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“A Meal to Fly For”

Willows Inn Restaurant
Certificate of Excellence
More restaurant details
Restaurant details
Good for: Special occasions, Romantic, Scenic view
Dining options: Dinner, Free Off-Street Parking, Free Wifi, Full Bar, Outdoor Seating, Parking Available, Reservations, Seating, Serves Alcohol, Street Parking, Waitstaff, Wheelchair Accessible, Wine and Beer
Description: One seating at 6:30pm each night features a preset tasting menu that is entirely fished, foraged, and farmed from or around Lummi Island.
Oak Harbor, Washington
Level Contributor
17 reviews
8 restaurant reviews
common_n_restaurant_reviews_1bd8 4 helpful votes
“A Meal to Fly For”
Reviewed January 12, 2013

The Willows Inn is located on a small island north of Bellingham, Washington, and is accessible via a five minute ferry ride, or a short ride via float plane from Seattle or Victoria, or any other number of places you can charter a float plane. By plane, you're delivered right onto the beach, just across the lane from the Inn. The Willows opened as boarding house in 1910 and retains the charm of the early 20th century's atmosphere. The original owners expanded by building several cottages, which served summer and winter guests for decades. The Willows Inn now owns several properties offering overnight or longer accommodations, but for us, the evening meal was paramount, and we weren't disappointed. While not an expert, I have eaten in very fine restaurants in many countries--we drove throughout France for the entire month of May, reserving every evening for fine dining in a country whose primary religion may, arguably, be food and dining.

Nowhere did we experience the flavors, the combinations, or the beauty and original presentations that we enjoyed at The Willows Inn. Chef Blaine Wetzel is nationally recognized as one of the very best, and he utilizes, almost entirely, products grown locally--with the exception of two wines for that evening. We prefaced the meal with a wonderful cocktail from Spyhop distillery on San Juan Island. Although several courses were implied, Wetzel's preference for serving "snacks" presented us with seventeen different servings, from baked sunflower root, or a tiny crispy crepe with salmon roe to grilled caramelized onions or perhaps the tastiest smoked salmon I have ever eaten. Ever. Each dish was paired with a wine, though you can also pair your fare with various juices. Wine pairings suggest that you have a room for the night because the wine and a three hour meal would keep a prudent driver from the streets. The overnight benefit, besides a comfortable room or cottage, includes a superb breakfast, also prepared by Chef Wetzel.

Whether you drive of fly, you'll not forget this meal.

  • Visited December 2012
    • Value
    • Atmosphere
    • Service
    • Food
Helpful?
Thank Salmontree
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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151 reviews from our community

Visitor rating
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Rating summary
    Food
    Service
    Value
    Atmosphere
Date | Rating
  • Dutch first
  • English first
  • Any
English first
Bainbridge Island, WA
Level Contributor
74 reviews
43 restaurant reviews
common_n_restaurant_reviews_1bd8 57 helpful votes
“Deserving of the Accolades, Northwest & National”
Reviewed January 3, 2013

This destination restaurant on Lummi Island, a lesser-known member of the San Juans near Bellingham, provided a revelatory dining experience on a family birthday. Course after stunning course arrived in artful and unusual presentations, then delivered pure flavor essences from the local waters and lands. Even having read raves for Willows and its wunderkind chef Blaine Wetzel -- including Frank Bruni in the New York Times and Food & Wine magazine -- couldn't quite prepare us for the delights and surprises of dining at Willows.

  • Visited December 2012
    • Value
    • Atmosphere
    • Service
    • Food
Helpful?
Thank John M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Chicago, Illinois
Level Contributor
68 reviews
39 restaurant reviews
common_n_restaurant_reviews_1bd8 21 helpful votes
“Amazing Dinner”
Reviewed December 26, 2012

This was our second trip to the Willows since Chef Blaine Wetzel took over the helm a few years back. This place is a must for anyone in the Pacific Northwest. His creativity and attention to detail are incredible. All the food is locally sourced and grown on or near Lummi Island, WA. We dined with a group of 6 and were treated to the private room, just off the kitchen. Do not be intimidated by the prices ($300 per couple for a prix frix menu). While the menu lists 5-6 courses, you'll end up well over 10 with all the small "snacks" they bring. Do not miss this foodie experience - I can't imagine this two-time James Beard finalist to stick around here much longer.

