Had planned to hit the original Tacofino in Tofino next week, but then one of their food trucks parked right across from our hotel in Vancouver, and and and...
Fried cod and seared tuna tacos. Pickled ginger and seaweed salad on the tuna. And mayo, mayo, everywhere.
Back down to WA, through Lummi Nation and on to Lummi Island for dinner at The Willows Inn, esteemed for all the reasons, including the young chef winning a couple of James Beard Foundation awards.
The line for the ferry to Lummi Island was so long, and we missed the first ride across. Desperate, I ate the free Belgian chocolates from the hotel in Vancouver.
Various homemade herb waters, huckleberry fizz and WA cider on ice, and a whole spread of snacks in the reception area of The Willows Inn.
Rosemary water is good, but The Keefer in Vancouver served cinnamon water that will be the new standard at home.
We were #blesst to have experienced noma last year and it was difficult not to make comparisons; Blaine Wetzel's two-year apprenticeship at noma is apparent in *everything*, from the staff uniforms (and demographic) to the spirit of the juice pairings.
View of Sunset Beach from the front patio of The Willows Inn.
Cocktail service starts at 4pm, but we got in after 5 and all guests are asked to gather for cider and snacks at 6. Only had time for one cocktail before the cider.
Oaxacan Embrace and Spring Green.
Both were captivating; both also tasted like they came from a witch's book of spells. Peter's drink tasted like smoke and sandalwood; mine like a perfume of wheatgrass and opium tea. Loved both.
Complimentary rhubarb and apple cider- not as dry or tart as we would have liked but none of it went to waste.
The meal started off with such tremendous promise that I did what I normally do in such situations; put away my phone. Full immersion. Our policy is to take photos of the things we're worried we won't remember. (No photos from noma and no regrets about that.)
This was absolutely incredible. Bull kelp shaved over a crispy paper-thin crepe with golden char roe and pearl seaweed. We were told to spread the contents of the spoons over the crepe (very hard to do without shattering it into crumbs) and then eat with our hands. Could've eaten a thousand of these.
Black cod savory doughnuts with purple seaweed. Peter and I simultaneously whispered "sour cream". Because that would've made them so much better. The filling was very plain and sort of self-evacuated, with a quick puff of steam, after the first bite.
A couple nearby loved the doughnuts so much they asked for four more. (But what do they know?)
Next we had two more tasty snacks: kale chips with a charcoal-black truffled cream, scattered with a nutty-ish rubble, and roasted sunchokes with sweet onion purée. Both were just awesome.
After that, we were led to the dining room (last... way last; we sat with empty cider glasses for a good long while, and by the time we were seated, everyone else was eating), and handed glasses of delicious, cloudy "spring blossom vermouth". Which was really darn good.
There were little dishes of flaked sea salt on the tables: heaven. Everything was so well seasoned, we didn't need it. Why can't lesser restaurants take their cue and just make this a thing?
The dining room is tiny (no pics) but our table was so close to the kitchen and constantly had staff circling it, so once we were seated, it was impossible to candidly discuss the food or Peter's noxious wine pairings ($90 for four thoroughly unimpressive wines including one downright undrinkable one, a Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc named after the winemaker's poor daughter, and which Peter announced "smells like cheese"- and it did... and it shouldn't have).
I don't know. Maybe the playlist- lots of Grizzly Bear, loud- gets more love than the wine list. The wine list frightened me. Half the dozen or so rosés were 2013 and the others were 2014; I asked if they had current ones and they didn't.
I opted out of the wine pairings, since no info on those (or the food) was provided and it sounded overpriced for four tastes from a cellar with what appeared to be sketchy turnover.
Instead I got a bottle of Gramercy Cellars 2014 rosé from Walla Walla and managed to finish almost two thirds of the bottle over the course of dinner in 2oz increments, because the wine sat in icy exile until my glass was mercifully re-wetted.
Clams- bonus course, not on the menu. Peter was in love with the presentation and took a pic- I got one clam that wasn't right and it set off every alarm bell in my lizard brain, but out of survivor guilt, I swallowed it. The second one was good. Not the kitchen's fault, obviously. It happens
There were some highlights: the "wild herbs" were served on a warm crunchy fritter the size of an Eggo waffle. Mustard greens in both the batter and the spread on the fritter to which the herbs and edible flowers adhered.
The sauce on Peter's fritter looked identical to mine but contained puréed oysters. (Jealous.)
And the stewed porcini mushrooms- garnished with shaved raw porcinis- were delightful and inexplicably reminded me of a French pear tart in Abu Dhabi that was my childhood "birthday cake". A powerful and mysterious taste memory.
I don't have time on this short ferry ride to go into the details of every dish. I will say that the most confusing course was the bread; two humongous slabs of it served with an unceremonious ramekin of pan drippings that made absolutely no sense. None of the items on the menu could have yielded those drippings. Because we had not seen a menu, I had no idea there was only one more dish to come after this. Had I known, I would've eaten more bread. The menus were given to us at the end, with our check, and they seemed eager to clear the bread course before bringing the next and last savory course (lamb), which was awful. So... I lost my chance to fill up on bread.
I couldn't finish the lamb, a strip of pale meat that appeared to have gone through the sous-vide process and then had its fate truncated by time constraints. There was nothing- no Maillard reaction, no magic, no flavor. The crushed herbs on top had been macerated in a clear flavorless oil that wept everywhere. This is a tough one for me- I hate disposing of animal protein- and worry over the implications of a half-finished plate.
While I was in the bathroom, Peter was asked if he is a chef. I told him he should've said he is actually a sommelier and that the first white wine was swill. (Random side gripe- not hard to google people these days- noma unnervingly knew everything about us when we sat down; not that we matter- but what if we did?)
Dinner was ok. It was also the second most expensive meal we've ever eaten, after noma, so I think it deserves a fair assessment.
Later, we finished the last of my rosé at a table on a dark terrace behind the dining room, and two young chefs came out with iPhones, apologized for interrupting our privacy, said "don't mind us, we're just foraging for tomorrow's dinner", then turned on their Flashlight apps, and picked greens from a little herb garden.
I'm going to start telling our guests at home that the rosemary in their dinner was foraged from the sunroom.