Backdoor Kitchen and Catering
On a recent jaunt to charming Friday Harbor on San Juan Island in Washington State we were unsure of what to expect in terms of culinary offerings. We hoped to find a restaurant scene that offered a little more than the usual overpriced, mediocre fare rampant in holiday destinations. What we discovered surprised us; from a weekly farmer’s market to eggs sold at the side of the highway to delectable seafood, San Juan Island is a bastion of farm-to-table cuisine and a foodie paradise. While seafood is king, and there is no shortage of high-end, elegant fish houses, the highlight of our trip was a visit to the unassuming and secluded Backdoor Kitchen. Tucked away off the main drag, Backdoor Kitchen and has a significantly less touristy feel than the establishments located closer to the ferry terminal. With an elegant garden terrace and a dining room reminiscent of a tony, well-appointed country house, Backdoor Kitchen is the perfect venue at which to sample the best of San Juan Island cuisine.
The restaurant, which emphasizes fresh local and organic ingredients, presents an eclectic offering of international cuisine, a rarity on the Island, which distinguishes Backdoor Kitchen from the bevy of spots serving fairly standard west coast fare. The menu changes frequently, based on what’s available and in season, and draws inspiration from places as diverse as Mexico, Japan and the Mediterranean. While we’re typically wary of fusion restaurants which tend to lack focus and have schizophrenic menus, Backdoor Kitchen manages to pull off its range of cuisines and diverse dishes with panache. Rather than attempt to recreate ethnic fare, the chefs take inspiration from a variety of international cuisines and combine their flavours and techniques with Backdoor Kitchen’s own decidedly west coast, home-style sensibility.
We sampled the corn masa cakes and the faro salad to start, and while the food is quite modest in presentation we were pleasantly surprised by the subtle flavours and freshness of both. The cakes were served with sliced avocado and chipotle sour cream and were topped with a lovely, tart cheddar. The flavours were delicate and refined, unusual for southwest cooking, and were perfectly balanced. The faro, which is one of our favourite salads, was overwhelming in its freshness; it tasted as if the romaine, parsley, mint and carrots had been picked only moments before they arrived on our plate. Topped with pumpkin seeds, chickpeas and feta cheese and tossed in a light vinaigrette, it was the perfect start to the meal. For our main we took a leap of faith and ordered the Indian thali platter while our friend opted for the steak. The thali platter, which could have gone horribly wrong, was expertly flavoured; the cashew curry was rich without overpowering and was offset nicely with the lightness of the cucumber raita. The steak was a hefty cut topped with sweet onions and served with delectable, buttery mashed potatoes and pan-seared greens. Completely satiated by our meals, we were unfortunately too full to be tempted by dessert, so we’ll have to return to taste the restaurant’s legendary coconut cream pie. With a stellar wine list that features a number of local Washington vintages and innovative cocktail selections, Backdoor Kitchen is also a great spot to grab a drink.
Backdoor Kitchen’s intimate space is comfortable, casual and welcoming, and feels more like dining at a friend’s house than a restaurant. With heaps of small town charm and character – the wait staff are familiar with the majority of the patrons and converse freely about local events – Backdoor Kitchen is an authentic San Juan Island experience.