My wife and I decided to make one of our occasional trips out to Lummi Island and our favorite getaway. The Willows, a B & B and one of the best restaurants in the Pacific Northwest was our destination.
I have spoken often on this blog about the wonderful meals and relaxing stays we have had while at The Willows. But for the next few months a very special and gifted chef will be cooking up his own form of magic in the Willow's kitchen and we wanted to check him out early on in his stay. And are we glad we did!
Justin Neidermeyer, a northwest native has been spending a lot of time in Italy recently. He even owns his own home and farm in the Piemonte region. But Justin has a deep connection to the northwest restaurant scene having worked for Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita fame, and owning his own restaurant, Spinasse in Seattle. Spinasse was honored as the top new restaurant in 2009 by Seattle Magazine and was on the short list for the James Beard Award for best restaurant in America!
Surprised? Well, you shouldn't be. The Willows owner Riley Starks has always sought out top chefs to run his inn's kitchen and has had great success over the years, garnering the attention of Sunset Magazine and Gourmet Magazine with feature articles about the food and hospitality of this wonderful inn.
When we arrived Riley took us into the kitchen and introduced us to the chef. We spent a few minutes chatting and Riley even popped open a bottle of Prosecco. We toasted the new chef and to a wonderful dinner, then retired to the spacious great room overlooking the Strait of Georgia where whales play and boats of all sizes splash through the white caps and swells. It is a stunning view that changes as the day progresses and the whims of the weather dictate. We sat enjoying our glass of wine and the view until we were called to dinner.
Our table had an equally stunning view out to sea. Riley brought a basket of fresh out of the oven bread and a plate of very fine olive oil for dipping.
The first of our three courses was a platter of the last of season asparagus from Riley's Nettle's Farm up the the hill from the inn. It was served up family style as is Chef Neidermeyer's way. The asparagus was seasoned with chive flowers, olive oil, garlic and salt and pepper. Justin's philosophy seems to be fresh, high quality foods prepared simply, a philosophy we couldn't agree with more. Along with the asparagus was an accompanying platter of thin slices of 2 year old prosciutto from one of Riley's own Mangalitsa pigs. These wonderful creatures produce a fat that is poly-unsaturated--making it actually good for you! A bit of the prosciutto on the fork and a bit of asparagus spear. Bring it slowly up to your mouth, close your eyes and let the flavors mingle. Slowly! slowly! Oh, my. This is far from a new combination of foods, but when foods of this quality, produced with such love and care come together, a whole new level of gustatory enjoyment is the result.
The second course was salmon medallions topped with a pesto sauce. Riley explained that this special salmon was a variety caught near Neah Bay that is especially high in the good fats salmon are famous for. The medallions were pan seared caramelizing the bottom of each piece which added a bit of crunch and sweetness. In the pan only for a minute, the flavor and texture was superb. Topping the fish was a simple parsley pesto made with a wonderful olive oil, garlic and salt and pepper. Again, the chef kept it simple and let the food speak for itself.
Along with the salmon came a side of chick peas and endive braised in a garlic and olive oil sauce. This was actually my favorite dish of the night. I like chick peas. They are great on salads or to make a hummus. But this combination of flavors kept me taking little second and third helpings. Absolutely delicious.
Our dessert course was a simple, creamy smooth panna cotta topped with a tangy fresh lemon curd. Light, cleansing--the perfect end of a perfect meal. Topped off with a cup of after dinner coffee, we watched the stunning sunset form over the Strait and chatted away with our host, catching up on his plans for the upcoming season and about our families before reluctantly taking our leave to catch the ferry home.
Don't let the summer pass without taking the short ride across Hale Passage aboard the little ferry, Whatcom Chief and the ten-minute scenic drive to The Willows. If you do you will miss an opportunity for a wonderful host, a truly gifted chef and the stunning scenery to create an absolutely unforgettable evening just for you.