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“A once in a lifetime dining experience” 5 of 5 bubbles
Review of Willows Inn Restaurant

Willows Inn Restaurant
Certificate of Excellence
More restaurant details
Restaurant details
Good for: Romantic, Special occasions, 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.
Mayne Island, Canada
Level Contributor
42 reviews
13 restaurant reviews
common_n_restaurant_reviews_1bd8 14 helpful votes
“A once in a lifetime dining experience”
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed June 8, 2013

Incredibly creative food -- beautifully presented. Likely a once in a lifetime dining experience, though, in large part because of the price of the fixed menu. But the memories of one visit will last a lifetime.

The night we went, the menu consisted of about 17 "courses" -- the first 10 of which were simply "snacks". They were followed by 4 dinner courses and 3 desserts.

I found the menu to be a bit heavy on the seafood side, with 8 out of the 14 snacks and main course items consisting mussels, clams, and oysters, scallops, halibut skins, spot prawns, salmon roe and smoked salmon. There was no meat on the menu, which suited me fine.

Portions are very small. You will not leave feeling you have eaten too much, but you will have appreciated every flavour and enjoyed the presentation of every course.

The dinner takes a while to eat -- at least 2 and a half hours. But they fly by. The pacing of the delivery of each course is extremely thoughtfully timed. You never feel rushed, and you're never looking around to see if your next course is on its way. As every dish is delivered, wait staff describe the ingredients. Everyone who served us was knowledgeable, seemed to really enjoy being part of the dining room team, and really went out of their way to help make the evening memorable.

  • Visited June 2013
    • 3 of 5 bubbles
      Value
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Atmosphere
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Service
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Food
Helpful?
1 Thank Sadie820
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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150 reviews from our community

Visitor rating
    134
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    1
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Rating summary
    Food
    Service
    Value
    Atmosphere
Date | Rating
  • Dutch first
  • English first
  • Any
English first
Oakland, California
Level Contributor
47 reviews
15 restaurant reviews
common_n_restaurant_reviews_1bd8 32 helpful votes
“A must for your bucket list”
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed May 30, 2013 via mobile

I had my suspicions from the beginning of the meal when he brought the little cedar boxes to our table and informed us that the sun chokes inside had been smoked that day in the outdoor smoker. The magic of the meal began when you lifted the lid and a waft of smoke preceded the vision of the small root vegetable cuddled up on a bed of moss. No Pandora's box here, only a perfect culinary surprise!
The journey to the Willows Inn approximates an other worldly adventure. After driving North of Bellingham to the edge of nowhere, you board a tiny car ferry with too die for, often misted views of the San Juan's. Arriving at Lummi Island, you drive along the enticing picturesque coast, reminding yourself to pay attention to the narrow, curvy 2 lane road.
The owner of the Willows masterfully wooed young chef, Blaine Wetzel to this charming island escape, possibly having a premonition that he would be named Food And Wine's Top Chef.
Chef Wetzel's dinner consists of small multi courses and what he calls snacks with all ingredients foraged from the land and waters of Lummi. Following the sun choke was a perfect, petite, jewel like salmon roll with local cheese wrapped in a crispy crepe then delicate oysters kept chilled in a bowl of stones frozen in ice. Crispy kale chips dotted with a puréed essence of black truffles then arrived. More magic appeared with ribbons of rainbow colored beets - jewel studded with purslane and edible flowers, oysters washed up on a shore of broth and seaweed; glazed, smoked porcinis glistened on a candlelit stone perch; finely mandolined geoduck struck a pose on a mossy colored pond of watercress and organic grains; a glazed filet of smoked salmon glowed with beauty on a cedar plank; grilled onions cupped rhubarb and freshly picked thyme; a rustic, chewy bread kept warm on hot rocks nestled in a cedar box with sides of sea salt butter and house made chicken gravy; roasted delicata squash with toasted seeds intact-sat pretty on a local, black truffle puree then was dressed with greens; crispy halibut skin chips; charred frisée with home made capers; huckleberries with woodruff and malt.
There is only one seating a night for dinner at 7PM, concluding at about 10PM , so it is wise to book a room at the inn so you don't have to rush off for the hourly late night ferry. That not being our choice, we had to rush and missed one final dessert. I also enjoyed sitting in the more informal bar area with only 3 tables and peeks of the pristine white kitchen, rather than the busier dining room. Dinner is intimately served by a potpourri of the kitchen staff and true to my earlier suspicions, that was a modest, unassuming Blaine Wetzel who had just returned from the smoker with our first course. With that confirmation, I couldn't contain my exuberance when he reappeared with dessert. I grabbed his wrist and proclaimed, "You are amazing!"
And, he is.

