Doe Bay Café

Keeping it local on Orcas Island

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Orcas Island is a great place to eat, whether it’s wood-fired pizza from a stand at the bustling farmers market in Eastsound or a multiple-course dinner looking across the water from the deck at Allium. I love the goopy burgers and sweet potato waffle fries at the Lower Tavern, the amazing beer at Island Hoppin’ Brewery, and blazingly hot Tex-Mex enchiladas at Chimayo.

A recent dinner at the Doe Bay Café with my family, however, really showed us what the island is capable of.

Doe Bay Resort, which sits at the far end of the island from the Orcas ferry dock, is a great place to get away from it all, offering a mix of cabins, yurts and tent sites, with a communal kitchen and clothing-optional spa. The café, which is open Thursday through Monday (with brunch on weekends) during the off-season but every day during the summer, is surprisingly fancy and seriously locavore. They serve elegant vegetarian food, sourced from their own garden, and as many local providers as possible, plus local seafood, and their menu constantly changes with the seasons. We couldn’t turn down the opportunity to eat there, especially as our cabin was only a few hundred feet away.

It was a little chilly out for the patio, so the six of us crowded into a booth in the warm, wood-paneled dining room. I was impressed right from the beginning that the staff were taking care with my weird allergies, making sure the amuse-bouche was safe for me to eat. Arranged artistically on a rock slab, our starting bite was endive leaves topped with berries, chevre, herbs and walnut dust. A good beginning.

Next, we shared a plate of scallop ceviche with oranges and fennel ($11) and a basket of bread ($5) that was served with two butters, one with a substantial amount of anchovy and the other flavored with green garlic and lemon balm. A few of us ordered cocktails, and mine (the Whiskey Fennel, $12) was by far the strangest: a concoction of fennel, lemon and bourbon that looked exactly like swamp water. My dining companions were deeply suspicious, but I rather liked it, although the texture was a little murky.

Two of our party ordered the arugula salad ($11), which came with rye-hazelnut “soil”—a clever conceit but not all that successful. They commented that it was difficult to chew, as if some of the hazelnut shells were left on.

I ordered the agnolotti ($24), little pasta shapes stuffed with cheese and topped with fava beans, sea beans (samphire), pine nuts and exquisite baby artichokes, with a pile of pea shoots. It was a gorgeous Northwest dish. My father chose the polenta with chevre-stuffed morels ($21), and was similarly impressed. Both dishes, though vegetarian, were so complex and satisfying that even confirmed carnivores like us were happy.

My husband ordered seared scallops with farro (emmer wheat), chevre and a rhubarb sauce ($29). He remarked that the scallops were smaller than usual for a restaurant but were perfectly cooked, and he loved the whole dish. One member of our table didn’t like chevre, which was a fairly serious issue given the preponderance of goat cheese on the menu, but she was extremely happy with the enormous bowl of pho with tofu and prawns ($22) that she ended up with. The broth was delicious, with a strong anise flavor, and came with lots of herbs and a selection of sauces.

For dessert, figuring I didn’t have to drive anywhere afterward, I had to try the bourbon-root beer float ($9). It was…a little regrettable, tasting like sarsaparilla-flavored bourbon, which didn’t appeal to me very much. Still, it was made of ice cream, so I ate it. On the other hand, my husband was extremely pleased with his cheesecake doused in honey-rhubarb sauce ($9), as was my mother with her mocha affogato with cinnamon ice cream ($9) and my aunt with her pink rose sorbet ($6.50).

We walked out of the café and back to our cabin at dusk, as the moon rose over Doe Bay to the sound of klezmer musicians practicing on the cliff edge, feeling like we’d had a real vacation experience—a little pricy for every day, but if you’re on the island, it’s well worth a trip.

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