There’s nothing quite like visiting San Juan Island in the fall. Not only do the tourist crowds begin to dwindle, but autumn harvest is in full swing– and, to experience the very best of the island’s bounty, a meal at Duck Soup is a can’t-miss. This iconic countryside restaurant focuses on refined yet accessible island fare, and friendly service makes the experience even more memorable.
Duck Soup was first converted into a restaurant in 1976 and came under its current ownership in 2017. The building was previously a woodshop, and before that, the site’s five acres served as a hub halfway between Friday and Roche harbors. While “Duck Soup” is the name of a classic Marx Brothers movie, General Manager Anna Lisa Lindstrum thinks it’s more likely that the name stems from the Hawaiian saying “it’s like duck soup”– or, in other words, it’s easy.
The atmosphere is what Lindstrum likes to call “casual fine dining”; while nothing on the island is truly fancy, the restaurant excels at presenting a refined experience in a relaxed, non-threatening manner. Over the years, countless locals and visitors have flocked to Duck Soup to celebrate engagements, birthdays, milestones, and other special events.
“People come in and they’re like, ‘Yeah, you know, I built the ceiling in 1976!’” Lindstrum says. “People just have a lot of memories of the place, and so many people have worked there over the years.”
Most ingredients at Duck Soup are sourced from local producers, including Mama Bird Farm and Westcott Oyster Company, as well as the restaurant’s own culinary garden. While the menu often rotates, four items have been mainstays since 1976: oysters from Westcott, the hot fudge sundae, anchoiade (an anchovy/herb/olive oil spread), and house-made sourdough.
“That sourdough starter– it has a really distinctive flavor. It’s been alive for a lot of years, and it’s passed from chef to chef,” Lindstrum says.
When I visited Duck Soup, the complimentary sourdough and zingy, bold anchoiade set the bar high before I even looked at the menu. To keep with tradition, we also had to try the ½ Dozen Westcott Oysters ($19), which were beautifully plated and served alongside a delicate rosewater mignonette. The sauce paired perfectly with the Corpse’s Bouquet ($14), a floral cocktail featuring lavender-infused gin and garnished with locally grown lavender.
When it came time for entrees, my companion tried the umami-rich, expertly cooked Duck Breast ($38). Duck is sometimes thought of as indulgent, but the addition of a red pepper coulis and pickled strawberries rendered this version unexpectedly light and playful.
The scallops in my Scallop Risotto ($42) were seared to perfection, whereas the creamy richness of the risotto was balanced by fresh seasonal veggies. The result was a meal that was both satisfying and balanced, which makes sense given Chef Steven Jones’ background in nutrition.
We closed the meal with a vegan Peach-Berry Crumble ($10) topped with whipped coconut milk, another delicious reflection of Jones’ dual focus on flavor and health.
“One trend I’m really seeing in dining is people … wanting to eat a meal that lets them leave the restaurant feeling really good about what they ate,” Lindstrum says. “So we’re trying to really present a lot of vegan options, a lot of vegetarian options, things that are healthy for people.”
While our meal was certainly memorable, don’t go to Duck Soup expecting to order the same thing twice– Chef Jones switches things up depending on the season. That said, Lindstrum says that visitors have plenty to look forward to this fall.
“The menu is really diverse. It’s probably the best in September, I think, just because we’re still getting so many wonderful things,” Lindstrum says. “But we’re also starting to get some fall produce. So, yeah, it’s an exciting time. And the flavors are really bright and fresh and hearty and abundant.”
For more info on menus, hours, and reservations (which Lindstrum strongly encourages), visit Duck Soup online or on social media @ducksoupsanjuans. 50 Duck Soup Ln., Friday Harbor, 360.378.4878, ducksoupsanjuans.com