Allium on Orcas

August 17th, 2010 by Dawn

It turns out that, yes, it is entirely possible to spend just 24 hours in the San Juan Islands and feel like you’ve had a grand getaway.  At least it felt like this to us, parents with some unexpected vacation time and a babysitter for one night.  We considered a whirlwind food trip to Portland, or maybe a nearby overnight to Whidbey.  But we realized that a journey to Orcas Island takes as much time as a trip to Portland, and spending an hour on one of the most beautiful ferry rides in Washington state is infinitely better than time spent in I-5 traffic.

Orcas Island fire hydrant
A fire hydrant in the town of Eastsound, on Orcas Island.

Complete the picture with an evening at Lisa Nakamura’s new restaurant Allium.  Add sunshine blue skies, while Seattleites are complaining about rain ruining their Independence Day weekend (the San Juan Islands are in the rain shadow, after all), and you have the perfect start to a summer holiday weekend.

Islanders were saddened when their beloved Christina’s Restaurant closed in March after 30 years in business.  Lisa, then chef de cuisine at The Herbfarm, heard that the space was available.  She had already been dreaming of opening her own place, so two months later, Allium was born.

Daisies; the stairs leading up to the restaurant; Allium’s entrance next to Fishing Bay, in the center of Eastsound.

Bubbly, in celebration of this mom and dad’s first night away since baby was born!; the bar at Allium; the daily gnocchi, with Lopez Island beef tongue.

We walked in and settled ourselves into our reserved table overlooking Fishing Bay.  While we hadn’t had a bite of food yet, it took us about ten seconds looking at the menu to decide that there was no way we were leaving the island without a return visit to Allium the next day.  With just a day on the island, this would mean lunch before heading out on the ferry home.  Luckily, since the gnocchi is a mainstay on the menu (with an ever-changing daily preparation), I could set aside my gnocchi craving for the moment and focus on the rest of the menu.

We instead shared a refreshing fresh pea soup livened with flecks of dill, along with Oregon blue cheese brioche “pizza” with bacon and mango relish.  I wanted about five plates more of that brioche, but really, it was just the right size (as states Keller’s law of diminishing returns).

Did I mention the bread basket?  The flaky, warm buttery biscuits and herbed focaccia alone are worth the trip to the island.  Since the bread stands nicely on its own, the accompanying caramelized onion marmalade almost seems superfluous.  Until you taste it.  I was tempted to eat this marmalade straight out my spoon.  Ok, I might have done just that.

Coq au vin leg and roasted breast with smashed potato cakes; blue cheese brioche “pizza” with bacon and mango relish; inside the entrance to Allium.

Our entrees arrived next.  Let me preface this by saying I don’t typically order chicken at restaurants.  First, chicken is one of the easiest things to prepare at home, so why order in a restaurant?  Isn’t it a bit boring?  And second, I’m simply not a fan of chicken.  But I found myself cajoling Eric (who ironically loves chicken) into ordering it since our trusted friends Michael and Robin told us it’s amazing.

Indeed.  The coq au vin leg is served with a roasted breast, alongside smashed potato cakes and spring onions.  Remember what I said about not liking chicken much?  Can I just say this is hands down the best chicken I have ever eaten?

Our waitress had swayed us toward the Alaskan halibut in red curry cream when we couldn’t decide between that and the salmon (with morel cream!).  Her advice was well taken.  Not only was the fish perfectly moist and delicious with the curry, but the accompanying ginger risotto cakes were stellar.  I loved the crispy bits of rice on the edges, and the ginger complemented the curry nicely.

Beef goulash with sage spaetzel; the cheery dining room; a peek into the kitchen, with Lisa hard at work.

Flowers along the road; twice-cooked pork shoulder sandwich with pickled onions; a white picket fence in Eastsound.

I hesitated when I heard the dessert special was shortcake.  Still remembering the amazing shortcake I’d eaten the week before, I was craving shortcake.  But I knew it couldn’t match up to Rowley’s version.  It was a close second in my book, however, with first-of-season local strawberries and a thick strawberry sauce underneath, intensifying their flavor.

