Above, top to bottom: Outdoor dining tables at The Willow’s Inn, deer on the grounsd of the Curry Preserve
For the last 5 years, I have been reading about Lummi Island (pronounced like yummy), a remote, 9 by 2 mile island in the Pacific Northwest’s northern San Juans. I read about The Willows Inn, a hyper-local restaurant where everything is fished, farmed or foraged from the island. I saw images of a smoke house, a wood-fired grill, a shimmering sea and wild blackberries, spruce and ocean fish.
It brought back memories of summers growing up in Finland where eating like that was a way of life– where we got fish from the lake in our front yard, berries from the forest behind the house, milk from the dairy through the woods and vegetables from local farmer friends. It reminded me of the years I spent trying to find a place where I could live like we did in Finland… the off-grid cabin in the woods near Talkeetna, Alaska, the tipi in Bozeman, Montana, the organic farms Willits California.
I read about the traditional Native American reefnet salmon fishery on Lummi where Patagonia Provisions sources their fish. Everything about this place felt pure, raw, wild and alluring. I put it at the top of my list and booked 4 tickets to Seattle to check it out, along with the rest of the Pacific Northwest food and tea scene.
From Seattle, we drove a couple of hours north to Bellingham, through a gem of a foodie town, Edison, which feels like Marfa + Todos Santos. It is the best place to make a stop on the way to Bellingham for pick-your-own organic blueberries at Bow Hill and fresh tacos and watermelon aqua fresca at Mariposa.
From Bellingham, we caught a 6 minute toy ferry over to Lummi. No reservations needed- this cute little car ferry makes plenty of runs each day and lines are not a problem even during the busiest times of the year.
Lummi was love at first sight… no shops, gas stations or stop lights, just evergreen scented air, peaceful blue ocean and slate grey, rocky beaches. Of course, I wanted to stay forever.
We rented a house (the Aerie) from The Willows Inn and had to stop by there to pick up a key. We decided to stay for a game of bocce and to try out their cocktails. I had the Green Tea Bees Knees which was perfectly light, refreshing and flavorful with a single sweet woodruff leaf floating on top that tasted like licorice, wood and candy all at once. The dinner theater was already in action. Chefs were grilling fish, gathering yarrow, verbena and berries from the grounds and kneading loves of bread that were made from locally grown grains.
Our dinner reservations were not for another 2 days, so we got settled in the house (modern, clean, Scandinavian feeling with a telescope, an impressive collection of cookbooks like The Herbfarm Cookbook, Tartine Bread and The Art of Fermentation, and organic bath products).
We made friends with our new neighbor, Ray, who spends half of the time on Lummi and the other half in Northern California, and spent the next couple of days eating our weight in fat, wild ripe wild blackberries and the sweet Italian plums and asian pears that are dripping off of the trees around the island. We laid in the sun, hiked under big evergreen trees, skipped stones on the rocky beach, swam in the freezing sea and had the most relaxing few days that I remember.
Above, top to bottom: Sidestripe prawns, toasted kale leaves, island plums
DINNER AT THE WILLOWS INN
And then Jeff and I went to The Willows Inn for dinner. Chef Blaine Wentzel, the madly creative, bold and humble mind behind the Willows Inn, wants to give his patrons not only the best meal of their lives but also a distilled taste of Lummi Island. The ultimate experience of place. This end, and years of experience at Copenhagen’s legendary Noma, together give him a unique cooking style. Everything is about highlighting the tastes of the land and sea. Herbs are turned into ice cream, chamomile is turned into granita and complimentary ingredients are presented side by side like a variety of island plums, simply sliced, along with fresh garden cucumbers.
For me, a highlight, naturally, was the beverage selection. You can choose a wine pairing– with selections exclusively from Washington and Oregon– or a juice pairing: anise hyssop shrub, sorrel, white currant, rosehip, elderflower. The tea menu consists of locally grown spruce, yarrow and mint and a selection of teas brought back from a staff member’s recent trip to China or sourced from a tea importer in Bellingham.
What really blew my mind was Nick’s toasted birch branch tea served chilled in a small hand thrown sake cup. It tasted like a midsummer jump in a cold lake after a traditional Finnish “savu” sauna- sweet, smoky, refreshing, soulful, inspiring. So much more than dinner.