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Drop the Mic and Exit Stage Left — My Dinner on Lummi Island

December 20, 2011

The receptionist floated on top of the three-foot-high stone hearth in black heels and bright pink tights. Her silver earrings swayed back and forth as she picked up a comically large piece of wood, bent down at her knees, and threw it into the fireplace. She stabbed at it a couple of times with the rod iron poker before she replaced the metal screen. The fire popped with new energy. She hopped down in one swift motion and didn’t break stride as she leaned the poker against the wall. This was certainly not the first time she had done this. With my mouth agape, I was in love, and I needed a drink. Something strong. Whiskey.

See The Willows Inn on Lummi Island did something amazing. It went from awesome to unbelievable. From great to world-class. It went from local to hyper-local — before it was popular to do so — and before everybody shamelessly promoted it. And you can see this transformation thanks to the Internet.

In a 2006 Bellingham Herald article, then chef Craig Miller claimed that the Inn was about 85 percent self-sufficient. They were producing local meals every night before it was popular. Before it was the next thing. Most of their dishes were sourced from the Island and from their farm just a half mile away.

So Miller leaves and here comes chef Blaine Wetzel from Copenhagen. Who ran a place that specialized in slow and hyper-local food. They change the menu to prix fixe. They add several courses. They become even more self-sufficient (Wetzel told us that he had four things on his grocery store list and one of them was kitchen gloves). The rest comes from the Island or very close to the Island. For example, the fish comes from members of Lummi Nation. The beef, from a producer on the Island. The table arrangements, white winter berries, are picked from the bushes that slope the beach. And the service? Well it rivals Canlis. Sure, they don’t have a numberless valet or coat check, but when your dining room seats less than 40 people, why should they. Frank Bruni called The Willows Inn one of the 10 restaurants in the world worth a plane ticket. For us, it was merely a long drive on a cold Sunday morning.

The Lummi Island Ferry

The island is only accessible by ferry.

Salmon smoker.

The first course (I counted a total of 18) was a small bite of smoked salmon, which is smoked all day in the above smoker. It is served in a personal cedar box and when you lift the lid, smoke erupts out revealing your first bite.

Greens

Mean chicken

I felt like Lord of the Chickens. They would all run to me when I got near the fence.

Fennel

Fennel

Garden sign

Greenhouse

Shells

A year’s worth of shells from dinner.

You can visit the farm from which all the herbs and vegetables (and chickens) are grown and that you will eat later. Seeing the farm made me think about a paragraph Mark Bittman wrote in the New York Times in March:

In 1943, 20 million households (three-fifths of the population at that point), grew more than 40 percent of the vegetables we ate.

Local was king. But local was necessity. In the latest book I am reading, Adam Gopnik’s The Table Comes First, he references that it was once considered low-class in French culinary circles to serve local, in-season, food. If you couldn’t import strawberries in winter, that restaurant wasn’t worth the schilling in your pocket. Life always seems to be on a pendulum.

Sunset

Dish

The food was amazing. My words, with my limited vocabulary would never do it justice. And the presentation for each one was unique and awesome. Local oysters on a frozen river rock bed. Herring in a sardine can. Chicken jous with homemade bread. Wicker basket filled with farm vegetables and dipping sauce served in a terracota flower pot. You get the point. Over the top? Perhaps, a bit. I tweeted from the bathroom between courses that I was having the best meal of my life.

Paul brought champagne. And three other bottles of outstanding wine. See we came to Lummi to celebrate. To celebrate another successful year at Full Pull. A very (very, very, very) nice thank you dinner for all of the work this past year. I always tell customers that I have a day job and I joke that I come down to the warehouse simply to hangout and drink wine. Sure, that happens. But I come to be a part of something amazing. Something that is just starting and becoming a great success.

When our stunningly beautiful bartender popped the cork on our bottle of champagne, every head in the place turned around and looked at us. The fire crackled. Whispers filled the room. And we raised a glass in celebration to the end of a pretty good year. Best meal of my life, maybe. But it is one that I will remember always.

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One comment

  1. Okay, now we’re going to have to check out The Willows Inn… sounds like an awesome place!



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