It’s been about 2 years since we visited Willows Inn and this time it was late fall as opposed to summer. The physical place hasn’t changed but the fall means shorter days and disrupts the view from the dining room. It also means you can’t have the starter courses outside on the porch and instead everyone piled into the area by a large fireplace with seating being very varied. Some were on benches, some sat at the bar on stools and there were a couple of sets of chairs by small tables, which I preferred. The lighting was much darker as the room only was lit by candles and the fire – and that also made it quite warm. Otherwise the system is pretty much the same. You start with a series of snacks and then move into seafood and then protein to dessert. It seemed like a lighter menu this time. The dining room had just 12 tables with a painted wood ceiling, narrow planked wood floor, music in the background with a sliding door to the kitchen at one end of the room. In an adjacent room was a larger table for 6. If you stay at the place they always have a bunch of snacks in the reception area for you and a menu of breakfast for the next day.
Toasted kale leaves were topped with bits of black truffle and rye crumbs. They were ultra crisp and flavorful. Some “chestnuts” were crisp on the outside and filled with creamy substance. They were okay.
Some skewers held aged venison with mushrooms that were smokey. Another skewer had barbecue octopus that was charred and paired with radicchio. It was not as good as the venison.
Moving to the dining room the first option was a variety of Pacific oysters and quince. There was some fresh horseradish on the ice if you wanted it. The pairs of oyster had one with the lid on and the other with not so you could tell which ones to eat. They were very different but all briny fresh and nice.
Scallop with poblano peppers were pink scallops, ceviche style in a liquid of poblano chile and ginger oil. It was excellent – a killer combination of soft and wonderful scallops and a bright spicy broth.
A grouping of things was next. Caramelized mussels, savory doughnut, seared razor clam and smoked Sockeye salmon. The salmon was cold smoked, glazed and then baked. It was tender and lovely. The savory donuts were filled with smoked cod and good. The fish was tasty and the doughnut was made of a fun dough. The caramelized mussels were a little on the strong side. They were chewy and smokey. The razor clams skirt might have been my favorite; it was delicious. The preparation distilled the essence of razor clams into a chewy bite of deliciousness. They brought you a wet towel after this course.
Matsutake mushroom was served with warm custard and horseradish and brought out first in this pairing of dishes. The meaty mushroom was from the west coast and was almost beefy. It was full of flavor and paired very well with the smooth light custard. An amazing dish.
Cinderella pumpkin was the other portion and it got dished by the server before I could get an intact shot. It was coated with miso and seeds of last years pumpkins. It was a generous slice and almost tasted like peanut butter but it really needed a pinch of salt. It was well cooked but not the most flavorful thing. The miso was nutty.
Grilled island pork and bitter greens was an artful plate. The pork was with sugar and the leaves were bitter chicory. It was a fun combination that worked well together. The sauce on the plate was sticky and reduced. A piece of heirloom wheat bread with pan drippings and cultured butter was added to the table. The drippings were very flavorful and the dense bread delicious. It had a totally crisp crust and dense interior.
Toasted birch branches were made into a tea as a digestive. It tasked like smoked wood.
Orchard fruit was a plate of sliced apples and pears. They were served on ice but some of the pears were not soft enough yet. Kiwi berries were with quince and lemon verbena. There was a crisp layer of sugar on top of the fruit. It was tart. Dandelion root was made into an ice cream with a toasted meringue and cookie crumbs stuck to the inside of the bowl it was in. The ice cream was super smooth and was much better when you scraped off some of the sides to go with it.
A flax seed caramel finished the meal. It was a toasted flax seed but there was more flax seed than caramel in the bar. It was good not great.
They sent us with parting gifts of bread and jam.