Posts Tagged ‘local produce’

Lummi Island in 21 Bites: Chef Blaine Wetzel’s Pacific Northwest Tasting Menu at the Willows Inn

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Smoked sockeye salmon

Chef Blaine Wetzel has put The Willows Inn on Lummi Island on the Pacific Northwest’s culinary map. Wetzel, a native of Washington state, has an impressive number of awards to his name considering he’s barely 30. He was named Food & Wine’s Best New Chef in 2012, and won the James Beard award for Best Rising Chef in 2014 and Best Chef Northwest in 2015.

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The lobby at the Willows Inn

Chef Wetzel’s tasting menu, Lummi Island in 21 Bites, is known for being almost entirely local. It’s also one of the toughest reservations to get in the Pacific Northwest. The Willows Inn seats only 26 and does one sitting per at 6:30 pm. The hotel is closed for a few months in the winter, so getting a reservation during the prime summer season can be challenging. I couldn’t make it happen last summer but got a reservation for June 2016.

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The  cottage at the Willows Inn

Known for it’s super locavore focus, almost everything on the menu is farmed, foraged or raised on or near tiny Lummi Island’s nine square miles.

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Charming details at the 100 year old Willows Inn

The Willows Inn even offers guests tours of the local farm where most of their produce is grown, making it an intriguing foodie destination in the San Juan Islands.

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Craftsman charm at the Willows Inn

Lummi Island is reached by a 10 minute ferry ride from Bremerton. With a population of less than 1,000 residents, little Lummi Island is punching way above it’s weight class in fine dining.

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Pacific Northwest charm at the bar

The evening started with cocktails around 5:30. I had the Pineapple Weed Fizz ($14), made with with pineapple weed gin, egg white and chamomile bitters, which was refreshing in the hot weather and inspired. I liked the lack of formality in the service. It was top notch, but relaxed.

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Mason jars on display in the bar

The meal started with small bites in the bar. First up was a crispy crepe with golden char roe. It was beautiful.

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Left: Flowers and candlelight right: cocktails with fresh garnishes

In honor of National Donut Day, intriguing smoked cod doughnuts were served next. The third course was a standout for me– Kale leaves with black truffles. Next were small bites of roasted sunflower root and green rhubarb.

Willows Inn smokehouse action video

At this point we left the bar and sat at our table, where we were served native oysters in a juice of watercress followed by lightly cured rockfish in a broth of bones.

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roasted sunflower root

The vivid hues of the turnip stems with caramelized razor clams were followed by a Lummi Island “tostada” made with wild herbs served on crispy mustard greens. It was colorful crunchy goodness.

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Kale leaves with black truffles

Stewed porcini mushrooms were served next and, for me, they were the standout course of the evening with their delicate texture and savory umami goodness.

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Scenes from a tasting menu

Dungeness crab served in a puree of pine nuts came next. This delicate yet satisfying dish was followed by a rare seasonal treat of local salmonberries served with petals of Nootka roses. Not overly sweet, the berries were very flavorful and bursting with color. It is a memorable dish.

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Stewed porcini mushroooms

Pacific Northwest staples of smoked sockeye salmon and a seared skirt of razor clam came next. I was starting to lose steam by the time the halibut and lovage arrived.

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Left: Turnip stems with caramelized razor clams Right: Native oysters in a juice of watercress

I found some more room for the wheat bread with pan drippings, but couldn’t muster the strength for the aged leg of venison, which was the last of the savory courses. Epic meals can be too much for me.

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2010 Golden Grape Semillon was part of the wine pairing

The toasted birch branches (served as a tea) were much appreciated with it’s earthy heat acting as a bit of digestive before the dessert courses.

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Seared skirt of razor clam

While I tend to favor savory over sweet, the desserts at the Willows Inn were exceptional and light. Grilled strawberries were served with fresh chamomile in a pleasing combination.

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Green rhubarb

Candied green pine came next, followed by pumpkin seed fudge which was shockingly light and flavorful. I almost asked for seconds.

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Crispy crepe and golden char roe

Wine pairings can be ordered with dinner for $90, or a juice pairing for $40.

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Native oysters in a juice of watercress

The wine pairing focused on the Pacific Northwest and skewed towards the whites, which was appropriate for the seafood-centric menu. I must confess I am not a white wine lover. While I normally adore wines from Oregon and Washington, I thought the wine pairing was the meal’s one misstep. It was also a bit surprising since the cocktails were so good.

