Archive for the ‘Washington’ Category

24 Hours on Whidbey Island

January 8, 2012

The harbor at Coupeville, Whidbey Island

We needed to get away. After months of grey skies, the sun was shining and sweaters were finally shucked, but summer was quickly coming to an end. I was dreaming of an island getaway, something short and sweet and new. Somewhere we could smell the salt water and hear the clanging of buoys and eat from the sea. So on a cool but clear Friday morning, the last of the summer, we packed up the car and headed up I-5 to catch the Mukilteo Ferry to Whidbey Island.

From Seattle, Whidbey is the perfect quick getaway for a day, night, or weekend.  It’s nearby but feels like another, more relaxed world. There are a variety of outdoor activities from beachcombing to hiking to boating, and a surprising number of places to stay and tasty spots to eat. I was also excited about checking out the island’s thriving farm and gardening scene.

After a short hop up the highway and onto the ferry at Mukilteo (we thankfully got to the dock before the weekend crowds arrived and lines for the boats got long), and a quick trip across the Sound,  we arrived at the southern end of the island. From there it’s a 10-minute drive to Langley, where we stopped to get our bearings and poke around the shops on First Street.

One of my goals for our trip to Whidbey was to try as many of the local specialty Penn Cove mussels, from as many different sources and in as many preparations, as possible. I started my quest over a leisurely lunch on the sun-dappled deck at Prima Bistro, a recommendation from a food-loving co-worker, where we enjoyed mussels “a la mariniere” steamed with white wine, shallots, and garlic. These mussels were served in their own little cast iron pot, and the simple preparation allowed their fresh brininess to shine through.

Burrata and salmon rillettes plates at Prima Bistro in Langley

Fresh preparations seemed to be a hallmark at Prima, where we also enjoyed a flavorful and light wild salmon rillette and a toothsome and satisfying duck leg confit over lentils dressed with a bacon vinaigrette. The tomato, basil, and burrata plate could have been improved with riper, more flavoful tomatoes (even in this late-blooming summer, delicious heirloom varieties are ripe all over the region), but the burrata itself was elastic and creamy, set off nicely by a light drizzle of sea salt and balsamic vinegar.

Duck Leg Confit at Prima Bistro - delicious!

Full and feeling good from our lunch in the sun, we continued north up the spine of the island towards the Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens in Greenbank, where I had heard a big Labor Day sale was in progress. We’ve got a beautiful pink rhody right in front of the house and thought it might be fun to get another one to go with it.
Turns out we went searching in the right place. The Meerkerk nursery is located in a wooded glen behind the public gardens, and on this day rows and rows of plants of all different colors and variations were available for sale, including several different hybrids created by local hybridizer Frank Fujioka. After a lot of debate we picked a lovely orange and silver “Seaview Sunset” from Fujioka and strolled out for a quick look at the gardens before heading back up the road.

Meerkerk Gardens in Greenbank

 Our next stop was just down the road. Greenbank Farm is a former working farm that now houses several small shops and galleries as well as the Whidbey Pies Cafe, known for pies made from local loganberries and other fruits. We shared a slice of huckleberry pie a la mode at a picnic table overlooking a tranquil duck pond, then headed for our final destination of the day.
Located about halfway up the length of Whidbey Island on the banks of Penn Cove, Coupeville has a tiny, two-block long commercial strip along Front Street, a wharf with a pretty great coffee shop out at the end of it, and many original Victorian era homes, some of which have been turned into charming B&Bs. We stayed at the Lovejoy Inn, a cozy three-room lodging two blocks up from the water. Mitch, the innkeeper, spent several years working at the nearby state park and seemed to know every cranny of the island. Our first floor room was small but sweet, with a large walk-in shower and comfortable bed.

The Lovejoy Inn in Coupeville

After a walk around the corner to check out Bayleaf, a cute gourmet food and wine shop, we took Mitch’s advice and popped in next door to Christopher’s for an early dinner including a second round of mussels. This version was steamed in a creamy, garlicky white wine sauce that nicely offset the plump, juicy oysters. With a basket of warm bread, it would have been a meal in itself but, intrigued by the European-influenced menu, we ate some more. And some more.
First linguine in a surprisingly light smoked salmon cream sauce, then a paprika-scented Austrian chicken and spaetzel, and finally a delicate chocolate mouse and lemony cheesecake. Overindulgent? For sure. But we were on vacation! A leisurely stroll down to the harbor and we were ready to call it a night.

Sunset over Coupeville harbor

 The next morning, we were up early for a tasty hot breakfast prepared by Mitch and a visit to the Coupeville Farmer’s Market, where we stocked up on home-brewed root beer, local berries, and honey before heading out to Ebey’s Landing for a hike along the beach and up the bluff, where farmland meets coastline with spectacular views of the Puget Sound and Mt. Baker.

Bluff Walk at Fort Ebey State Park

 After our walk it was time for one last sampling of mussels, this time at Toby’s, a classic tavern on the water back in Coupeville. Juicy and basically unadorned, accompanied by thick pieces of garlic bread and icy beers, they hit the spot and Toby’s, like Whidbey Island itself, was comfortable, unpretentious, and fun. On the drive home north through Deception Pass and back down I-5, we were already plotting our return trip.