We’ve written about Allium on Orcas before. It’s one of our favorite restaurants. But it’s been a while, both since we’ve mentioned them and since we’d been there, so this past weekend we took a quick little overnight trip to visit. Chef Nakamura and Pastry Chef Anna Harlow are two of the most talented chefs we know, and as an added bonus, they’re also wonderful women that we’re proud to know outside of Allium.
Allium is known for their delicious seasonal fare, and while we had a dessert so local it used rose petals from downstairs when we went there over the summer, it’s still possible to cook delicious seasonal fare during the not-so-warm months of the year. Please enjoy our pictorial review of Allium on Orcas and then go there, soon. They are already booked up for many summer weekends, so take a day off of work on a random Thursday, catch the ferry out of Anacortes, and have a delicious dinner overlooking the water.
Dinner at Allium – April 24, 2011
We started the night off with a round of drinks – an Gin Martini for John and a Lemon Drop with vanilla vodka for me. Now here’s another way that Allium excels (besides food). After we ordered our drinks, John had to run back to the hotel across the street for something. Our server noticed and kept his drink in the freezer until he returned. What service!
Next, we had the smoked salmon roll. These were delightful. There’s a slim slice of lime in each one and while few restaurants serve citrus with the rind and all, it can really be delightful in a dish. These were so light and crisp that we probably could have eaten another four or five of them easily.
Anna, Allium’s Pastry Chef, is a biscuit genius. The flaky, buttery layers pull apart with the barest touch, and I think they are one of the best bites of bread I’ve ever had. I felt the same way when we had these biscuits back in July. They come with butter and what I call perfection in a ramekin – a bit of caramelized onion jam. I could eat that jam with a spoon, and probably would have if there had been a spoon on the table at the time.
Next up, we had the pear and goat cheese tart. The pears are poached in wine and the goat cheese is baked into the crust. The tart crust is a delightfully flaky, crunchy, and cheesy. Goat cheese has that tang that blends so well with the sweet pears. The tart was accompanied by some simple greens.
Gnocchi is one of Chef Nakamura’s signature dishes. I’ve tried to duplicate it, even using the recipe she taught in her class at Dish it Up, and I’ve failed miserably. Oh certainly my gnocchi were edible. I’d even go so far as to call them good, but when you pair them up against these gnocchi, there’s no comparison. Lisa’s gnocchi are pillowy soft, creamy, and rich. I could eat this dish just about every day I think and not get bored with it. It’s just that good.
Duck is one of those foods I don’t often eat. It’s expensive at the markets, and while we’ve cooked it before, we normally stick to the “chipper chicken” (sorry… I grew up watching Father of the Bride a few too many times…). But I love duck. It’s usually served on the rare side, which is a challenge for me. I’ve always liked my poultry cooked through. I’m learning to love duck seared though. My brain thinks it’s going to be tough or chewy, but it’s not. Cooked properly it’s just as tender as a piece of fowl cooked in the crock pot. The asparagus was some of the most tender I’ve had.
Finally, we got to try an off-the-menu dish: lamb neck empanadas. Chef Nakamura is planning on making these for the Art of Dining auction on Thursday, April 28, 2011. We got to be guinea pigs for this dish and wow. Now usually when I think of empanadas, I think of more of a wonton type dough, flour based, sort of stretchy, occasionally crispy. This dough was cornmeal based. It melted in my mouth. Many people (chefs included) ignore the neck as a viable source of protein. No, there isn’t a lot of meat on a lamb neck, but when filling an empanada, you don’t need a lot of meat. This nose-to-tail philosophy is what we need more of in all restaurant cooking. Will lamb neck dishes ever be as popular as a beef tenderloin? I don’t know. But give me your average beef tenderloin in another restaurant compared to these empanadas, and I’m going to pick the empanadas every day of the week and twice on Sunday. (Hey there! Another movie quote! A Few Good Men! I’m on a roll!)
We had two desserts, and I’ll apologize in advance for the fact that a) we’ve only got photos of one of them and b) I can’t remember exactly what they were. This was a warm fruit crisp, lightly dusted with powdered sugar. The other dessert was a merengue drizzled with caramel sauce, and floating in a creme anglaise. Both were excellent. I’d order both again in a heartbeat. But at the end of a very full meal, with plenty of wine, good conversation, and a perfect view, I just can’t say any more.
So go to Allium. Please. It’s a little bit of a trek to get there, but really, on a weekday, you can easily get there from Seattle in just about two and a half hours. If you want to go on a weekend, make sure and call ahead first. Orcas Island is becoming a very popular summer destination, and I’ve heard that many of the hotels are already booked for most of the weekends over the summer and of course, restaurants are following along quickly. Some of the most popular nights at Allium over the summer are already nearing full capacity. The good news is that they are also open for brunch on weekends and lunches many days during the week in the summer, so you’re not limited to dinner alone. Check their website for full hours and contact information.
Oh, and as a tease… after we had such a delightful meal, we cooked fried pizzas for the staff at Allium. What’s a fried pizza you ask? Well, it’s an old family recipe that I’ll share with you very soon.
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