  • Visited December 2012
    • Value
    • Atmosphere
    • Service
    • Food
Helpful?
Thank MAbendhoff
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Vancouver BC
Level Contributor
15 reviews
11 restaurant reviews
common_n_restaurant_reviews_1bd8 14 helpful votes
“Wonderful Memorable Dining Experience”
Reviewed December 15, 2012

Willows Inn
We stayed at the Willows Inn for our wedding anniversary. We had heard about this fabulous chef not only due to critic reviews but also some chefs in the city so we had to visit. I am a food snob and have tasted food from many outstanding restaurants so my standards are high.

Chef Blaine Wetzel is now 26 years old and started at the Willows in in 2010. His experience includes at Noma (San Pelligrino top restaurant list) in Copenhagen.

The Willows Inn restaurant is intimate and situated in an old farmhouse. The service was good with lots of waiters to help. The restaurant is a several course meal and lots of snacks. We love this concept because it makes a relaxing evening out and we truly appreciate the farm to table concept. Everything we had was delicious. The presentation style is interesting….normally you see chefs contrasting the food from the plate but Chef’s style is to show the link to nature of food with what it’s presented on so as to almost camouflage. Lots of stone, slate, wood, rocks, etc. It felt like I was connected on another level to nature and the freshness of what I was eating. Here are as many of the dishes and snacks that I can remember:
Roasted smoked sunflower root presented on seaweed in a wooden box; fresh raw oysters with fresh sorrel and tapioca beads, kale chips with truffles, geoduck clam with cucumber seeds and frozen horseradish foam (stellar dish and the cucumber seeds gave a great texture); shitake mushroom grilled on an open fire (firm, lightly smoked to bring a more intense woodsy element); smoked leg of venison which was shaved like a carpaccio topped with elderberry and chanterelle mushrooms and served with a very unique handmade antler knife; salmon roe mousse wrapped in a crispy crepe and ends were decorated with chopped chives; housemade alder smoked salmon which was slowly smoked for 5 hours and a perfect balance of flavours while being moist; caramelized grilled red onion with green rhubarb juice with sorrel and chickweed this was a stellar dish with the onion not feeling raw but had a crunch so the textures and freshness of this dish were amazing; rustic rye sourdough served with hot rocks to keep it warm; crispy halibut skin with razor claims and emulsion of halibut; spot prawn with zucchini and emulsion of nasturtiums; cooked oyster with sage, tequila and fennel; roasted and lightly breaded sweetbreads with grilled still crunchy frisee and elderflower and pickled fiddleheads with pickled caper berries gave a nice hit of acid. Dessert was simple fresh blueberries with chocolate crumbs and a woodruff infused ice cream.
The food was kept as simple as possible so that the fresh ingredients were the focus and everything was cooked to perfection. They did a fantastic job of all of the vegetables and presented some unique dishes. Chef, the kitchen staff and the front of house were all very approachable and we had a chance to meet them end of night and thank them for the wonderful experience. Would rate this among the top restaurant meals I have had in North America for sure and definitely worth the trip. We stayed overnight and I would recommend that too so you can enjoy a leisurely trip without a thought about ferry times. We are passionate about food and the chefs that are staying true to making such an intimate wonderful dining adventure possible. Chef Wetzel is such a chef with a very promising future and we look forward to enjoying more of his creations. Everything has been created with attention to detail and love. It was a wonderful experience and one we will definitely repeat again.

  • Visited September 2012
    • Value
    • Atmosphere
    • Service
    • Food
Helpful?
Thank Travelforadventure
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Kirkland, Washington
Level Contributor
89 reviews
37 restaurant reviews
common_n_restaurant_reviews_1bd8 48 helpful votes
“OMG!”
Reviewed December 10, 2012

First, I am a food snob. Really. I have a culinary degree and avoid any restaurant I think might be mediocre because I'm sure I can do better myself, at home. But this restaurant is so worth it. When we left the next morning I made a reservation to return in the late summer, when summer garden vegetables are available. But I digress. I had a meal at Willows Inn in October, when food from the sea was in season. Everything from the house-smoked salmon, to the crispy kale, to the oyster (which I don't usually even like that much) to the Dungeness crab was savor-able. Also, the chef and staff were engaged with their clientele in a way that was touching, stopping by the table, eager to answer questions at the end of the meal in the kitchen. Has anyone seen "Babette's Feast," in which a meal is presented as a a bigger than life sacrament? THAT"S what a meal at Lummi island is about. If you can get yourself there and can afford the meal, do it. Period. The only criticism I have is that the wine pairing is not a good value. The wines are a good match, but the price-to-value calculation doesn't work. Either order a bottle from the menu or pay the corkage fee and bring your own.

  • Visited October 2012
    • Value
    • Atmosphere
    • Service
    • Food
Helpful?
1 Thank Leighsscreenname
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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