I got married across the street from the property that is now Whidbey Island’s Orchard Kitchen. The Bayview neighborhood of Langley, Washington, has gone through a few minor revisions in the last couple of years since my nuptials, with businesses changing face but historic buildings and farmland staying true to the agrarian roots of the island, just a short ferry ride away from the mainland north of Seattle. At that time, Whidbey Island native Chef Vincent Nattress was touting Orchard Kitchen as a catering company and we had inquired about booking for our reception, but, alas, the stars did not align. It took another five years for those celestials to do so when I dined at the island destination that Orchard Kitchen has become.
“Farm to table” is not a unique concept in the Pacific Northwest. This doesn’t take away from the noble notion and commitment to local farmers and food, it just means we, the hungry consumers here, are spoiled rotten. At Orchard Kitchen, however, this concept is innately defined because you are on that farm that is growing the food on your plate. The centenarian house — where Chef Nattress and his partner in business and life, Tyla Jones Nattress, live — and barns have been restored and transformed into a functional, 21st century working farm, complete with clucking chickens, a brazen and vocal turkey, fresh produce and a self-checkout farm stand on the five-acre property.
The farmhouse dining room and open kitchen welcome guests into a homey setting, with communal tables set for family-style service. But don’t let the relaxed environs fool you – both Chef Nattress and Tyla come from serious fine dining backgrounds, him with experience at a Michelin-starred restaurant in France and Napa Valley’s acclaimed Meadowood, her at several high-end Napa wineries and restaurants. Far from exuding an ounce of pretense that could come from such a culinary upbringing, this pedigree is only apparent in the details: placement of silverware, refolding of napkins when breaking for the restroom, nary an empty water glass or fallen crumb left behind. Oh, and the food.
Held to one seating per night, Orchard Kitchen is open for its $75 multi-course meal Thursdays through Saturdays in the summer, and limited to Fridays and Saturdays in the winter (plus a Thursday Local’s Night), with daytime cooking classes throughout the year. The menu on our early May visit was spring produce epitomized. We found our seats at the kitchen counter and, after meeting everyone in the kitchen and majority of the front-of-house staff, we sat down to a glass of Cremant d’Alsace and a trio of hors d’oeurves, one of which was vibrantly fresh radishes pulled from the garden that day — one of my springtime favorites. Centering around the early pickings from the estate farm and other local growers, the five-course “farmhouse dinner” (which can easily become six with the addition of an optional cheese course for an additional $15) aims to showcase what is growing now, and paired expertly with selections from Tyla’s skillfully curated wine list.
Living Rain Farm’s asparagus was stacked into a pyramid and generously layered with wild King salmon gravalx and sauce gribiche, a French mayonnaise-style egg sauce, set next to a glass of bold Sauvignon Blanc from Oregon’s Leah Jorgensen Cellars. Bluebird Grain Farms farro was tossed with an herbed tahini and laid down as a bed for roasted first-of-the-season radishes and spring carrots, paired with an Piedmontese rosé.
The most intriguing course put a spin on the local favorite of pan-seared halibut, in a pool of green garlic nage, accented by Willowood Farms pea vines and topped with local pink singing scallops — a delicacy this Northwest native/seafood fanatic has never come across. Reason being is Chef Nattress and team are some of the first to bring this Puget Sound rarity back into a commercial space after nearly a two-decade disappearance. The distinct taste is less sweet than better-known scallops, with a brininess bordering on oyster-quality, creating an exceptional umami with the sweet and rich white fish and garlic sauce.
Never ones to consider a cheese course “optional,” we enjoyed a spread of island-and Northwest-made cheese with a glass of Pedro Ximenez, rounding the meal out with a butterscotch custard and a house-made rhubarb compote next to some Australian botrytis Semillon.
Seats at the kitchen counter allowed us to watch the precise execution of each dish — plus witness the experienced sous chef train a presumed new prep cook. We also got to know Chef Nattress a bit better, who, after moving beyond the formalities of joining him at his restaurant, asked if one of us would be Orchard Kitchen’s 1,000th Instagram follower. I willingly compiled, and now am starving every time I scroll past the destination restaurant’s drool-inducing posts.