A Friday Harbor Find

Contributing editor Marty Wentzel blogs from San Juan Island

By: By Marty Wentzel

I’m always on the lookout for a good excuse for an overnighter. So, when I heard that Friday Harbor House recently remodeled its dining room, that’s all it took for me to gather up my husband and daughter, hit the road and hop on the ferry.

A Friday Harbor Find // (c) 2009

Contributing editor Marty Wentzel visits
the Friday Harbor House

Set in the town of Friday Harbor on Washington’s San Juan Island, the charming 23-room inn presides over a busy little bay where ferries come and go, making it incredibly easy to reach from Seattle.

I’ve always loved this little hotel for its friendly staff and clean, contemporary design, and this visit didn’t disappoint. After settling into our room, with its fireplace, jetted tub and pull-out couch for our teen, we headed to dinner in the hotel’s revamped Bluff Restaurant, Bar and Terrace.

The Bluff faces the postcard-perfect bay, and its refurbishment capitalizes on that magical setting. The designers wisely removed any obstacles between diners and the great outdoors, essentially creating a wall of windows between the indoors and out. They added booth seating oriented towards the bay and hung mirrors on the walls to reflect the views. By the entrance, former office space has been transformed into a wonderfully intimate bar that seats four to six people.

That’s not all that’s new at the Bluff. They’ve brought in a crackerjack young chef named Jason Codding, who has transformed the menu to reflect the area’s agricultural riches. His dishes draw inspiration from the Pacific Northwest, like my husband’s San Juan oyster po-boy sandwich, and my daughter’s Washington cider barrel chicken breast served over apricot polenta. Codding knows his audience, too. This isn’t a fancy restaurant in a luxury hotel. Instead, it’s a casual place where the locals like to gather over good food without spending an arm and a leg. Clearly the concept has worked. The night we were there, convivial islanders comprised three-quarters of the restaurant occupancy.

But right now, what I keep thinking about is my Northwest-grown Kobe beef burger, or to be more precise, the French fries that came with it. At once delicate, tender, crispy and flavorful, they were simply the best fries that any of us have ever tasted. Apparently, the clever Codding tosses them with thyme to extract its herbal oil, along with some salt. Never has such a simple preparation reaped such addictive results.

In the morning, the Bluff’s bar was transformed into a buffet table for the hotel’s continental breakfast, complimentary for guests. Even after the previous night’s feast, we found ourselves loading up on wedges of spinach and tomato frittata, apricot scones, fresh fruit, house-made granola and other a.m. delights. While sitting in the peaceful dining room gazing at the morning view, a wild fox strolled by outside, adding to the magic of the moment. Too soon thereafter, as our return ferry pulled out of the harbor, we watched Friday Harbor House fade away on its hillside perch and I promised my family we’d go back again soon.