I’ve just returned from the most peaceful New Years’ Eve I can remember in a number of years (are we getting old? Wait – don’t answer that!). And this is a very good thing. On New Year’s Eve, Neil, Neil’s mum and I headed down to Lummi Island. Where’s that, you ask? Lummi lies at the southwest corner of Whatcom County, in Washington, USA, between the mainland and the offshore San Juan County. It’s home to sustainable fisheries and organic farms, excellent restaurants and many artists and artisans. It’s a wooded, rural island where you can still enjoy unspoiled natural beauty and bird and whale watching. It is graced with tranquil beaches and 18 miles of quiet, country roads ideal for walking and biking. Since there are no RV parks, campsites, nor State parks, the island attracts a different kind of holiday seeker, those who want to be in touch with nature and themselves (information taken from the Island website).
For those of you who know us in person, you might be wondering what on earth possessed us to head to such a place for New Year’s Eve. Three words: The Willows Inn. Way back in January 2011, an article in the Sunday New York Times caught my eye: 10 restaurants worth a plane ride, and amongst them, The Willows Inn. 25 year-old chef Blaine Wetzel is the reason for the restaurant making such a prestigious list. A native of the Northwest (he grew up in Olympia), Wetzel completed his culinary training in Scottsdale, Arizona in 2004. After graduating, he worked in various locations around the US and then moved to Noma in Copenhagen, where he worked with the legendary Rene Redzepi. Wetzel’s passion for serving only the freshest, best foods, sourcing his ingredients at the Inn’s Nettles Farm, in the local waters and neighboring fields and forests is reflected in the restaurant’s 5-course tasting menu which changes on a regular basis.
Our 5-course tasting menu (in 2011 priced at $105 excluding tip and tax) in fact ended up being a 15 plate extravaganza of delightful and surprising (both in taste and presentation) bites. All beach plants, wild herbs and fresh shoots were foraged on the Island, the organic grains were grown at a nearby farm, and all vegetables and edible flowers were harvested at Nettles Farm (where our cabin just happened to be). With a menu featuring such varied proteins as salmon, geoduck, oysters, scallops, beef cheek, smelt and black cod, there was truly something for everyone. As a non salmon eater (and, to be honest, a non-oyster eater), I was taken care of in an unobtrusive manner and not made to feel awkward at all. It was truly a delightful way to end 2011.
So where are all the photos, I hear you ask? Well, before we arrived there, I had not quite decided if I would document this meal, leaning more towards the “live in the moment” attitude that I took on for our first ever Michelin-starred meal that was a definite highlight of 2011 but which lives only in my memory. As soon as I saw the dining room at the Inn, I knew there would be no photos and probably no notes (it’s fairly dark!) and that that would be just fine. Instead, we soaked up the atmosphere and conversed with our attentive, but never obtrusive, servers who were some of the most informed waitstaff I have had the pleasure of being served by. I loved that the chefs (including Wetzel himself) mingled with guests in the dining room, answering questions and telling us the story of our food. Everyone was so passionate and excited about what they were serving us, it was hard not to be caught up in the mood. Sounds great huh? Well yes, it was and in fact, it was so good that here’s the only photo I have from the night:
And to the tables surrounding us who blinded us with their flashes all evening, well I know my memory will do the food more justice than your photos. My only regret? Not taking a photo of the wonderful team of chefs who made our New Year’s Eve so special.
For the rest of our time there, we simply enjoyed our time at the Nettles Farm Cabin…
And wandered the gardens (yeah, THIS is where much of our meal came from!)
And enjoyed the company of some feathered friends who were definitely not camera shy!
And wandered the beach…
So no, definitely not your average New Year’s Eve revelry but a wonderful discovery. I know if I lived on the West Coast, I’d be planning a trip back to Lummi Island and the Inn as soon as they are back from their two month break in March. And sooner rather than later.