On the Pacific Northwest coast lies a unique dining destination of the Willows Inn on Lummi Island, Washington. The remote nature of Lummi Island – a two-hour drive north of Seattle accessible only by ferry – and the small size – 1,000 residents on 9 square miles –adds to the charm of this bucolic island on the Salish Sea.
The Willows Inn opened in 1913 as a summer resort for Washingtonians and Canadians alike. People flocked to this part of the world mainly in the summer to enjoy the tranquility of island life. Family-run as a bed and breakfast for many years, it wasn’t until roughly 10 years ago, when Executive Chef, Blaine Wetzel, moved back to his home state, that The Willows Inn distinguished itself as one of the best restaurants in the world.
Wetzel’s resume includes a three-year stint for Rene Redzepi at Copenhagen’s Noma before his move to The Willows Inn. Since taking over as Executive Chef and co-owner, Wetzel has won 2 James Beard awards (Rising Star and Best Chef: Northwest) and garnered rave reviews from publications like Eater, Saveur, and Forbes.
Plus, for 3 years in a row (2019 – 2021), Willows Inn was named the number one restaurant in North America by the global restaurant award platform. Opinionated About Dining (OAD). ** [Incidentally, I have had the pleasure to visit and write about two other restaurants that fell into the top ten on this list, Single Thread Farm and Saison, see posts here and here.]
This Lummi Island restaurant was long on our bucket list of “must-do” dining destinations, Hubby and I made the pilgrimage to The Willows Inn this summer on an unusually warm June afternoon. We booked one night in the Haven suite, a second-floor suite with a cozy king bed, deep soaking tub, and small quaint patio overlooking the kitchen.
My only regret was that it was too warm to light the gas fireplace, but that only means we need to book a return trip. You see, for us Arizonians, we literally dream of traveling places where it is raining and cold.
However, we made this journey in search of outstanding food, and The Willows Inn far exceeded our expectations. After burning off some calories hiking up Lummi Peak for views of the San Juan Islands, we quickly showered before settling in for the stunning 12-course meal. Wetzel’s tasting menus take you on an edible tour of Lummi Island and the Pacific Northwest, showcasing his foraging skills and artful presentations.
Enjoy my photos from our meal and read on below for more information on The Willows Inn. As always, I encourage you to drop me a line in the comment box to let me know your thoughts. Incidentally, I did not want to bother other diners with my Canon, so all photos were taken on my iPhone 12. My hope is I did the cuisine of Blaine Wetzel justice…it truly was a feast for all senses! xoM
Good to know: Willows Inn can accommodate only 34 diners, and reservations are required. Dinner is offered on select days of the week from March 15 to December 15 only. Funny story…the first time we tried to book The Willows Inn, was for my January birthday, and it was closed.
The Willows Inn offers 8 cozy guest rooms, plus 8 vacation rental properties scattered around the island. I would love nothing more than to take our whole family back and book one of these homes. If you cannot get accommodations on Lummi Island, the nearby town of Bellingham has with many options. You can also take a boat and moor offshore…that tip is for you, Mark and Niki!
The Willows Inn
2579 West Shore Dr., Lummi Island, WA.
Salmonberries, Oyster & Rosé Granita
Beet Ceviche, Sweet Potato Tostones
Smoked King Salmon
Shallots & Chive Blossoms
Wilted Greens & Bread
Shiitake Skewers, Lettuce Wraps
A Dessert of Woodruff
Spread of Dried Fruit & Cheese
IN RESPONSE TO A COMMENT RECEIVED BELOW:
I had a feeling I would be receiving an email regarding the recent news in The New York Times about The Willows Inn, and I probably would have done myself service addressing this issue directly in my blog post. However, I was conflicted. For those of you who have read my bio, you will note that the purpose of my blog and my writing is to share things that bring me joy. Writing brought me out of a dark place. I feel there is enough negativity on the internet and elsewhere, and I don’t care to add to it.
On that note, I have been aware that The Willows Inn went from being a “darling” of the NY Times to being the center of much discussion. As we had already booked our trip, I felt it would be interesting to see for myself what the vibe was like, both on Lummi Island and at The Willows Inn.
Upon arrival, my husband and I found the staff to be nothing short of happy, courteous, and enthusiastic about their jobs. Our room was above the kitchen, and there was music and jovial sounds coming from the prep group. The staff took their dinner outside together before service and were very chatty with us, noting how much they loved working at The Willows. The staff during dinner and breakfast service was also equally engaging and outgoing. There was nothing we noted that would concern me about any of the allegations in the NY Times. We also discussed the issue with many of the locals who were equally puzzled about the recent press.
The job of journalism is to sell papers. I am not selling anything. I write for the joy of writing, to share my love of great food and travel with those who care to read about it. It is not that I think that everything is great, it is just that I won’t write about something unless I believe in it.
If I have an unpleasant experience, I won’t use social media or the internet to air my complaints. I am open to the opinions and experiences of others, but at the same time, there is no room for cyber shaming on my blog. I lecture my kids about the insidiousness of making assumptions about someone online, and then using the anonymity of the web to tear someone down.
Several assumptions have been made by this comment that simply are not true. Yes, I was aware of the allegations, and no I did not ignore what was being alleged. I am not paid for my opinions, nor do I gain anything from them. I went to The Willows Inn as a tourist and formed my own opinions based on my experience and interactions with others who were closest to the situation.