Posts Tagged ‘restaurant review’

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

Email: reservations@willows-inn.com

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Is the 320 € Vegetable Tasting Menu at Arpège Paris Worth It?

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 The colorful amuse bouche

After seeing chef Alain Passard’s Arpège, a three Michelin star restaurant in Paris, featured on the PBS show I’ll Have What Phil is Having, I was curious. Is it possible to make a truly spectacular vegetarian meal that justifies the 320 € set price for a tasting menu that only uses seasonal produce?

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Beetroot sushi flowered with geranium and Kalamata black olive

Fortunately my husband and a few of my foodie friends were alway interested in finding out. We booked a reservation and went to Paris to check it out for ourselves.

One thing I despise is how at some fine dining restaurants in Europe the woman is handed a menu devoid of prices. I was disappointed that Arpège, which is so groundbreaking on so many levels, went the “women don’t get to read the prices” route. Not only is this sexist, but it left me out of the conversation about some of the other items on the menu (such as the Aiguillettes of Chausey Lobster lobster for 165 €) which was a bummer, and misguided since I was only blogger at the table.

But I quickly got over the menu slight as soon as the amuse bouche arrived to brighten up the monochromatic table at the restaurant. They were vibrant, delicious and highly refined. I was convinced Chef Alain Passard was onto something with this Spring in the Garden menu. The staff which was so friendly I think they would have happily handed me the menu with the prices if I had asked.

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Mesclun with hazelnut praline Mibuna, mizuna, choho…

The first course, beetroot sushi flowered with geranium and Kalamata black olive, was perhaps the most memorable of the evening. It was creative yet sublime and highly flavorful. The beet was as silky as sashimi and the velvety olives were a nice contrast to the rice.

Next up was course was a mesclun salad with hazelnut praline Mibuna. While this was one of the more basic looking dishes, it was definitely next level because of how flavorful it was and it’s lovely combination of textures.

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Fine multicolored vegetable ravioli vegetable consommé

I’m not much of a cook, but my friend, Felix, is. He tried to place the flavors in the third course, the fine multicolored vegetable ravioli in vegetable consommé. The broth had some umami earthiness that he attributed to mushrooms. The ravioli had a nice bite as well.

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White asparagus from the Sarthe region with olive oil and Timut pepper

The fourth course in the tasting menu was white asparagus from the Sarthe region served with olive oil and Timut pepper from Nepal. This was perhaps the most straightforward of the courses served yet still delicious. I like perfectly prepared asparagus, and this course worked in a traditionally refined fashion.

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Louise Passard’s “Parmentier” with kasha grains

On to the next course, which as described as “Louise Passard’s ‘Parmentier’ made with kasha grain.” I found this to be the least memorable course. While it was good- everything was good- I think the wine pairings were starting to catch up with me at this point and I was getting a bit full.

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Palco spinach with hazelnut butter and laurel butter

Next up was Palco spinach with hazelnut and laurel butter. This course looked a bit like baby food but boasted bold and sophisticated flavors.

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Vol-au-vent with Côtes du Jura wine, peas, turnip, and mangetout peas

The next course, a puff pastry vol-au-vent with Côtes du Jura wine, peas, turnip, and mangetout peas was perhaps the most beautiful of the evening. The perfectly froth and vibrant greens stood out and the puff pastry was both delicate and satisfying. This course left clean plates all around.

Spring cabbage stuffed with nettle leaves and fresh thermidrome garlic

The eighth course was spring cabbage stuffed with nettle leaves and fresh thermidrome garlic. This visually resembled the beautiful previous course and was perfectly seasoned, yet not as memorable as the previous course. I think the puff pastry added that magical French carb factor.

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Arlequin Jardinière with Argan oil, young carrot, kohlrabi, Selma fennel

I was getting uncomfortably full by the time the ninth course arrived. It was artful, colorful and delightfully complicated Arlequin Jardinière with Argan oil, young carrot, kohlrabi, and Selma fennel. This was satisfying to my eyes as well as my taste buds.

