Willows Inn on Lummi Island (Pacific Northwest 2014)

To visit a destination restaurant without understanding their terroir is a waste. I’ve gone to many exceptional restaurants without any due diligence and left rather confused and frustrated, knowing  I squandered an opportunity to understand the experience.1

A second visit to Willows Inn on Lummi Island, paired with an extended trip in Washington state, allowed me to more fully embrace the experience of this special restaurant. Half a year ago, I visited and was excited d by the sorrel picked by the side of the road, the grilled escarole, and the exclusivity of trying to reach the place. I was intrigued but it wasn’t enough time. I was in and out of the area within 24 hours.

This trip, I parked myself in Washington for a week. I explored coastal tide pools. I hiked mushroom and berry filled trails. I wandered in farmers markets. And at Willows Inn, everything I discovered was highlighted in a meal – the salmon berries, the parade of local “snacks”, or even the progression of the meal fittingly following the trajectory of the sun, ending as the sun set.Together, they represented the Pacific Northwest experience.

Since my last visit, the meal has added a few more small bites to start. The snacks, all locally sourced, range from smoked shellfish and salmon to kale chips with black truffles. They set the stage for you to understand where you are at that moment.

Grilled mustard green with shaved herring roe.

Weathervane scallops and horseradish

Spot prawns poached with its roe.

Porcini mushrooms in sweet woodruff.

Grass fed lamb and grasses.

Salmon berries with wild roses. Chef Blaine explained that the two ingredients here overlap only 2 weeks of the year.

Given the opportunity to spend a week in the San Juans and the surrounding areas, I got to give context to my unique meal at Willows Inn. It’s hard to understand a sense of time and place without actually spending some time in that place. Unfortunately, it’s also difficult to spend more time than just the day of the meal when it comes to visiting destination restaurants. But for a restaurant like Willows Inn, the trip surrounding the restaurant is worth it.

It is the restaurant to understand time and place. Perhaps that’s what Michelin meant when they describe a restaurant as worth a journey itself.

See photos from the rest of the meal here.

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1 L’Arpege, Pierre Gagnaire, Sushi Mizutani come to mind where salvaging the uninformed  experience on the spot was out of the question due to language barriers.

2  I recommend visiting in the summer. The three hour meal ends as the sun sets. A meal that doesn’t take advantage of its surroundings more than that.

2 thoughts on “Willows Inn on Lummi Island (Pacific Northwest 2014)

  1. I grew up on Lummi Island as a child and brand new baby. My father was a farmer and reef netter over their and sold his gear just in time when reef netting was so popular over their and not like today. Still a few of the original over their when many were all related to each other. Most now whom claim to be an Islander are from California or elsewhere and not true Islanders. I grew up when the Island never had very many people on it much less the condos apartments and the like. It was pretty and all woods back then. Went to the Lummi Elementary Beach school over their one through 6 grades and the old fashion desks and only one teacher by a very well family name over their the Grangers. Willows was not a restaurant back in those days and their were no restaurants their until Hawley’s put a little one over their later in years where they also put a boat launch. The only one before that was by Lovers Bluff as we use to call it owned and ran by my Dads friends the Shulers and where all the Reef netters use to eat until the Lummi Indians took it over. Good days and loved being raised on the Island but very rarely go their anymore because it has changed so much over their. I remember my Dad taking a board nailing salmon to it and sticking it in the fire pit he made on the beach and saying it was being cooked Indian style. Later in year my brother piped up to my dad and said I didn’t no back in the old days Indians had nails!! Was related to many of the Islanders whom have long passed away. My Dad John Corcoran is buried over their. Lovely place still to visit I guess but saddens me how much it has changed. Now a days you cant go to the beaches as their all owned by someone and most say keep off. Glad you had a lovely stay. Their use to be a cannery over their as well but it was gone by the times I grew up. A history about that as well but was to young to really comprehend it.

  2. You must’ve been at the Willows around the same time my husband and I were there. I took photos but didn’t capture the opening snacks (pre-dining room) plus a few of the desserts. All of the other courses were identical and your photos bring back the memory of an incredible evening. The sunset was spectacular and the weather was ideal.

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