*This is another long post, and the menu was not the most current; nonetheless, I believe it still showcases the creativity of the chef and his menu.
Fancy a romantic get-a-way in a quaint little town, yet with emphasis on culinary experience? Inn at Langley may just be the place for you.
A 3-hour drive includes a scenic ferry ride will bring you to this four-block by three-block all-American town on one of Washington State’s outskirt islands – Whidbey Island; other islands with culinary interest includes Bainbridge and Lummi.
Each room in the inn has sweeping full-water view, with large jetted tub and fireplace, quiet, serene and romantic.
The restaurant at the inn will certainly dazzle you with a culinary adventure of a life time.
The meal was price-fixed in a rustic lodge attached to the inn.
A stunning water fountain and garden graced the entrance to the restaurant where complimentary breakfasts (really great with huge variety) were also served for inn guests.
We were greeted warmly with a glass of bubble upon arrival; our table was simply decorated with the name place cards and an anniversary card from the restaurant, and I promptly found out that I was married to another man!
Someone must have misheard DH’s name and gave him a different one!
The meal started with a few words from our chef, and what followed was full of excitement and ingenuity.
First off, small bites of beet meringue, wild rice and bresaola, beef puff with caviar and “old-fashioned”.
The most amazing of the 4 small bites was the beef puff — fried beef tendon that could just be mistaken as shrimp chips, and had no hint of beef at all, topped with poppy caviar, fascinating.
The “old-fashioned” was a filled kumquat, with alcohol gushing out of the mouth when it was bitten; soft, chewy, bitter and sweet all at once.
Next dish was sunchoke, raw mushroom, hazelnut and chicken skin.
Beautifully steamed chawanmushi-style, my nose was happy with a huge whiff of toasty hazelnut; sunchoke was very quiet but the broth was deliciously savory and the raw mushroom was tasty, and chicken skin provided crisp for the dish.
Black cod with ginger curd, lemongrass and nasturtium was fun and interactive.
Delicate piece of tender fatty black cod came lovely seared in very spicy ginger juice broth at the bottom of the bowl.
Our server then came by with this fragrant lemongrass-scented milk, poured that into our bowls, and we watched the milk curdling with the presence of ginger juice.
The broth itself was sweet and absolutely spicy, full of flavors of cilantro, mint and other herbs as well.
The ginger curdled milk reminded me of the steamed milk Chinese dessert (plain, or optional with ginger juice as well).
We were then presented with this small mystery orange box on a plate that was supposed to be a foie gras dish.
The dish had such surprising element — I cut into this very solid-walled foie gras box to find liquid oozing out of it; our server told us it was a carrot granita, made with white wine, carrot and vanilla.
Every taste and every texture was touched on in this small dish: plenty of sweetness from inside the mystery box and the small round of carrot cake, sourness from the various pickles, slight saltiness from the foie gras, and slight bitterness from the white wine in the box.
Then, fatty butteriness from the foie gras, spongy carrot cake, crispiness from the fried carrot chips, crunchiness from pickles and runny liquid from the granita.
There was so much going on in this plate, and I really wanted to like it — except the sweetness level was just way too high for me.
In between the courses, we had a molasses, cornmeal, bay bread with creme fraiche, and a potato roll with aerated bacon fat and huckleberry jam.
My disappointment with the breads were that they were cold, while I was expecting warm and toasty breads from restaurant at this caliber.
Both breads were sweet with great fluffy texture; I was hoping for more bacon flavor in the potato roll, alas, not.
At this point, 6 small plates/breads later, first time ever while dining, I was getting annoyed.
Getting in touch with my inner feeling, I realized that it was because almost every dish was sweet: the beet, the kumquat, the breads, the sweet milk ginger broth and the sweet carrot foie gras dish.
The large amount of sweetness in otherwise salty/neutral dishes had its cumulative effects and really getting to me.
Thankfully, we moved onto a palate cleanser that was amusing and bitter, called gin and tonic experiment.
Served in a petri dish was jelly made with lime tonic, there was finger lime imbedded into the gel, and a disposable pipette laid across carrying bitter gin.
Finger lime is originally a citrus fruit from Australia; some has dubbed the chia/kiwi seeds-like sacs lime caviar.
They were fun to eat with texture much like chewing kiwi seeds but with tangy citrus flavor bursting out of them.
Gin and tonic experiment was an effective palate cleanser with very light sweetness from the jelly, carrying citrus flavor and bitterness that washed away aftertaste in the mouth.
We got to the final dish — venison, which was ironically, finally salty.
Not only that made my taste buds happy, it was another inspiringly innovative dish.
The dish came with a nice glass dome with smoke trapped inside; it was so much fun to see the smoke dancing and whirling within its clear confine.
Whiff of wood smoke escaped when the dome was removed, revealing a piece of lean, gamey, peppercorn-crusted, beautifully cooked venison, coupled with delicious hedgehog mushroom, buckwheat and chard, finished with a bitter chocolate sauce — ultra delicious!
The end of venison marked the beginning of desserts: yes, a total of 4 desserts — and they were amazing!
First came a mildly sweet concoction of raw cocoa and chamomile infusion in this delicate tea set.
The hot warm “tea” smelled very much of a 50/50 mix of chamomile and chocolate with flavor like hot chocolate without milk and a hint of floral character; meanwhile, light sweet, bitter and sour notes hitting the tongue all at once.
The coffee ice cream was roasty with a nice pumpkin pie spice pudding, cleverly dehydrated angel food cake added a sweet airy crunch, with harder crunch delivered by the chicory powder.
I was curious about the tobacco description in this dessert, and certainly, there was clearly tobacco flavor thoroughly intertwined with coffee flavor, super nice.
The whipped chocolate dessert came out to be a nitrogen frozen chocolate dessert, smoking cold presented in a little stone shell; every bite melted quickly once it was in the mouth, but left with the whimsical surprise of toffee flavored pop rock sparkling in the mouth.
As s chocoholic, I just wish there was more chocolate.
Grandmother’s purse was a perfect way to wrap up our awe-inspiring dinner.
There was a handbag, some lipsticks, gold coins, small liquor bottles (grandma!), tissue paper, candy gummies and pills.
The handbag was unfortunately inedible (joke!), but the lipsticks turned out to be chewy sour candy, with thick creamy cardamom chocolate as the gold coins; small liquor bottles were unique: apple celery tart juice, and the candy gummies were of guava habanero flavor.
Peanut butter flavor pixy stix was encased inside the pills, and the best part of grandmother’s purse — tissue paper made of cotton candy: sweet and airy, delectably tasty.
I was floored by the overall creativity of Chef Matt Costello, and was grateful to have the opportunity for this unbeatable eating journey.
While I understand the vision of having basic tastes covered in each dish (e.g. sweet and sour pork often said to be addictive because of having sweet, sour and salty all in one plate), many of the dishes’ sweetener usage was over the top for me.
Shared my experience with my friends who had been to the Inn at Langley, and the sweetness issue did not seem to be something they had encountered.
I hope it was just a fluke night or the trial and error of new menu.
The adventure was just as pricey as the one at the Willows Inn, and I found the 2 experiences vastly different, yet both chefs are equally admirable.