Garlic crème brûlée with candied lemon

Portions were appropriately sized for a tasting menu, but I decided to bow out of the first dessert course, a garlic crème brûlée with candied lemon. I’m never a fan of the texture of crème brûlée and was losing steam. My friend, Thomas, said this was “the best crème brûlée I’ve ever had.” This is saying a lot as Thomas is seriously well-traveled foodie. Maybe I’ll save room next time.

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Crispy millefeuille with candied rhubarb garden angelica

The next course was also sweet, a delicate and crispy millefeuille with candied rhubarb garden angelica. It was delicate but not as memorable or as visually appealing as the savory and umami courses.

I was fully tasted out so the final course, a post-dessert of sweets including macarons, biscuits and caramel. This is the point in the meal where I always seem to forget these epic meals come with multi-course desserts. To me it seemed like overkill but I lack a sweet tooth and never require multiple desserts. I forgot to photograph it.

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Chef Alain Passard came to greet us after our meal (photo credit: Felix Kam-Chung)

After our meal Chef Alain Passard came out to greet us and he is charming and truly an artist. So was the 320 € Spring in the Garden vegetable tasting menu worth it? For me it was a firm “yes”, as much for the experience for the food. It was definitely eye opening to see how creative and refined a vegetarian meal can be. I would order the beetroot sushi and vol-au-vent again if they were available a la carte. When the bill arrived we all agreed we were glad we came.

2016 is the 30th anniversary of the restaurant and there is much to celebrate at Arpege. But you don’t need to bring a jacket to celebrate. Arpege breaks almost all the rules and there is no dress code, not that anyone showed up in jeans and a t-shirt. It’s lovely and upscale but not in the least bit stuffy. The service was friendly and vegetarian tasting menu justified the 360 Euro price of entry. I can’t eat epic meals like this often and I’d like to return to Arpege in another season to see how chef Alain Passard masterfully handles winter vegetables or perhaps check out the 165 € lobster from the a la carte menu. Now if I can only get a menu with the prices on it….

Arpège Restaurant

84, Rue de Varenne
75007 Paris
+ 33 (0)1 47 05 09 06

The Restaurant is open
from Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner

No valet parking.

Reservations : arpege.passard@wanadoo.fr or online via web-site booking form.

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Mexican Food in GIFs: Dining at Las Alamandas Jalisco, Mexico

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The shrimp tacos became a daily must have at Las Alamandas

My recent trip to Mexico involved my first visit to Jalisco’s Costalegre, where my husband and I stayed at Las Alamandas. We’re both fans of good Mexican food and arrived hungry and ready to eat a late lunch at La Palapa Beach Club.

Shrimp Tacos

 Shrimp tacos GIF

We were quickly served our first round of excellent (and inexpensive) margaritas and were very surprised when we saw the menu and found very little Mexican food on it. Instead selections included dishes like Asian shrimp and pasta. Who comes to Mexico to eat Asian shrimp? We asked our waiter to speak to the chef and Head Chef Alejandro Morales quickly arrived to chat with us.

Gazpacho

Gazpacho GIF 

Chef Alex (as he’s called) was very friendly and had no problem letting us order off the menu. He prepared chicken enchiladas, shrimp tacos, and guacamole for us. He even honored my request for no raw onions and the dishes were all muy delicioso. We continued to order off the menu for the rest of the trip, and Chef Alex had no problem serving whatever we asked for.

Huevos Rancheros

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The breakfast menu featured many more Mexican specialities– eggs a la Mexicana, Eggs Machacha with dried beef, onion and poblano chile. Chilaquiles were on the menu as well as what became our go-to favorite, the Huevos Rancheros, served with either red salsa or green. The green salsa was outstanding and Chef Alex remembered our preferences.

Fresh Fruit

Tropical fruit platter with Mexican lime GIF

The breakfast menu also had a host of other non-Mexican options, including organic oatmeal, muesli with coconut milk, French toast, pancakes and waffles.

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Coffee con leche with a hammock at La Palapa Beach club

The coffee was tasty and the views of the pacific from La Palapa were a great way to start the day. The space is beautiful and also includes a lovely hammock should you wish to hang out while you’re digesting.

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Top notch margaritas for $6 US at Las Alamandas

I don’t think the menu at Las Alamandas would work for serious foodies who are looking to explore the vibrant and happening Mexican food scene. Chef Alex had no problem accommodating all our requests, which is great since the resort is so private and isolated that there are not a lot of other options for dining nearby.

