From Lummi to Orcas to Bainbridge, the Seattle area islands are chock full of destination-worthy dining perfect for a Seattle date night out. Lucky for you, the folks at Seattle Magazine have pulled the most delicious dining spots on each island. They’ve even sussed out the best arts and music events at theaters, galleries and public parks so your island adventure is a true date night. What are you waiting for?
Wind at the Willows
One of Denmark’s hottest chefs breezes into Willows Inn in the San Juans.
In the November issue of Seattle magazine, I broke the thrilling news that chef Blaine Wetzel, former sous-chef at Noma (the Copenhagen restaurant named the best in the world this year by the San Pellegrino Café Society), was moving to Lummi Island to head the kitchen at the Willows Inn. Noma chef René Redzepi is exceptional in his studied and historical approach to cooking the foods that grow just around Copenhagen, and in his respect for time and place. And so it follows that Wetzel, Redzepi’s protégé (and maybe the most focused 25-year-old I’ve ever met), makes daily foraging trips to pluck edible flower buds from salmonberry bushes and cherry trees around the quaint inn’s property, which he later plants in brown butter spread atop homemade crackers (a truly sensational dish that is like taking a bite of blooming springtime); he visits nearby farms to select the lambs he’ll have slaughtered for his spring menus; and he chooses each variety of beet, lettuce and potato that is planted in the Willows’ nearby farm. Willows’ owner, Riley Starks, is like-minded, though he exudes a looser, milder confidence earned from the 12 years he’s owned the inn. But make no mistake: Starks is as focused on food as Wetzel. He’s raising a Kurobuta pig (for future prosciutto and bacon), he can tell you about the personalities of each variety of turkey he raises, and he spends the summer months catching every salmon served at the restaurant.
But who cares about all of that business? What you really want to know is if it’s worth your time and money to schlep all the way up to tiny Lummi Island (a seven-minute ferry ride from Bellingham) for dinner. And to that I say, oh yes, indeed. The 12-dish menu (including five entrées; $85) is prefaced by five “tastes”; essentially tiny, one-bite appetizers. And they are lovely. Sight, smell, taste, touch, sound: Every sense is drawn to the meal as each table in the sparely decorated, perfectly comfortable, hushed dining room (with its awesome westerly view of the sunset and the silver waters below) makes the same discovery: A small bentwood box (custom-made for Wetzel by an island woodworker, naturally) is presented like a gift, wafting tiny trails of alder smoke. Open it, and, ah! Smoldering wood chips sit beneath two hunks of exquisite smoked salmon. Magic. And then two oysters, still briny with seawater, set upon frozen beach rocks. A beet encrusted with seeds planted upon a smooth, earthy tarragon pesto. A hunk of pork shoulder, transcendent and tender, plated with onions so recently plucked off a hot grill that they trace their irresistible scent across the room. Wetzel, at such a young age, does what so many great chefs take decades to learn: He reaps what the earth is giving at each moment and nudges it to greatness with as few bells and whistles as possible.
Of course you should stay at the quaint, comfortable inn afterwards, choosing a cozy bedroom just behind the restaurant to fall into after dinner ($155) or, if a splurge is in order, one of the beach units located about a 10-minute walk away and mere feet from the breaking waves (from $285). Why rush back to reality before it’s necessary?
ALSO ON THE ISLAND: Michael Oppenheimer’s Windy Hill Art sculpture park is as inviting as it is quaint. Open daily from dawn until dusk, the park offers eight acres of fields and forests strewn with kinetic sculptures designed to interact with the environment—whether that be rain, wind or humans. Perfect for an afternoon or an entire day; Bring a picnic and linger. 1825 S Nugent Road; windyhillart.com
To discover more mouth-watering destination-worthy dining click here.
This is our weekly guest post from our friends at Seattle Magazine, which keeps readers on the pulse of restaurants, personalities, arts, entertainment and culture that reflect the tapestry of our dynamic landscape. We’ve teamed up for an exciting partnership to bring you a weekly dose of fantastic Date Night ideas throughout greater Seattle.