Allium opened on Friday, May 28th and we visited on Saturday, May 29. With somewhat limited food options on the San Juan Islands, we jumped at the chance to eat at Lisa Nakamura’s new restaurant. Lisa’s trained in Seoul, Munich, Paris, and with Chef’s such as Gerard Pangaud, Thomas Keller, and David Kinch. (Our friend, Dawn passed along the news of the opening, a big thanks to to her).
The “Bite of Orcas” (a Wild Life benefit) happened to be scheduled on the same day as our visit to Orcas Island so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to snack on some local food, and we’d heard via Twitter, that Allium would be there serving up treats. Typically, I like to avoid these activities, because after a while I become overwhelmed with the crowds and the shoving for tiny morsels of food. However, since the population of Orcas is relatively small, we took full advantage of our numbers -3- Michael, my mom, and I. We had samplings of pretzel bread with braised pork, and onion marmalade, blackberry pie, clam chowder, wheatberry and rhubarb salad, and pomegranate ice tea.
I asked for reservations early (5 pm) at Allium so I could avoid a late ferry return to Friday Harbor. This proved wise because even on the second night of opening the restaurant was full by the time we left, at 7:00pm. We had a beautiful window view of the East Sound. For these first few evenings the restaurant lacked a liquor license (Michael referred to it as our “Mormon dinner”), but planned on having one later in the week (in fact, they have wine now). Michael and I ordered the Rosemary lemonade and my mom selected the Bellini temple (peach nectar with soda and ginger ale). Mom’s drink tasted almost as good as the real thing, I felt the lemonade tasted like a solid “lemonade.” I missed the rosemary but it definitely had the puckering tartness from the lemon zest. Normally I skip eating pre-dinner bread, but previously in the day I had a small taste of the pretzel bread and I knew I would need more. It was served with butter and a red onion marmalade. I could have ended the evening with only the pretzel bread and jam and been perfectly content. Allium’s pretzel bread has a hard crusty exterior with a soft doughy center. It tastes sweet, yet has small hints of sour and salty.
-Creamy Carrot Soup with julienne of radish and fresh cilantro: The word creamy does not truly speak to the smooth, buttery, and feather-like texture of the soup. Chef Nakamura must have really pureed the soup to create enough air to make the spices dance?
-Smoked Paprika Braised Pork Shoulder stuffed in mini soft flour tacos topped with mango rhubarb salsa and guacamole: Now that rhubarb is in season and if it is on the menu, I will order it for any or all courses. That being said, Chef Nakamura cleverly used the main ingredient in this dish for multiple dishes. (We had it in the pretzel sandwich at Bite of Orcas.) The taco was a refreshing balance with each bite, as the smoky braising liquid mixed with the sweet and tart salsa that oozed out onto my fingers.
-Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi, Yakima asparagus, drizzle of white truffle oil: Nothing is better than potato and truffle oil. It doesn’t matter if the potato is fried, roasted, or boiled….truffle oil makes everything better. The blanched asparagus cut through the gnocchi as it melted in the mouth.
-Open Ravioli with Forest Mushrooms, Black Dog Farms duck egg pasta, sage, Mt Townsend cirrus cheese: Take two strips of “lasagna width” sheets crossed like and “X,” fill with king oyster, shiitake, moussam, and morel mushrooms, sage, and cheese. Then, cross over the other sheets to make a square. It makes for a gooey, woody, earthy-herbaceous combination.
-Pan Roasted Alaskan Halibut, olive risotto, pickled kumquats: The saltiness in the olive risotto balances out the richness of the lightly roasted, yet moist Alaskan Halibut. I felt that the kumquats didn’t add the intended depth to the dish, but were nice addition for color. Roasted turnips were seemed a second thought to the dish as the vegetable.
-Half-a-Chicken Coq au Vin Leg, Roasted Breast smashed potatoes, spring onion medley: Yum! Yum! Yum!…is really all I can say. First off, there was both dark and light meat to dredge through the rich wine reduction sauce. Michael felt that the wine reduction brought out some sort of intense huckleberry components from the wine. Perfectly cooked onions and dense potatoes added the heft to the dish. One cannot go wrong with the Coq au Vin dish, but Chef Nakamura and team hit this one out of the island! The portion was huge and no way could I eat all it. I asked for the last portion to go. Unfortunately, I never received the to go box from the kitchen, and only until I was back at Friday Harbor did I realize this was the case. Sucks, because the next day I would have enjoyed the leftover chicken….
-Rhubarb Meringue Pie with candied citrus and whipped cream: The square pastry base was flaky and held the very tart rhubarb puree, egg whites, and sugar. The whipped cream spiraled to a point rising out of the center. The candied citrus added color dimension to the dish, but little flavor.
-Almond Pound Cake with strawberries, passion fruit, and mint syrup: The cake was dense and heavy but had strong notes of almond. Disappointingly strawberries are not quite in season, but often used in dishes too early this time of year. Cultivated strawberries can ruin a dish (these were bright white inside), not only on appearance, but also in taste.
-Not ordered but received: Chocolate Espresso Semifreddo bourbon sauce chantilly cream: Strong flavors of coffee wafted in the air from the semifreddo, but the bourbon sauce was the key to cutting through the sweetness of the chocolate. Michael had this with a french press of Local Goods coffee – called Peruvian Dark from the Matagalpa region of Nicaragua. Osa also mentioned that Local Goods is making Allium their own special blend, which will be fun to try on a future visit.
Osa Caudill (House manager and one of our servers), Chef Nakamura, and team produced an excellent evening with flavors that comforted our palettes, a fantastic view that you could spend hours staring at, and a wonderful friendliness that reaches across the islands. Do not pass up the opportunity to eat at allium. It is worth way more than the ferry ride to get there.
Click here for more photos from the San Juan weekend.
310 Main Street
Eastsound, WA 98245