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Left: smoked cod donuts Right: Dungeness crab in a puree of pine nuts

If you can’t get a reservation at the Willows Inn you can try checking out Blaine Wetzel’s cookbook, Sea and Smoke: Flavors from the Untamed Pacific Northwest.

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Lummi island “tostada” (wild herbs and crispy mustard 

The Willows Inn also serves breakfast and lunch.

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Left: salmonberries with nooka roses right: grilled strawberries and fresh chamomile

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toasted birch branches tea

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Pumpkin seed fudge

The Willows Inn

Menu $175
Wine pairing $90
Juice menu $ 40

Address: 2579 W Shore Drive
Lummi Island, WA 98262

Phone: (360) 758-2620
Toll Free: (888) 294-2620


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Because Eataly: a Photo Essay of a Foodie Heaven in Milan


 Looking down at the produce at Eataly Milan Smeraldo

I recently spent a few days in Milan, Italy. One of the highlights of my trip to the Italian fashion capital was stumbling upon a huge and gleaming Eataly.

Artichokes at Eataly Milan 

The gourmet grocery store and community concept was created by Italian entrepreneur Oscar Farinetti and is backed by some of my foodie heroes–  Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich.

Scenes from the produce aisle at Eataly

Part of Eataly’s manifesto is “providing the best possible products at a reasonable price point.” While I did not comparison shop for produce while in Italy, I can say that produce at Eataly is crazy beautiful.

 Smile in the produce aisle

I am a big fan of Eataly NY  and Eataly Milan Smeraldo’s huge 3 story space was even more impressive than the NYC Eataly.


 Salumi, spec, and other assorted meats

I’m not sure what Los Angeles and Seattle are both still devoid of an Eataly…

 Up in the salumi case at Eataly

In addition to the gorgeous food, Eataly offers classes so you can learn more about food you love, too (assuming you speak Italian).

 The insalata aisle at Eataly

There is fresh pasta section, gorgeous steak cases, a fabulous wine edit and loads of beautiful meat and salumi.

 The salumi guy

Batali’s rock and roll taste is not far from my own, and the music section of Eataly has a nice edit of cds and books.

 Left: The music edit at Eataly reflects Batali’s Seattle roots

Batali’s Seattle roots are evident in the books section, with titles about local musicians Duff McKagen of Guns N’ Roses and Kurt Cobain.

A stylish shopper at Eataly

There is even a performance space and schedule of live music which shows how serious Eataly is about their community. If you’re in the area and haven’t had the Eataly experience, it’s well worth popping in for a browse or a meal right on premises.

 Eataly Milan Smaraldo Exterior

Eataly Milano Smeraldo
LUN – DOM: dalle 10.00 alle 24.00
Piazza XXV Aprile, 10 – 20121 Milano
+39 02 49497301

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Where to Eat in Monterey County: The Choke Coach in Castroville, California

Famed Castroville Artichokes

No Central California road trip would be complete without stopping at a local joint for some of it’s famed produce. Head to Gilroy for all things garlic (garlic wine, anyone?), but if it’s artichokes you’re after be sure to stop in Castroville, aka “the Artichoke Capital of the World.”

Artichoke Pesto and other specialties at Pezzini Farms

I recently stopped at The Choke Coach, which features farm to food truck seasonal fare. Located in the parking lot at Pezzini Farms, The Choke Coach serves the local specialty, artichokes, prepared several different ways.

Who wants an artichoke Po’ Boy?

The French Fried artichokes ($6) are always a crowd pleaser, but there are some more unique artichoke offerings on the menu as well. There’s an Artichoke Po’ Boy sandwich for $5.50, a fried artichoke wrap sandwich ($6), and a shockingly good bratwurst.

Monterey County artichokes at Pezzini Farms

My favorite preparation was the grilled artichoke served with garlic dijon and lemon dill dipping sauce. It took a while for the friendly folks at the Choke Coach to prepare, but arrived at my table with a nice char on it. The house made dipping sauces– including Garlic Dijon and Lemon Dill aioli, were flavorful.

The grilled artichoke from the Choke Coach had a nice smokiness to it

Heirloom Green Globe Artichokes at Pezzini Farms

While waiting for my food, I strolled inside Pezzini Farms to find lots of gorgeous local produce, including bargain artichokes and the dipping sauces available for purchase. There was other seasonal produce as well… including a ton of pumpkins.

