for non-drinkers.)

The atmosphere is relaxed and unpretentious, yet it's clear everyone knows there is something very special going on. The service was friendly and several courses are served by the kitchen staff including Chef Wetzel himself who almost appeared surprised when we complemented him on the meal. At just 27 years old, Chef Wetzel has an incredible future ahead of him. He is now a part owner of Willows Inn so hopefully that means he's going to stick around for awhile. I really hope to go back again in different seasons to see how the menu changes. It's an expensive weekend especially if you stay overnight, but it's a fabulous experience worth saving up for.


  1. kaleokahu Jul 25, 2013 11:59 AM

    To be "Extreme NW", maybe something 'way out on the corner of Marine Drive in Point Roberts? ;;

    2 Replies
    1. re: kaleokahu
      LotusRapper Jul 25, 2013 10:48 PM

      That ought to do it ......


      1. re: LotusRapper
        puzzler Jul 26, 2013 07:14 PM

        No, you'd have to be about 10 miles west of there, in the middle of the Strait of Georgia.

    2. s
      sedimental Jul 25, 2013 04:41 PM

      Good write up!
      I love it too.

      1 Reply
      1. re: sedimental
        ksyoung Jul 27, 2013 08:01 AM

        Thanks Sedimental! Really hope to get back there soon.

      2. c
        christy319 Aug 2, 2013 03:14 PM

        Did they serve the gravlax and rye toast for breakfast? And the fresh pressed apple juice? As amazing as the dinners are, I think about the breakfasts almost as much later. Last year we had the most amazing potato-lovage dish that I still crave.

        13 Replies
        1. re: christy319
          ksyoung Aug 10, 2013 08:33 AM

          We didn't have breakfast at Willows Inn per se - I don't believe that was an option. We had a very good breakfast at the Beach House Cafe which is owned by Willows Inn.

          1. re: ksyoung
            christy319 Aug 19, 2013 02:04 PM

            Breakfast is included for hotel guests. Honestly I think it's worth going just for breakfast. You must have stayed off site?

            1. re: christy319
              ksyoung Aug 20, 2013 12:35 PM

              We did stay off-site because the Inn itself was full (although it was booked by Willows Inn). Our stay included breakfast at the The Beach House. Recognized several people there from dinner the night before but maybe they were also staying off-site.

              1. re: ksyoung
                ghague Sep 3, 2013 01:00 PM

                My wife and I stayed and ate at the Willows Inn last weekend -- not much to add, other than the meal was probably in the top three we've ever had.

                We asked about the breakfast situation: turns out they no longer do breakfasts at the Willows itself; instead, you're provided with a voucher for a breakfast entre and drink at the Beach House Café (owned by the Willows Inn).

                The reason for the change was that breakfast service would tend to go until 11:00am or so, but the dinner staff would usually need to start prepping at around 10:00am. It was too cumbersome to work both sets of staff in the same (relatively small) kitchen for that overlapping hour.

                1. re: ghague
                  ksyoung Sep 14, 2013 10:29 AM

                  Thanks for the update, ghague. I thought the breakfast at the Beach House was great and thoroughly enjoyed it. Curious if Willows Inn is in your top three, what are the other two?

                  1. re: ksyoung
                    ghague Sep 18, 2013 01:08 PM

                    Hi ksyoung -- hmm, good question. I don't think I could really rank my other favourites, except for number 1, which I'm pretty sure I'd say was Le Chateaubriand in Paris.

                    Others up there would be the Willows Inn, WD-50 in New York, and Cinc Sentits in Barcelona.

                    Next tier down, I suppose, would probably be Book Bindery, Sitka & Spruce, and Cascina Spinasse in Seattle, The Ledbury and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in London, Le Bernardin in New York, and L'Atalier de Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas.

                    I notice my "top four" were all large tasting-menu experiences -- guess that's what I'm really drawn to in a great meal!


                    1. re: ghague
                      ksyoung Sep 22, 2013 06:38 PM

                      Your list makes me hungry and I haven't been to any of them although a few are on my list! I love tasting menus too - fun to try lots of different things and put yourself in the chef's hands.

                  2. re: ghague
                    christy319 Mar 11, 2014 04:16 PM

                    Oh this is terrible news! Breakfast has been almost as memorable IMO as dinner. Unless we will be getting the same quality at the Beach House. I still dream about the gravlax. I haven't had any that came close to what I got at Willows for breakfast before or since.

                    1. re: christy319
                      sedimental Mar 21, 2014 08:32 AM

                      The beach house cafe is not a great breakfast. I have had better at IHOP. There is no comparison. It is not terrible, but nothing special.

                      1. re: sedimental
                        christy319 Apr 8, 2014 01:27 PM

                        Since we have an upcoming stay I called about the breakfast situation. They now don't give you a voucher for anything, and DO have breakfast at the Inn...but for $25/pp. Yikes. I thought breakfast was extraordinary but since dinner prices went up to $165/pp, another $50 for breakfast seems too much. I though Willows was a great value the past few years, with dinner $125 and such an amazing breakfast included, but it looks like they wised up. I expressed my disappointment to the reservationist but I imagine with all the accolades and bookings, they can do what they want. Boo.

                        1. re: christy319
                          LotusRapper Apr 8, 2014 02:17 PM


                          How far out do they accept bookings for the restaurant part ? I'm thinking of Labor Day long weekend for a dinner and a night's stay.

                          1. re: LotusRapper
                            christy319 Apr 9, 2014 03:47 PM

                            That's less that 5 months out--I've made reservations more than 6 months in advance before. They have a reservation tool on their website so you can check right now.

                            1. re: christy319
                              gumption Apr 9, 2014 04:11 PM

                              They were on Opentable for a very brief time back in late 2012 and I managed to secure a rez for a solo diner (minus a hotel stay) during Christmas week. Of course, the hype has grown tremendously since then... but how I do wish they'd offer maybe one or two dinner tables online.

          2. LotusRapper Feb 27, 2014 11:12 PM

            They're re-opening for the Spring starting March 13:


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