Las Alamandas Resort
Carretera Federal 200 km 83.5
Costalegre, Jalisco, Mexico

Toll Free US: 1888 882 9616
Toll Free Mexico: 1800 8366640
Tel 52 322 285 5500

info@alamandas.com

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Where To Go For Sunday Roast in London: The Ship

 

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Pork Roast for Sunday at The Ship

I was recently in London and made plans to get together with expat friends on a Sunday. They suggested we meet at The Ship in Wandsworth for Sunday Roast. My friends are foodies and we’ve never shared a bad meal. I’m always game to try something new, and I was excited to head to a new area of Southwest London I had not yet explored.

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Yorkshire Pudding on top of the pork roast

Sunday Roast wasn’t a tradition I was familiar with, but it sounded fun and tasty. I learned that going out to a pub for Sunday Roast is a thing for Brits. It’s like brunch is to Americans, only with more meat and beer instead of mimosas. The Ship had a few different roasts to choose from– chicken, pork and beef.

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The Ship is also known for their excellent Scotch Eggs

We started the meal with a few Scotch Eggs ((£4.25), which are a pub favorite of mine and they were delicious. When our roasts showed up, we were all surprised by the amount of food. Portions are more than generous. Sunday roast is served with the traditional trimmings- mashed potatoes, vegetables, and topped with traditional Yorkshire pudding. I had the pork roast and my husband went for the beef. We swapped halfway through and gave our thumbs up to both versions.

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We split sticky toffee pudding for dessert

Our friend insisted we finish the meal with sticky toffee pudding. It was drenched in toffee sauce which had a lovely caramelized burn and was served with prune ice cream. One order was enough for all four of us to share.

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The bar at The Ship 

The Ship has a great location along the Thames in an area of London I have never explored before. There is a lovely riverside patio that I’d like to visit again when the weather is warmer.

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The exterior of The Ship Wandsworth

Pork and chicken roasts cost £14.50, beef roast £16.00. The Sunday Roast experience at The Ship in Wandsworth was a great introduction to the tradition. The generous portions, atmosphere, and overall goodness of the meal was also a good value for money.

The Ship
41 Jews Row, Wandsworth
London. SW18 1TB
T: 020 8870 9667
E: ship@youngs.co.uk

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Where to Eat in Melbourne, Australia: Cicciolina Restaurant and Back Bar, St. Kilda

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Cicciolina has a great lunch special: Pasta of the day + a glass of Wine for A$29.50

One of my favorite things about visiting St. Kilda is checking out the ever-changing restaurant scene. On my recent trip, I decided to try Cicciolina Restaurant and Back Bar. According to the restaurant’s own website, Cicciolina’s has been a “St. Kilda Institution since 1993.” Despite Cicciolina’s long running presence in the area, the restaurant was still new to me.

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Art filled walls and mid-century touches add to Cicciolina’s funky vibe

I liked the restaurant’s mid-century modern space and art-filled walls. I was a bit surprised that an Italian restaurant had limited pasta options, but it all worked out in the end. The Special Pasta of the Day, featured ribbons of pasta topped with tomato sauce, basil topped with a light dollop of mascarpone cheese and garnished with shaved almonds, was rather delightful. My husband and I swapped pastas halfway through the meal.

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Tubetti all’Amatriciana – guanciale, bacon, tomato and oregano ragu (A$29.50 )

Non-pasta eaters will appreciate the fresh seafood options marked up on the chalk board like wild barramundi filet and kingfish carpaccio. The standout deal was the Monday to Friday Pasta + Wine Special for  A$29.50, which is available from 12-6pm. My husband got that I helped myself to his Little Angel Sauvignon Blanc 2013. It made for a delightful lunch.

The Cicciolina menu also had gluten free dishes available, including some gluten free pastas, and an extensive wine list. My biggest complaint about Cicciolina is that the bathroom is extremely difficult to find, even after getting instructions.

Cicciolina

130 Acland Street
St Kilda, Victoria3182

Australia

T: 03 9525 3333
F: 03 9525 3397

E: cicciolina@netspace.net.au

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