A Night of Amazing Food, Scotch, and Service at Willows Lodge

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I’m sure most of you out there are already know this, but you can make it from Seattle out to wine country in the same amount of time it takes a bottle of red to properly breathe.

However, I’m not here to talk to you about wine.  Which I can assure you is to our mutual benefit, as all I have to offer on the subject involves the painfully embarrassing consequences that befall me those times I muster the bravery to take another shot at drinking it.  What I’d like to touch on today is an oft-misunderstood spirit favored by my curly-headed 70’s hero, Ron Burgundy:

I love Scotch. Scotchy, Scotch, Scotch. Here it goes down, down into my belly…

And down into my belly it has gone on many a fair occasion.  Sadly, my lack of respect for the true potential of this Scottish delight has led it to make almost as many return trips from my belly as well.  Cutty Sark, J & B, Chivas Regal — these are the names I had associated with Scotch throughout the years.  It’s not that I particularly enjoy slumming it on the bottom shelf, I had simply been under the impression that it was all going to go down like battery acid anyway.  It’s almost comical that it took a certified “master of whisky” to set me straight on the subject.

Ari Shapiro_headshotRecently I was offered the chance to stay at Willows Lodge in Woodinville, a five-acre spread bordering the Sammamish River in the heart of Western Washington’s wine country.  Under normal circumstances I might be apprehensive about such a vinocentric destination, but I made the trip in order to attend something far beyond your everyday swish and spit wine tasting.  Hosted by renowned master of whisky Ari Shapiro (pictured left), and with a four course menu prepared by Barking Frog Executive Chef Bobby Moore, the celebration comically dubbed “Scotch-tober” was nothing short of an amazing amalgamation of whisky knowledge and culinary craftsmanship.

It’s not likely anyone would argue whether or not Shapiro knows his Scotch.  Even those not immediately enamored with his PowerPoint skills (fun fact: this is the first alcohol-related PowerPoint presentation I’ve experienced) would find his expertise on both the spirits and the land they originate from to be truly impressive.  Over the course of the evening he regaled the crowd with old world toasts, and spared no detail in explaining the production methods and regional flavors leveraged to produce each distillery’s unique flavor.  As a wannabe connoisseur, I can tell you with a fair amount of certainty that the 15-yer-old single malt Dalwhinnie was my favorite Scotch of the evening, due largely to its floral nose, sweet taste, and clean, subtle finish.  This stems from its origins in the highland region of Scotland, where it is crafted out of fragrantly sweet mountain water.  After that I’m pretty certain I’ll never be able to even look at a bottle Cutty Sark seriously again.

Well before the event ever took place, Shapiro and Chef Moore had been putting their heads together to come up with a menu that balanced the signature flavors of each Scotch with that of the evening’s cuisine.  The result featured such mouth-watering dishes as breast of squab with a celeriac, endive, and Walla Walla onion salad, chilled Virginica oysters, and my personal favorite, the smoked ribs with fennel and yukon gold potato gratin.  There was just something about how the smokiness of the ribs played off of the dry, equally smoky 16-year-old Lagavulin that made me want to paint my face blue and white and start quoting William Wallace.

Barking Frog2As if I didn’t have it good enough already, after my hunger and thirst had been quelled around the Barking Frog’s open fireplace, I made my way back to the room waiting for me at Willows Lodge.  Just your standard accommodation, complete with 40″ flat screen TV, stone fireplace, private patio, and a soaking tub deep enough to drown your sorrows and/or Manuel Uribe if you really felt like it.  Seriously though, the one thing I couldn’t get enough of was the bed.  So soft, so comfortable.  The sensation that I would later describe as “sleeping on a cloud of smiling puppies” was in fact courtesy of the Australian lambs wool mattress pad that can be found adorning the beds in any of the lodge’s 84 rooms.  Probably the highest compliment I could pay to the lodge, its staff, and their attention to detail is that in all my years traveling I’ve yet to stay anywhere so comfortable and relaxed, yet so serious about the care of their guests.

Another great thing is that there’s always something going on at Willows, so you never have to be without an excuse to treat yourself to a mini-vacation or romantic getaway in Seattle’s back 40.  For example, in December Willows Lodge is featuring a weekly series of complimentary classes called “Holiday Boot Camp”.  The classes are free and take place the first three Wednesdays of the month, from 5:30-6:30 p.m. during Fireside Cellar’s Happier Hour. The program is aimed to help novices navigate the challenges of holiday entertaining:

  • Wednesday, December 2: Brian Matthews of Barking Frog will share drink recipes and tips for creating the perfect holiday cocktails.  Guests will learn techniques for creating a hot apple pie, oatmeal cookie and a white chocolate mint-tini.
  • Wednesday, December 9: Executive Chef of Barking Frog Bobby Moore and award-winning Wine Director of Willows Lodge Jeffrey Dorgan will share tips and recipes for holiday appetizers and discuss how to pair the perfect wine with traditional holiday meals.
  • Wednesday, December 16: Trena Costello, pastry chef of Barking Frog, will share pastry recipes and tips for creating the perfect homemade holiday desserts.

No matter how long you’ve lived in the area, I implore you to consider adding a night at Willows Lodge and a meal at Barking Frog to your Seattle bucket list.  Both are comfortably far enough away from the city — but not too far — perfect for those who wish to spend less of their time traveling and more of it relaxing in the arms of the one they love; or as it was in my case, a foursome of strategically-placed goose down pillows.

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