After checking out, I chose these for Peter from the platters in the reception area of The Willows Inn. Who can resist pastries that look like whimsical cross sections of cork?
On the way down to Anacortes on glorious Chuckanut Drive, we stopped in Samish Bay at Taylor Shellfish Farms. Their website calls the market a "tide to table" experience. That's accurate: a squall brined us in silvery mudpies while we ate at the wooden railing that serves as a communal table on the market's back deck.
You choose what you want from the display case and they toss everything into an ice bucket with a shucker attached to it and then kick you out. You're on your own here, no hand-holding.
I had really wanted to get the lone geoduck but it was whole and live, and they had no way of letting me slice it, although they said one customer comes in and eats it on the spot, as is. I would genuinely love to meet that person. They keep the geoducks on comfy slices of foam to prevent ice blisters.
Peter got two of each oyster: Olympia, Kumamoto, Shigoku, Virginica. I got a 1.84 lb Dungeness crab that was absolutely amazing, but after two legs I made Peter do all the cracking because my hands froze numb. Obviously, most people who come here bring their goods home. Best Dungeness ever, cold and rich with sea salt.
We left looking like Jackson Pollock paintings.
Happy hour on the ferry included a not yet defrosted pretzel from a deceptive warmly-lit carousel, but there are few foods that can't be made edible by copious squirts of yellow mustard. The Heinz ranch dressing, on the other hand, was foul.
Orcas Island. Island Hoppin' Brewery was certainly hoppin'...
There was nowhere to sit, but a couple waved us over and made room at their table. Great great beer... A Belgian Pale Ale with passion fruit and an IPA. All around were people happily drinking what looked like revolting White Zinfandel, so naturally I asked about it and our friendly tablemate said it was cranberry cider, "or as I like to call it, the blood of my enemies".
Got a petite pour of that. Out-of-the-park good.
The Inn at Ship Bay. What. I had chosen carefully and hoped for a meal consistent with the praise I had read, but we weren't expecting a revelation, especially after wondering if we should recalibrate our expectations to avoid future disappointments like the night before.
But this was was the most outstanding, redeeming, optimism-affirming dinner of dreams. The vibe reminded us a little of upstairs at Chez Panisse.
We ate like total pigs: four appetizers, three main courses, and then our enchanting server sent out dessert. Finished every last bite.
Their sourdough is made from a 100 year-old starter passed down from the owner's wife's family.
Mangalitsa pork belly. The Mangalitsa pigs are raised and processed by the Inn's owner and executive chef, Geddes Martin, and the meat is a massive advantage to the menu. I hadn't eaten pork in over a year before this. And now I'll never be able to eat it again.
Mangalitsa shoulder with tarragon aioli. I asked Peter how we can replicate this at home and he said "we can't".
Seared beef liver with strawberries and tarragon and tangy wilted ramps.
Arugula salad with Myers goat cheese made on the Island, split (they kindly did this for us; we didn't ask).
Weathervane scallops with grand fir aioli, sprouted lentils, and an ace risotto.
Breather course of daffodils.
Mangalitsa pork loin, split. The sauce- chickpeas and savory manna; spiffing use of thyme. The fat cap melted away like cotton candy. The flavor reminded me more of butter than anything else: luscious and sweet, more creamy than meaty.
Nootka rose and Tonka bean ice creams with homemade Milanos.
We definitely made the most out of 13 hours on Orcas. Couldn't have picked a better meal. One consistent charm was the thoughtfulness that went into the garnishes; condiments. Not ornaments. Beautifully seasoned with salt and vinegar, each one was different and perfect for its dish. And (and!) I asked for salt and didn't use it.
Later, at a wine shop on Friday Harbor, we met a woman who was tasting San Juan Cellars wines and it came up in conversation that she had also eaten at The Inn at Ship Bay the night before. I asked her what she had for dinner and she said "I just had the first thing listed under entrees".
Peter and I both said "oh, BOUILLABAISSE!"
Then she asked us what we ate, and by the time we finished telling her, she was drunk.
Peter thinks the chef didn't come out of the kitchen because he was probably afraid we'd eat him too.