Sunday, July 3, 2016

Sleepover at The Willows Inn

Trip date: May 2016

When my friend Aaron said he was coming up from LA and wanted to eat at The Willows Inn on Lummi Island, I of course agreed to go. My first meal there had been back in 2011 and was lovely, my second meal in 2012 was a pretty spectacular chef event the restaurant was hosting, so I was looking forward to seeing how the restaurant has changed. I also was curious if the dishes had changed or if I would be getting a lot of repeats.

Lauren, Aaron and I made the easy 2 1/2 hour drive up on a Monday afternoon in May, arriving just after 4pm. The first thing I noticed was that the check in area is now downstairs in a dedicated room. They had out complimentary beverages and snacks set up here as well.
Lauren and I had rooms inside the main building at the top of the stairs. Her Sunrise Room was just on the other side of the staircase from my Sunset Room and there was a little seating area under the windows at the landing between them. It was great as we had the entire floor to ourselves, being that the entire floor consisted of just the two rooms!

As we were getting cleaned up for cocktail hour she spotted the chef's having their family meal outside by the smoker.
I headed downstairs to the "living room" and ordered a cocktail from the bar. Since my last visit the lodge has an actual bar that you can have drinks in, or you can choose to have your drink in front of the fireplace inside, or outside on the front porch. The cocktail menu has also evolved and each of our drinks over the course of our happy hour were very good.
When Aaron and Lauren came in we moved to a table on the front porch and took in the gorgeous views of Puget Sound while enjoying our cocktails. The chefs then started serving us a really lovely selection of pre-dinner snacks. This was a new part of the dinner to me and I loved it. I also loved that Chef Wetzel delivered a plate of crispy kale chips with black truffle to our table, a dish I had had before and remembered it being delicious. And it was again!
After complimentary glasses of cider and four different snack dishes they moved us inside for dinner. We decided not to do the wine pairings but instead to order a couple of nice bottles. We found a fantastic Gruner Veltliner and an outstanding Pinot Noir both from Willamette Valley on their menu, both were perfect with the meal.

Our 17-course meal (and that is after the four cocktail snacks!) was absolutely wonderful. Aaron doesn't eat pork or shellfish and some of his substituted dishes were even better than the regular ones! The only other repeat dish that I had was the smoked sockeye salmon, and that salmon is so good that I was very happy to see it return.

One of the standouts of the night for me was this "crispy mustard leaves with wild herbs and flowers". It was like the most high class version of a carnival funnel cake ever, only savory. And gorgeous!
Another eye opener was the bread which was served with pan drippings. We all thought this was genius, and incredibly delicious.

Near the end of our meal the kitchen invited us to come in for a tour. Chef Wetzel is so friendly and humble, he graciously answered questions and posed for photos. He seemed genuinely thankful when Lauren and I both said we'd been twice before, and when Aaron told him that his trip was built around the idea of dining at the inn.
We finished up our desserts and were presented with menus from the meal as well as a boule of wheat bread each. After dinner drinks in hand, we retired to the main room, in front of the fireplace. There may or may not have been some dancing as we had it all to ourselves.

The next morning we decided not to have breakfast at the inn as we were heading on to Vancouver. There was complimentary tea and coffee and some light snacks in the check out room which I thought was a nice touch.

It was such a great dinner and such a fun overnight with my friends. And even though it wasn't new to me, there were just enough changes to both the inn and the menu that it all continued to be interesting. And delicious.
All food porn here.