Doe Bay Café is slow, steady and delicious.
Island time is a real thing. Even if the island in question is Orcas Island, detachment from the mainland, any mainland, is more than physical.
So when we checked in for our 6:30 p.m. reservation at the Doe Bay Café and the hostess warned that we’d have to clear our table by 9, we felt gifted with all the time in the world. Besides, we had after-dinner plans at 8—live music inside the yoga studio a few steps away, part of a special event at the Doe Bay Resort where we were spending the weekend—and figured 90 minutes offered plenty of leisure for our party of five.
Or so we thought. What we learned is that 90 minutes spent drinking chilled rosé, eating impeccable oysters and watching evening shadows rise along the sun-drenched tree line across the bay blows by in a blink.
The Doe Bay Resort is a sylvan outpost set on the eastern lobe of the lungs-shaped island; the Café is the resort’s heart and hearth. With a tiny dining room, a tiny bar and a tiny kitchen, it operates carefully, intimately and expensively by nature. Almost all of its produce is grown on the resort’s single-acre veggie plot, finfish and shellfish are taken fresh from the Sound.
Dinner here is an inimitable Northwest Experience, humble and exquisite, the kind that’s becoming hard to find in Seattle, a bulging city choked by a glut of overachieving restaurants. The place is out of the way—practically in its own world, even by Orcas standards—and moves with attentive languor. After your meal you can stay the night in a cabin or yurt overlooking the placid Salish Sea.
The oysters came in threes. One order led to another, then another, then to two more. They were Flapjack Point Pacifics, plucked the day before from Eld Inlet at the very south end of the Puget Sound. Served on the half shell, they were perfect: buttery and clean, toothsome and sweet. They came on a plate lined with refrigerated beach stones, cool but not cold, allowing more flavor to surface.
The chef also insisted on baked oysters, which seemed a sin against nature. But dashed with cream, white wine and grassy slivers of leek and sorrel and served warm, these were immensely satisfying.
We asked for bread and were delivered a melon-sized loaf fresh from the oven. Each whole-wheat sourdough loaf, our server told us, was baked to order. Not fast, not efficient—no problem. It came with lemon-zest butter and anchovy butter, house-prepped and keenly balanced.
Despite the seductive menu, we had no time for dinner. I was pining for the springtime ambience of nettle risotto with foraged maitake mushrooms and fennel confit; the house-made sorrel gnocchi with ramp green cream and pea vines sounded wonderful, too. But we had to hurry. Grinding the gears of the island’s lackadaisical clock, we went for the dish the kitchen could whip up quickest: oysters on the half shell.
Doe Bay Café
107 Doe Bay Rd., Olga, Wash.
Photo: Inside Doe Bay Café is warm and intimate; outside is stunning San Juan Islands scenery.