The Willows Inn has been serving guests for 103 years in a place that feels stuck in a rural island life; where eagles soar, grey waves crash, and days fuse quietly together. On this quite isle, Chef Blaine Wetzel takes locavorism to delightful and unexpected levels. If there was a book for your taste buds to read it would be found at the kitchens of The Willows Inn.
The tasting menu lasted for three hours, with each course stopping somewhere in the San Juan Islands. All of the prix fixe menu is locally fished, foraged and farmed — this means the meals are dictated by seasonal ingredients. Assistant chefs visited us table-side and described where the food came from and how they prepared it.
It’s unfortunate that I’m allergic to shellfish, but my husband reports that the oysters were sweet, the scallops tender in milk and the mussels smoky yet savory served in its own wooden box. My course substitutions complimented their mollusk counterparts: sweet beets, foraged then smoked mushrooms and umami root crop wrapped in seaweed. There was smoked salmon belly, crisp kale chips with black truffle and rye, venison tartare with wild herbs, crispy crepe with steelhead roe, nettle soup, madrona tea, caramel bites with flax seed, celery roots, and hearth bread with pan drippings and butter.
At $165 per person (drinks are extra) you are paying for a seat at a culinary theater show, not just having dinner. Kitchen is in full view, and if you stay for the weekend they’ll take you on a tour of the farm – which of course we did. They have a number of on-island sites, of which we selected the Watermark House – a well-furnished luxury house with three suites and very nice views of Orcus Island and Cypess Island, and perfectly romantic for two lazy home bodies.