Pumpkins are party of the bounty of produce at Pezzini Farms

Should you find yourself looking for a casual place to taste some of the local fare, The Choke Coach at Pezzini farms is definitely worth a stop.

The Choke Coach is located at:

Pezzini Farms

460 Nashua Road (Just off HWY 1),

Castroville, CA  95012

Phone:(831) 757-7434

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San Gimignano: Visiting Tuscany’s “Medieval Manhattan”

Blue skies and medieval architecture

If you’re looking for things to do in Florence, Italy, consider a day trip to the town of San Gimignano, which is known as Tuscany’s “Medieval Manhattan.” Perched on the top of hill in the province of Siena, San Gimignano’s historic center has an impressive skyline of ancient stone towers that has earned it UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

Doors and windows in San Gimignano

The city has a quaint feel, and quite a bit of charm. Get there on a summer day when the streets are packed with tourists, and there is a strange EPCOT-y feel that is hard to escape.

Blue skies over “the Town of Fine Towers”

San Gimignano also has a Museo della Tortura (a medieval torture museum) and several Gelaterias claiming to serve the “World’s Best Gelato.” I can definitely recommend a scoop or three from Gelateria Dondoli.

Gelato hits the spot on a hot summer day

Left: strolling through San Gimignano Right: Great clouds in Tuscany

The town has plenty of shops offering local specialties like the locally made wine, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, and olive oil.

Olive Oil in a Boot

Tuscany is known for all things  porcine– so you can also purchase pork products like prosciutto, salami, and head cheese.

There was quite  bit of boar taxidermy in San Gmignano

Located 59 kilometers from Florence, San Gimignano is an easy drive if you have access to a car. It is also easily reached by bus. You can find directions on the San Gimignano’s informational website. Many tour companies offer tours of this scenic and charming town.

The gates to San Gimignano’s historic center

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In Praise of Montana’s Shoulder Season: A Stay at Ranch at Rock Creek

Big Blue Sky (and Zan) at the Ranch at Rock Creek in March

With Memorial Day behind us, we’re currently in the thick of summer travel plans (and the hassles that go along with them). I’ve got be honest– I much prefer shoulder season travel to summer. My husband and I don’t have children (or their various school schedules to take into account when making our vacation plans) and so many summer hot spots– including Montana– have benefits and charm that come with non-peak tourist season.

Scenes from Montana in March

When I got invited to visit the Ranch at Rock Creek in March I was really excited to visit one of my favorite summer destinations- Montana- during a time of the year I’d never been. And truth be told– I loved it. The Ranch at Rock Creek has a high staff to guest ratio and the personalized service couldn’t have been better.

Snow in March in Montana

While fun in the sun is what most people look for in a Spring Break destination, there’s something to be said for a little weather, too. There were true spring sunshine-y days, another filled with “wintry mix” but the evenings were cozy around the fire and all the families that were at the resort seemed to be having fun and enjoying braving the elements together.

This hot tub looked highly inviting on a sunny March morning in Montana

Left: Signage above the Ranch at Creek Right: Moose House

The interior of Sweet Grass Tent

March is probably not the best  time to sleep under canvas in Montana, but it’s a perfect time to stay in one of the Ranch’s private loghomes. We stayed in Cattail Cabin– a two bedroom cabin with two masters that works perfect for couples traveling together. In my case, my husband and I were in one room and my BFF, Zan, and her dog, Sally, stayed in the second master. We had a great time on our spring glamping adventure.

The lobby of the Granite Lodge

This was Zan’s first trip to Montana, and her first glamping adventure. She described it as, “when you go camping you’re miserable, but when you go glamping you have fun.” We definitely had fun. With the Silver Dollar Saloon, a three lane bowling alley and The Granite Spa on property we had a lot of options of where to hang out. Three days wasn’t nearly enough time to take advantage of all the other activities available.

Grilled cheese & tomato soup: perfect comfort food for March in Montana

I talked to many of the staff members during my stay at the resort, and they confessed that not all shoulder season is created equal. April seemed to be the least favorite month among the staff members I spoke to, mostly because the nearby Discovery Ski Area in Philipsburg is closed, and the weather isn’t predictable enough to be fully committed to outdoor activities. October seemed like a favorite month too.

