Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Is Willows Inn the best dining experience in North America today?

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Smokehouse

A full 5 Yums Up for me and a spot on my most memorable meal list. From the moment we pulled into the parking lot and were greeted by a fire in the grill and aromatic smoke chugging out of the smokehouse I was engaged in the experience of dining at Willows Inn. A good walk on the beach across the street set our appetites on fire. As the sun set, the chefs visited the grill and smokehouse more and the kitchen and dining room started to glow with light and activity. I was drawn away from the smokehouse to make a quick change before moving to the lobby bar for a drink, a snack and some excellent entertainment from a young man with a guitar, a violin, a ukulele and a great song list. Regular trips to the glass French doors to the kitchen built even more anticipation as I watched the chefs with calm and precision work magic as 6:30 approached. Soon we were all seated in the casually elegant dining room, drinks were poured and a parade of servers and chefs presented each of us with a small lidded cedar box.
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Samish Bay Smoked Mussel
Lift the lid and smoke escaped and we were all in; appearance, aroma and taste. By far the best mussel I have ever eaten and I wanted more, right then. I was soon distracted by tiny crispy crepes rolled around char roe.
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Crispy Crepe with Char Roe
 
The 1st two bites had the whole room humming. Things moved along pretty quickly but with plenty of time to savour the aromas, appearance and taste of each dish.

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Crispy kale with Black Truffles
 Next up was my favourite of the evening; crispy halibut skin stuffed with halibut emulsion and bits of razor clams dusted with seaweed dust. This had everything going for it; incredible presentation, crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside and flavour that made you long for more.
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Crispy Halibut Skins
 
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Spot Prawn poached in it's Roe

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Grilled Shitake Mushrooms


The lightly smoked oysters were so good, they delivered another order to our table.  Don't they look amazing?

Shigoku Oysters




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Black Cod wrapped in Caraflex Cabbage
The Black cod wasn't the most beautiful presentation of the evening but one of the tastiest.  I happen to know from hanging around the smokehouse that the cod was lightly smoked and there was a sliver of very crisp cod skin along the top of the fish before it was wrapped in cabbage.  My second favourite dish of the night.

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Pears Cooked in Embers
Pears cooked in embers was the pescatarian swap for tartare of venison and wild lettuces.

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Parsnip with razor clam sauce

I've eaten and cooked a lot of salmon and this is quite possibly the best smoked salmon I've ever eaten.

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Smoked Sockeye Salmon


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Slices of Persimmon

Things were starting to get a little foggy about now.  We'd chosen the wine pairing option and the pours were generous.  I don't know what the persimmons were in but it was refreshing and lively.
Only one other dish needed to be swapped out for our pescatarian request.  It was pine mushrooms instead of pork chop in juniper with turnips buried in embers. Once again I loved the taste of the fire on the turnip and the mushrooms and juniper were earthy, deep and dark.

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Pine mushroom and juniper with turnip from the embers


There was also roasted sunflower root, caramelized squid and charred radicchio, felicata squash and pine-flavoured cream, flax seed squares and bread from local grains with butter and onion drippings but my final favourite was goat's milk with grasses.  The grasses were in a broth and I was actually reluctant to taste it fearing it might be a bad end to the meal but it was amazing.  So bright it almost sang to me.
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Goat Cheese with Grasses

In all there were 11 courses and 9 snacks or surprises paired with 5 wines and 1 beer.  I made a mistake and ordered a bottle of Capitello Oregon Brut before dinner and also chose the wine pairing option with dinner.  I was drinking bubbly between courses instead of water and it may have had an effect on my judgement toward the end of the meal.  I wasn't the last person in the dining room as I'd intended to be and I regret it immensely.  

I've eaten at a couple of Michelin starred restaurants this year and some of Vancouver's best.  I've had farm to table meals in Spain, Vancouver, Palm Springs and Montreal and this meal is definitely my favourite of the year.

I've booked it for same time next year.

Wine Pairing:
Capitellp Methode Champenoise Oregon Brut
2013 Big Table Farm "Wirtz Vineyard" Edelzqicker, Willamette, Oregon
2011 Maison Bleue "Upland Vineyard" Grenache, Snipes Mountain, Washington
Longsdon Straffe Drieling Tripel, Hood River, Oregon
2011 Gramercy Cellars "Inifo Montoya" Tempranillo, Walla Walla, Washington
2012 Brook "Tehys" Riesling, Eola-Amith Hills, Oregon

I highly recommend Willows Inn.  Book early so you can stay right on property.

Eat on friends.  Cathy Moore