December 3rd, 2010

Sarah Goes To Lummi Island.

Earlier this year a restaurant in Copenhagen was named best restaurant in the world and heads turned. Denmark, while seriously proud of its culinary heritage, is not the first place people think of when talking about haut cuisine. But, people would not have thought of Spain too long ago either. Out on Lummi Island there is an opportunity to get a taste of what is happening in Copenhagen. The chef at Willows Inn worked at NoMa before returning home to the Northwest. His menu is a Scandanavian interpretation of local cuisine.

Willows Inn is an idyllic setting. Pods of Orcas cruise past Lummi Island in the summer following the salmon as they make their run. The inn’s location becomes a prime viewing spot. This time of year the island is quiet, the slow drizzle of the Northwest winter having already settled in. The views are are still stunning, just a bit more somber.

Having never been to the San Juans we left early in order to maximize our time. Half way to Bellingham we realized to our great dismay we had left the house without the wines we had picked out for dinner, in the grand scheme of things not really a crisis, nevertheless finding a wine store in Bellingham became top priority. Our search lead us to the Fairhaven neighborhood, a historic center near the ferry terminals (not the one we needed) on the Sound and The Purple Smile. It’s a small shop dealing mostly in domestic wines. Their European selection, while small, is not an afterthought. This would be a nice place to have as a local store. They host tastings and dinners that connect the consumer with the people who make the wines they love. We picked up two bottles from Piedmont: 2009 Rizzi Chardonnay and 2005 Castello di Verduno Barbaresco.  Now fully stocked, we hit the road in order to make the noon ferry.

The afternoon was spent hiking the rocky shores and enjoying the quiet. The sun set and the island went dark, seriously dark. Dinner time finally rolled around. There’s one seating with a happy hour before hand. Guests socialize in the lounge sipping cocktails and enjoying the fire lit ambience. Dinner had some great atmosphere. The lights in the room flicker ominously at random throughout the evening, a reminder that you are not on the mainland. The menu indicated five courses. All told nearly twice as many dishes came out of the kitchen. We were treated to aebelskiver stuffed with shredded pork, obscenely fresh oysters, mussels in a delicate broth with shaved horseradish and dill, small tender scallops with cabbage, mangalitsa ham with winter squash, apples, and white onion. They did what many try to do and fall short: take great ingredients, cook them with knowledge and care, and present them in an unadulterated way that showcases this skill.

It is a bit different to sit in for a coursed dinner and see nary a splash of olive oil or a sliver of foie gras all evening. This is what people have come to expect. The chef and the kitchen are not confined by that kind of expectation. It was refreshing. The chef had only been there eight weeks when we visited. It remains to be seen what the kitchen will produce in the height of summer when a plethora of ingredients are available. To bring it back to the wine for a moment. In the end our detour into Bellingham was well worth our time. The wine list does not match the unique and fresh approach of the kitchen. Corkage was $20.


2009 Rizzi Chardonnay: fresh expression with zesty acidity, a bit short in the finish, more Bordeaux Blanc like. It paired well with the courses that focused on seafood.  

2005 Castello di Verduno Barbaresco: Dark ruby color, smoke, cherry, black tea, earthy. This wine was much beefier than expected and it needed time to open up. The decanter brought to the table created a bit of a spectacle as the bowl was huge and saucer like. It would seem there are not a lot of requests for this.