After visiting Fuurin-Oka a few years ago, I fell in love at first sight. Nestled amidst a bamboo grove and serene Japanese garden, far away from the bustle of Seattle’s city streets on Bainbridge Island, the quaint inn offered relaxation and serenity with a guesthouse and delicious breakfast included. While a magical visit, a subsequent stay a year later fared far worse, as the owner had chosen to distance herself from the experience and much of the charm was lost – not to mention, a variety of new, hefty fees had been added. Fast forward to this year, and the new owner, Renee, asked if I’d be willing to return to try it out under her and her husband’s watch. I’m very glad I did.
The guesthouse was as gorgeous as ever. If you’ve been to Japan and stayed in a ryokan, you’ll feel right at home. Tatami mats line the living area, and you’re provided traditional futons to sleep on (and if you aren’t comfortable with the buckwheat pillows – which you really should try – western-style pillows are provided too). A lovely, sunny sitting room sits adjacent to the main area and contains a small table and chairs – perfect for early morning breakfast, or to gaze out at the meticulously cared for garden. The kitchen and bath offer plenty of authentic toiletries and products (brought back from Japan from the owners themselves) and a wide variety of dishes, cutlery and chopsticks.
As if Fuurin-Oka wasn’t charming enough, tiny origami and miniature trinkets scatter the abode, and each new find is delightful. A secret cache of books beneath a window ledge offers plenty of cultural opportunities, including manga, novels, a book on hiragana, an origami manual and more.
In the mood for a slow soak in an encompassing, steamy bath? Fuurin-Oka’s guesthouse includes an ofuro, a traditional Japanese deep tub that’s filled to the brim with near-blistering temperatures. Simmering in one of these something everybody should experience at least once, especially if you’re looking for serious R&R.
That’s all well and good, but what I left the most excited about was the food.
Renee really outdid herself with each morning’s breakfast. Guests are given the option of a ‘Seattle-style’ breakfast (a pancake type item and other savory goods), or a traditional Japanese-style breakfast with miso soup, sushi and other yummy bits. We stayed for two days and decided to try one of each.
The Japanese-style breakfast was beyond incredible – freshly rolled sushi filled with pickled vegetables from her garden and eggs freshly cooked from the pet chickens they have on site (you can even pet them!). Miso soup, smoked salmon sushi, umeboshi nestled within the onigiri and vibrant, fresh fruit. The Seattle-style breakfast was just as outstanding – Renee made vegan pancakes with peach puree on top and plenty of fresh strawberries, and quite possibly the most delicious (vegan!) chocolate shake I’ve had.
Instead of being rigid and unhelpful about Kevin’s vegan needs, Renee mentioned how excited she was to take on the challenge, and that passion for food and cooking clearly showed. As an aspiring food photographer I was also blown away at her plating techniques and careful, skillful choice of color. For example, a single tangerine-colored flower perfectly complemented the reds and oranges of the pepper sushi, and the blues and greens of the Seattle-style’s fruit bowl were a stunning contrast to the pancake’s warm tones.
If you’re looking for an idyllic, serene and romantic getaway, or hail from Japan and want a little taste of home, Fuurin-Oka is officially the place to go in the Seattle area. Its new owners clearly care about the business and will go out of their way to make you comfortable. And while on the island, make sure to also check out the Blodel reserve and plenty of eateries in town for delicious lunches and dinners.