Sometimes I have to wonder at all the splendour that surrounds me here in the Pacific Northwest. Where else in the continental states can you find sun, mountains, sea, and an abundance of luscious organic gourmet food?
A short ferry ride from the seaside town of Anacortes brings you to Orcas Island in the San Juans, home of many friendly folks, lots of sheep,
and more importantly, the best sorbet I have ever tasted.
Nestled amongst the quiet trees and waters of Doe Bay on Orcas Island, the Doe Bay Cafe caters to those who love local organic food at its finest. I had the pleasure of dining at this delightful spot with a friend who had done his online research well. We were on the island for a Leon Redbone concert, and wanted somewhere to eat that had organic, island-grown and above all, delicious food. We found an exact match in Chef Abigael Birrell. This lady knows her audience wants and delivers above and beyond. Talented, experienced, and creative, Chef Birrell has built an excellent and well-deserved reputation for herself.
The restaurant itself is unassuming from the outside, hidden away at the back of the Doe Bay Resort’s front office. Walking down the lovely path marked by colorful hexagonal tiles, my friend and I joked that we might be overdressed for our surroundings, but we soon found that our attire was well suited to the open and rustically elegant atmosphere. Plenty of cedar, many paned windows with beautiful views of the bay, fresh-cut flowers and a knowledgeable staff made us feel right at home.
A very friendly, efficient young woman named Kelly showed us to our table overlooking a lovely little cove and left us to peruse the menu. She returned quickly to bring us an amuse bouche (indeed, for two) of a Mediterranean ajvar with rosemary crackers,
and to recommend her favorite wine, a 2007 Penner Ash Viognier. I’m not generally a fan of white wines unless they’re dessert wines, but we requested a second bottle of this one to take home with us. This viognier was smooth, a good balance between sweet and dry, and went perfectly with our cheese plate. Oh, the cheesiness!
I must confess, I’m a fairly brand loyal cheese fanatic. Show me a good gouda or brie and I’m likely to remain devoted to that creamery for life. However, I am always eager to discover a new dairy, so I was joyous that our appetizer cheese plate arrived with nothing that I recognized. There was a sterling (locally made) herbed chevre, which paired delightfully with the thinly sliced apples, a PortTownsend Seastack, from Mt. Townsend Creamery, a buttery flavoured cheese which complimented the homemade quince paste and crostini. There was also a very good soft-ripened cheese which I unfortunately cannot find the name of, but it matched what I am guessed to be some kind of balsamic reduction as well as the very tasty Marconi almonds. Seeing the attention they paid to their cheese plate got me even more excited for the main course, and we were not disappointed.
My friend had ordered a dish of sea scallops with local vegetables and capellini pasta. We were curious to see what kind of herbs they would pair with scallops. It turns out that fresh basil from the restaurant’s garden and succulent arrugula make a consummate pairing. Topped with the delicately browned scallops, roasted red pepper and button mushrooms, paper thin radishes, and a light creamy sauce, the proportions of flavour with the capellini were well-balanced and amazing.
I fared as well or better with my Island Harvest Bowl. I chose udon noodles with a sesame ginger sauce to customize my dish, and was quite pleased with my selection. The sheer variety of vegetables made the dish, with perfectly steamed carrots, parsnips, cauliflower, green beans, and celery. It has been a long time since I have had vegetables that well prepared. They were not too crunchy, not too soft, just the right resistance to the bite. (I daresay they were al dente!) Completing the dish was a tuft of fresh and springy pea vines and a sprinkling of black sesame seeds.
We pushed our full plates to the side to take some home for later, (the café gives generous portions), and requested the dessert menu. Kelly animatedly informed us that the chef had prepared a special dessert for our evening, a baklava with Lopez Island vanilla bean ice cream and lemon-scented honey. I think perhaps the lemon scent was overpowered by the warm cinnamon and walnuts and crisp phyllo, but it wasn’t much missed in wealth of the overall flavour.
I did manage to save the best for last. I would willingly part with my last bottle of my aunt’s homebrewed root beer to have a lifetime supply of the Café’s Blackberry Cabernet sorbet. I lingered over the perfect ripe taste of blackberries mellowed by the rich body of the wine, and jealously guarded my glass from my dining partner, allowing him only one bite and pointedly ignoring all his hints that we trade dishes. Alas, the tiny bites could not last, and I all but licked the glass clean, dignity at this point lost to the exclamations of rapture.