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Friday, January 07, 2011


I’ve seen the future on a little island in the Pacific Northwest. A few weeks ago, I got a taste of Blaine Wetzel’s cuisine in his new role as executive chef at the Willows Inn.

Who’s Wetzel? You’ll likely be hearing quite a bit about him, particularly if you’re from that neck of the woods. Wetzel, 24, is fresh off a stint at Copenhagen’s noma restaurant, working as the chef de partie for Rene Redzepi. He was there when noma officially went through the roof, knocking El Bulli out of the top slot in San Pellegrino’s Best Restaurant in The World hooplah.

Did they win because he was there? No. Was he taking good notes? You bet.

I was at the Willows to interview Wetzel for a set of upcoming articles and a sneak preview of what to expect when the Willows reopens next month.

A seven-course tasting menu was about six courses more than I needed to know that it was worth the trip. He might be a two-hour drive and five minute ferry ride from both Seattle and Vancouver, but you might want to reserve now.

What’d he serve? Barely poached end gently pickled Hammersley Inlet oysters were one of many surprise ‘snacks,’ but my favorite dish might have been the wild mushrooms, fresh cheese and woodruff. For the latter, he forages some of the mushrooms and woodruff and makes the cheese - rennet’s in a little bottle on a shelf in the fridge. He devotes a whole course to the potatoes inn owner Riley Starks grows at the adjacent Nettles Farm that supplies much of the kitchen’s produce.

Need any more reason to go? A four-course tasting menu will start at $40 and a seven course for $65.

The inn and restaurant are closed for a January remodel. Taste of the future begins in February. Go early.

The Willows Inn - MAP
2579 West Shore Drive

Lummi Island, WA 98262


For a bit of background on Wetzel’s arrival, click here.
...and for my Boston Globe story on Willows Inn owner Riley Starks, click here.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010


I visited the Willows Inn on Washington state’s little-known Lummi Island for an upcoming Boston Globe story a few weeks back - the restaurant is locavore heaven. Proprietor Riley Starks and his partner Joan Olsen catch the salmon in reef nets, grow much of their own produce and raise amazing mangalitsa pigs at their Nettles Farm just up the road, buy incredible spot prawns caught in the water in front of the inn and wonderful lamb raised a few miles down the road. On some nights, even neighboring Bellingham’s Boundary Bay Brewery’s beautiful Reefnetter Pale Ale is on tap. The whole thing is done so well, they pull off the local thing without the twee thing that often goes with it.

It’s about to get even more interesting. Starting August 23, Blaine Wetzel, a Washington native fresh from a stint in the kitchen at Copenhagen’s noma - the number one restaurant in the world (if you buy that sort of thing) - will be taking over as executive chef at the inn’s restaurant. Very curious to see what happens. noma’s chef Rene Redzepi is a big proponent of the New Nordic movement - a group of chefs working to go local even at those higher latitudes, a philosophy that should dovetail very nicely with what Starks and Olsen have done.

The inn is a two-hour drive and five minute ferry ride from Seattle and I’d bet it’s worth a trip to see what’s cooking ... I’m planning on a visit.

The Willows Inn - MAP
2579 West shore Dr
Lummi Island, WA 98262

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010


I love the hype surrounding the announcement of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants* – it somehow points out how goofy and subjective it is to rank them (where are Pinotxo and the Agawam Diner?!?!) while reminding us how wonderful they are.

For anyone interested in a trip down memory lane to the places on the list where I’ve been lucky enough to eat, here we go…

noma – Rene Redzepi (see photo)

El Bulli – Ferran Adria

El Celler de Can Roca – Joan Roca

WD-50 & Daniel

Le Chateaubriand

Pierre Gagnaire & Plaza Athenée - Pierre Gagnaire & Alain Ducasse

St. John

Finally, two conspicuously absent personal faves:
Restaurat Jean-Marie Amat
Les Cols

*Congrats to my pal Lexy Topping for breaking the 50 Best story for the Guardian – woop woop!

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.

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