Equally relaxed is the Duck Soup Inn on San Juan Island. This tucked-away restaurant makes the most of regional favorites, many grown just steps away from the kitchen door. Chef/owner Gretchen Allison has packed her kitchen garden with herbs, flowers, fruits and other items that star on her menu. Signature applewood smoked Westcott Bay oysters make a good use of the briny bivalve from the other side of the island. Allison completed an artisan bread course at the San Francisco Baking Institute this winter during the restaurant seasonal closure, so you can just follow the aroma of fresh-made bread to an island treasure.
“To Heaven by Ferry Boat”
Over on San Juan Island, my recommendation is to try the local Westcott Bay oysters at the Duck Soup Inn. Chef and owner Gretchen Allison lightly smokes them with applewood and presents them hot with a sauce based on what is in season. Although the oysters are popular, it is appropriate, considering Allisons stints at restaurants in California and Hawaii, that her menu has a focus more international than strictly northwest. “It often ends up being northwest since I use local products,” she said. “But, to keep it fresh and interesting, I try to pull in many cuisines from around the world.” While waiting for my Sri Lankan prawns with chilies, dates, lime, and dried mango, I noted that when it comes to wine, Allison favors the regional over the international. And, I have to admit that the Evesham Wood Pinot Noir 91, was not only excellent but helped me realize that the painting over my table was not an abstract work, but rather a still life of the first chainsaw on the island.
“The San Juan Islands”
The Duck Soup Inn, five miles north of Friday Harbor on Roche Harbor Road, is one of the best restaurants on the island and a romantic spot for dinner, with a warm, wood interior subtly lit by hurricane sconces. Among its many excellent offerings were a creamy tomato and black bean soup seasoned with cumin and hot chili, and “vindaloo” clams cooked in wine with garlic, tomatoes, and basil.
“The Greening of San Juan Island”
The appeal of as-fresh-as-it-gets food is hardly new at Duck Soup Inn. Chef Allison has for years relied on produce from her personal orchard and garden near her West Side home.
As she clips herbs and picks strawberries in her garden, Allison excitedly tells me about her new food find: sea kelp, which she hand-harvests, dries, and uses to encrust finfish and scallops.
“We collect the kelp and other seaweeds each spring [from the rocks near False Bay] and wash it off, cut it into smaller sizes, and put it into a dehydrator,” Allison explains. “Then we run the dried kelp through a hand-crank mill, and put it in an electric spice grinder to pulverize it. It’s a fun process.”
Allison also enjoys having goat cheese on her seasonal menus. And she especially loves that the island has its own farmstead goat cheese maker, Layne Sundberg. “Her chevre is wonderful. She’s been perfecting it for a long time,” Allison says.
Sundberg, who does business under the name “Qyail Croft,” produces fresh chevre and a mold-ripened aged goat cheese with a marvelously bloomy rind, made from the milk of Saanen goats. “I believe their milk makes the best goat cheese, and they are such sweet goats, not as ornery as some of the other breeds,” Sundberg says while watching her well-behaved white flock at her small farm overlooking Griffin Bay.
“An Explorers Long Weekend in the San Juan Islands, “May 2010
The best dining choice, Duck Soup Inn, shines with it’s grilled kelp-dusted Alaska sea scallops, it’s applewood-smoked local oysters, and an exemplary fresh corn souffle’
“…Fodor’s Choice selections recognize the top experiences that we’ve found while traveling the world. These places are the ‘best of the best’… For an unforgettable experience every time you travel, look for the orange stars that indicate Fodor’s Choice recommendations…”
Fodor’s Review: “Blossoming vines thread over the cedar-shingled walls of this restaurant next to pristine pond views. Inside, island-inspired paintings and a flagstone fireplace are the background for creative meals served at comfortable booths. Everything is made from scratch daily, including sourdough bruschetta and ice cream. You might start with twice-baked corn soufflé, or perhaps coconut-crusted calamari. For a second course, consider fish piccatal or wild blackberry prawns. Vegetarian options and child portions are available. Northwest, California, and European wines are also on hand. Hint: If you like what you taste—and who doesn’t?—the owner-chef offers hands-on cooking classes.”