The Gray Lady Loves the San Juan Islands, Restaurants

Allium Restaurant Dessert.jpg
Allium Facebook page
Midnight chocolate in cacao nibs at Allium.
Historically, the San Juan Islands have been synonymous with whale-watching tours, kayaking, and illegally trying to sneak into Canada (oh, wait, that last one's just me).

Now, thanks to The New York Times' interest in the area--the Islands were listed as one of the 41 Places to Visit in 2011 and Willows Inn on Lummi in Whatcom County made the cut of 10 Restaurants Worth a Plane Ride--the San Juans (and surrounding area) are seemingly the hottest new place to chow down in the PNW.

You've probably heard about Allium on Orcas, opened by Keller/Herbfarm-trained chef, Lisa Nakamura. Since its opening last summer, Seattleites have flocked en masse to partake in the seasonal cuisine offered by the well-traveled Nakamura--and they haven't been disappointed.

Also focusing on seasonal Skagit Valley ingredients at Willows Inn on Lummi Island is 24-year-old chef Blaine Wetzel. Wetzel, an Arizona culinary grad, worked in Copenhagen at Noma, recently named the best restaurant in the world in 2010 by S. Pellegrino, before coming to Willows. Flying under the world radar until the Times busted this PNW secret, I have a feeling Wetzel is about to be a very busy young man.

To illustrate my point, I turn to a Rue La La case study. When the local version of the invite-only site, RueSeattle, ran a deal on Friday for a one-night stay at Willows--complete with a five-course tasting-menu dinner plus a breakfast for two--for $175 (regularly a $295 value), the site broke records with the number of sales. I say you'd be wise to book your reservations for the year now.

In the same vein, I've heard (according to Rue La La consultant Lorna Yee's Twitter account) that Allium will run a deal on the site in late January/early February.

So what does this all mean? For one, expect the ferries to be a bit more crowded with gastronomes this year. On a more serious note, though, I'm concerned with the ongoing preservation of the San Juans as tourist numbers continue to grow.

While it's all fine and good to support local food and culinary sustainability efforts, I wonder if the organizations tasked with protecting the pristine islands and wildlife are capable of dealing with the inevitable swell of visitor traffic. As we all know, tourists aren't always the most considerate type of guest--and I'm worried the increased foot traffic might wreak havoc on the beauty and magic of the area.

 
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