  • Visited March 2013
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Value
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Atmosphere
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Service
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Food
Helpful?
1 Thank travelwithrelish
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Seattle
Level Contributor
68 reviews
50 restaurant reviews
common_n_restaurant_reviews_1bd8 37 helpful votes
“Adventure on Lummi Island”
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed May 7, 2013

We arrived with no expectations other than the rave reviews that we had read. The weather was beautiful, the island small and quaint, and the ferry ride short (not so in the summer months). The accommodations were small, clean and similar to a B&B in England. The staff was welcoming, pleasant, and quick to identify all of the islands seen in the distance out the large front window. Several walking beaches are within minutes of the hotel. Bicycles are available and the locals seem ok with dodging bikers of all sizes and ages. We went for the food and we were not disappointed! Where could you feast on smoked morsels like Reindeer moss, deep fried halibut skin impaled by littleneck butter clams, baked sunflower root presented in a cedar box over smoke & rocks? Carve your venison loin with a custom made obsidian knife while thinking of the scallop you just devoured. Excellent meal presented at the table by the chef & staff -- well worth the effort! Accommodations are a bit over-priced, but that is overshadowed by the opportunity to experience a truly wonderful meal prepared by a world class chef.

  • Visited April 2013
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Value
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Atmosphere
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Service
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Food
Helpful?
Thank mint427
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
The Villages, Florida
Level Contributor
119 reviews
70 restaurant reviews
common_n_restaurant_reviews_1bd8 36 helpful votes
“A restaurant experience to have on your bucket list”
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed May 3, 2013

If you love natural foods, fish, whole grains, wild nettles, berries, in other words, they fish, farm and forage what they serve try the Willows Inn and their restaurant on Lummi Island, Washington. We stayed at the Willows Inn for two nights and had an outstanding dinner the night before we left. The were five courses and 13 "snacks." You can check out their website for more details

  • Visited April 2013
    • 3 of 5 bubbles
      Value
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Atmosphere
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Service
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Food
Helpful?
Thank Kate H
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Seattle, Washington
Level Contributor
53 reviews
27 restaurant reviews
common_n_restaurant_reviews_1bd8 29 helpful votes
“It really captures the local ingredients...Benchmark”
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed April 28, 2013

OK, it's only been 12 hours since we had dinner and I can almost still taste the flavors, see the beautiful presentations and experience the warm smiles and youthful excitement of the staff. We lucked out in more than a few ways: We made the reservation on Friday for a Saturday seating, we were originally supposed to be seated at the bar but wound up with a table for two abeam the deck, and we were treated to a beautiful PNW sunset where the last glimmers of light over Vancouver Island to the west lasted until almost 9:15pm. It was a magical night.

The food was, bar none, the best I've had in the PNW and I've only lived here 50+ years. The seafood was outstanding. But what really inspired me were the flavors of wild peas, wild lettuces, wild onions and mushrooms from the nearby beaches and mountain slopes. At the end of the meal, I was amazed by the flavors of the sauces that were without citrus tones or vinegar notes, but flavors were drawn out by the tastes of verjus (unripe grapes) and pine tree tips. The tastes were new, earthy, natural and not cloying. I was impressed. Each dish spoke to me in a PNW honesty and cleanness. It was a reference point meal.

If there is an area that can be improved is with the wine pairings. They were OK at any other restaurant in the PNW, but were not in the same ballpark as the food. They were too simple, too oaky, and too smooth. The Semillon was too round and rich. I would have preferred more acidity, more sharpness, more mineral tones that a Muscadet or Sauvignon Blanc would provide. My wife and I shared the wine pairing because we had to drive 1.5 hours after dinner and I didn't want to overconsume and drive at 11:30 on a Saturday night. The price was reasonable (I believe the one 1 star review on TA was confused because I think he assumed the $130 was for one wine pairing, but the price last night was $65 for a single wine pairing. I assume he must have ordered two wine pairings.)

One last tidbit was that we decided NOT to stay at the Inn ahead of time. We drove up from Seattle, caught the 4:10 ferry, drove around the island and then did a little reading in the parking lot across from the restaurant facing Orcas, Sucia and Vancouver Island. It was beautiful. At 9:40pm we hopped in our car, caught the 10:00pm ferry and made it back to Seattle by 11:50pm. It was a long drive home, but doable, provided you SHARE a wine flight and don't have a full one.

I'd love to go back again some day. My only concern is whether the menu would change enough in 6mos to 1 year's time to give me a whole new set of flavors. If it's the same meal, I'd be disappointed only because I wouldn't want them to compete with my existing fabulous memories.

  • Visited April 2013
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Value
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Atmosphere
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Service
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Food
Helpful?
1 Thank SantaMonicaMontana
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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