Left: Pintler range kale salad Right: veggie burger for lunch

Any time of the year you visit the Ranch at Rock Creek you’ll be well fed. Chef Josh Drage uses a lot of local produce and protein for his daily menus. He told me he was thrilled that foodies got hip to kale since it grows like a weed in Montana. Between the fresh baked cookies and Missoula Mules (served in copper mugs), we were grateful there was a fitness center on property. Zan borrowed her yoga mat for the entire stay and used it in our cabin.

The Rock Creek Ranch Syrah was impressive

The Staff at the Rod & Gun Club had no problem helping us arrange activities– including sporting clays, which were fun and challenging. It was nice to take horseback ride on a snowy morning with cowboy Joe, a former rodeo star. I’m not sure I would have gotten to hear as many of his entertaining stories if my stay was during maximum occupancy.

Pool table in the Silver Dollar Saloon

Saddle Seats at the Silver Dollar Saloon

Bluebird Cabin Exterior

The Ranch at Rock Creek has a wide range of accommodations– from hotel rooms in the Granite Lodge to multi-bedroom homes that could sleep 10 people. There are also some canvas glamping tents available during the summer season. Cattail worked great for us, with a full kitchen, a cozy living room, two master baths (complete with chandeliers over the claw foot bath tubs) and a fireplace that was easy to light at night.

Zan and Sally touring a log cabin at the Ranch at Rock Creek

Detailed decor doesn’t let you forget where you are: Montana

The Bedroom of Trapper

Interior shots of the Rod & Gun Club

Sally didn’t mind that they didn’t have cowboy boots in her size

Left: Zan Goofing around inside Bluebird Cabin Right: Zan’s first time at Sporting Clays

Zan and Sally agree: March in Montana can be delightful

A snowy last morning outside the Granite Lodge

Farm Fresh scramble with organic spinach and Birdman toast

Left: Lemon Ricotta Pancakes were yum Right: An omelette with bison sausage

Pacific Northwest Steelhead Salmon, Beluga lentils and Fiddlehead ferns came as room service

After spending the day in Philipsburg, where we toured the local brewery and candy store, we were in a bit of sugar coma and feeling lazy about dinner… and were thinking about skipping it. But as a Relais & Chateaux property, The Ranch at Rock Creek doesn’t really let you get away with skipping meals.

Apple Crisp with Nutmeg Ice Cream

We asked for dinner to delivered to our cabin. It came room service style and while we swore we were only going to have a bite or three, it was delicious and hard to stop eating. Especially the apple crisp, served in personal sized cast iron skillet with homemade nutmeg ice cream.

Blue Sky and barn at the Ranch at Rock Creek

Left: Saddles in the tack Room Right: Zan and a stagecoach

Cowboy Joe getting horses ready for a ride

Since the Ranch wasn’t 100% booked, it was easy to get activities scheduled at our preferred times and personalized service. Cowboy Joe led us on a horseback ride near the river, and the gentle snowfall was nicely atmospheric.

Snowy ground cover made for an atmospheric horseback ride

Zan and can lead a horse to water and make it drink

Cattail Cabin’s fireplace at night.

You can read more  detailed trip reports of my stay at the Ranch at Rock Creek on the Blog:

First day at the Ranch at Rock Creek

First Night and Second Day at the Ranch at Rock Creek

Third Day at the Ranch at Rock Creek

Left: Night lights in Montana Right: Returning to Cattail Cabin after dark

Zan, a local jackalope, and me at the White Front Bar in Philipsburg

Rates in shoulder season are typically lower than peak summer season. At the Ranch at Rock Creek October rates start at $850.00 per person per night. All rates include full board with breakfast, lunch & dinner in the Granite Lodge and/or the Blue Canteen. Also included are all wines and drinks during meals from The Ranch wine list or in the Silver Dollar Saloon.

Rates include the following activities:

-Horseback riding: trail rides, arena lessons
-Fly fishing: Rock Creek & trout ponds
-Shooting: sporting clays/shotgun, rifle & pistol,
cowboy & skeet shooting
-Mountain Biking
-Little Grizzlies Kid’s Club
-Wildlife watching
-Stagecoach rides
-Outdoor swimming pool & hot tub
-Cross-Country skiing
-Ice fishing (upon availability)
-Ice Skating
-Snowcat Tours
-Entertainment in the Silver Dollar Saloon:
bowling, billiards, shuffleboard, movie cinema &
board games

The Ranch at Rock Creek
79 Carriage House Lane
Philipsburg, Montana 59858

Much thanks the staff at Ranch at Rock Creek for hosting my stay. Without them this post would not be possible.

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