Chocolate puddin’ cake with Bourbon sauce was gooey and rich, like a brownie with pudding inside, a perfect dessert for chocolate lovers.

Angel food cake with a Nootka rose-strawberry Bavarian cream; Chocolate puddin’ cake with Bourbon sauce; outside on the deck.

Did you think we were done?  For that night, yes, but we were already thinking about lunch as we left.

The deck is a lovely place to sit for lunch.  Overlooking the water, with a cool breeze, there are sunny seats for those who want to soak it in, and plenty of umbrella shade for the others.  Bartender Paula suggested we start with her daily special cocktail, a Mojito made with Malibu rum and well-paired with the sunshine.

We first split the gnocchi with Lopez Island beef tongue and truffle oil.  Soft pillows of potato and a rich sauce?  This was exactly as my taste-craving imagined.  The plate went back to the kitchen without a speck of sauce after we’d sopped it up with the house made focaccia.

The twice-cooked pork shoulder sandwich came with pickled onions.  While I loved the tenderness of the meat, I wished that the onions weren’t together on one side of the sandwich, since they were not well-integrated with each bite of pork.  A small quibble, though.

A field of foxglove; Mango cheesecake semifreddo with orange Lilikoi; sunshine on Allium’s deck.

Ok, yes, it would be frowned on in Italy if you ordered gnocchi for your first course and pasta for your second course, but if I had it my way, I would order pasta for every course.  The spaetzel was done just the way it should be, with crunchy bits here and there and a toothsome chew to the noodle.  Lisa’s time at The Herbfarm was evident in this and a number of other dishes, with sage in the spaetzel and hints of dill in the beef goulash.

Being undecided on dessert, we ordered two.  You know, in the name of research and all.  Um.  Anyway…  The angel food cake featured the same local strawberries that graced the shortcake and came with a molded Bavarian cream made of Nootka rose petals picked down the street.  That and the mango cheesecake semifreddo disappeared all too quickly as we traded bites, scheming already about our next trip to Orcas.

A sweet ending
A sweet ending in celebration of July 4th arrived with the check.

310 Main St, Eastsound, WA
(360) 376-4904

Allium on Urbanspoon

12 Responses to “Allium on Orcas”

  1. Brooke says:

    Thank you for such a wonderfully detailed description of the food there. I have been wanting to go, but doubt I will make it over anytime soon and instead got to live vicariously through your meals there. Wonderful.

  2. Janna says:

    Hi Dawn,

    The photography and color were first to catch my eye. The composition and shots, from the fire hydrant to the check pop with life-like splashes of energy. Simply stunning.

    Lisa was thrilled that you and Eric chose to spend your first night away from Ian with Allium. Hope you three are well.

  3. Kathy says:

    We’re headed to Orcas on Monday. Can’t wait! Planning three meals at Allium …

  4. Lance says:

    What a terrific blog, and wonderful look at Allium on Orcas! I’m the Executive Director for the Orcas Island Chamber of Commmerce ( and the island is thrilled that Lisa chose to bring her superb culinary skills to Orcas.

    If you are interested in visiting Orcas Island, feel free to give me a call (360-376-2273) or email me at I’ll send out a Visitor Guide, or just answer your questions. Lance Evans

  5. Lisa says:

    Hi Dawn, Eric and Lance:

    Thank you so much for the kind words and endorsement. We will do our very best to uphold them.

    We sincerely appreciate the support the Orcas community, and the greater Seattle are community have given us.

    Thank you thank you thank you!


  6. DianasaurDishes says:

    Wow, I haven’t been to the San Jaun islands yet but your photos are making me itching to and take some photos myself. What a beautiful place! Looking forward to seeing you guys at IFBC again.

  7. Lara Alexander says:

    Really, no really, two nights ago, while brushing our teeth before bed, I told my husband that for my next birthday, our son will be old enough to leave him at grandma and grandpa’s house for a sleep over, and we should go to Orcas Island for our first no-baby get away and have dinner at Allium’s. Then I wrote about it on twitter. that is where you must have seen my idea. I am totally jealous.

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