Ten Courses Of Surprise and Delight At the Inn at Langley

mainRight_chefChef Matt Costello is cooking hyper-local, avant garde and insanely delicious food out of a small kitchen in a 30-seat restaurant, and it’s the next place you must go for a weekend away.  The Inn at Langley is hardly a secret – even though the owners don’t advertise, the Whidbey Island destination was recommended to me on several occasions by friends and colleagues.  I was expecting a relaxing weekend away with my wife, but I was not prepared to have one of most surprising, innovative and delightful meals I’ve had in quite a while. 

A few weeks back, my wife and I booked our stay at the inn, cashing in a Rue La La deal we had purchased a month prior.  The deal included a night’s stay at the Inn at Langley as well as dinner and wine pairing for two at the attached restaurant.  Even from my first call to make our reservations, I could tell that this place exuded the type of warm hospitality that is often absent in the typical passive-aggressive Seattleite interactions.  When we arrived and were shown to our room, we were stunned in disbelief – the “cottage suite” included in our package was a 1400 square foot apartment overlooking the sound, beautifully appointed and peacefully serene.  And, if this were a travel blog, I’d go on and on about the room, the amenities of the inn and the charming little town scattered around it.  But, you’re here for the food, so I’ll get right to it.

Dinner started quite leisurely, just as the sun was falling low in the sky.  We were the first to arrive for the night’s seating, and we were greeted warmly by Stephen McClure, the restaurant’s sommelier.  He handed us each a glass of champagne dotted with basil seeds and we took a seat in the garden as the other guests trickled in.  Sitting in that manicured garden, watching the sunset and sipping champagne, I felt a million miles from home: relaxed, refreshed, civilized, and centered.  It’s a great way to begin any meal.

We were shown to our table which was one of just a handful in the restaurant’s petite dining room.  The room is divided by an oversized stone fireplace, and flanked by tables of two and four laid out around the perimeter.  However, the main focus of the room is

Review: Sip at the Wine Bar & Restaurant

I had the recent pleasure of a visit to the newly-opened Sip at the Wine Bar & Restaurant in downtown Seattle.  I’m typically cynical of places that 1) are chain restaurants, and 2) have both “wine bar” and “restaurant” in the title.  However, I’m happy to report that the folks at Sip exceeded my expectations, in general.

The first defining feature of Sip is its location – directly across the street from the architecturally fascinating Seattle Public Library.  And although the restaurant’s design isn’t quite as extreme (no curvy iridescent escalators), the wrap-around picture windows and dimly-lit ambiance take full advantage of the location’s urban scenery. 

As you might imagine, the wine list is extensive, offering both local and international bottles.  Bottles start at $25, glasses start at $7, and if you’re a fan of variety, you’ll be happy to know that all wines by the glass are also available by the half-glass.  I chose to start off the meal with a gin cocktail in a burnt sugar-rimmed glass.  It was a slightly sweet-and-sour, and a nice accompaniment for Sip’s salty and seared appetizers.

I enjoyed the tender and well-seasoned Vietnamese Caramel Beef ($12), but the standout of the starters was the Bacon & Eggs ($13, pictured above).  The dish is served as a cube of braised pork belly with a soft-boiled and lightly fried duck egg.  I thought this was a great interpretation of the classic combination – salty, sweet, crunchy and… porky.  I also enjoyed the flavors of the pickled beet salad, particularly the crispy beet chips.  Unfortunately, the salad was impossible to consume without spilling half on the tablecloth; for reference, 2” wide olive dishes don’t make good salad plates.

I was excited, as always, to see braised short ribs on the menu.  The dish, $19, was described on the menu as “boneless ribs, parmesan ‘jo-jos,’ arugula salad, meyer lemon gremolata, parmigiano & red wine braising jus”.  What the menu neglected to mention was that the short rib was spiced so heavily with what I assume to be cayenne pepper, that all other flavors were undetectable.  That said, the parmesan fries weren’t bad, and the meat was tender.  The Flat Iron “Chivitio” ($22, described well by blogger and friend Jay at Gastrolust) was a much more pleasant dish, flavored intensely with smoke and char, and topped with the fatty softness of a duck egg.  If I kept duck eggs in my kitchen, I’d put them on everything, too.

I must say, though, that the best dish of the night was actually dessert – the Roasted Sugar Pie Pumpkin Cheesecake ($8).  It was light and velvety, with the vivid flavor of roasted pumpkin.  Well doe, chef  Allison Jester. 

All in all, the food at Sip exceeded my expectations, modest as they were.  However, the menu prices thus far haven’t followed the budget-conscious trend set by some other Seattle joints.  But, if you like to cap off your day of downtown shopping and public library book reading with a glass of wine and a steak, Sip at the Wine Bar & Restaurant is a fine choice.

Sip Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Full Disclosure: I got free food, but that doesn’t pay for my opinion.

Review (Lark); //Small Plates, big flavor

lark collage

Usually when I threaten to order half the menu at a restaurant, I’m joking.  But at Lark, I was quite serious.  Located on an easy-to-miss block of Capitol Hill, this gem specializes in intricate, small plates with bold flavors and surprising combinations.  For example, the roasted eel with saba and new potato salad ($12, pictured above, left) paired a predictably sweet and sticky eel fillet with a most unlikely and delicate (you guessed it) potato salad.  This was one of my favorite dishes – my only regret was sharing it with three other people. 

Lark’s menu is designed for family-style ordering, but with more than 2 people at your table, each plate portions out to an amuse-bouche or so.  As a result, we nearly ended up ordering most of the menu!  Every dish was delectable and I appreciated the variety of our dinner, but I couldn’t help feeling unsatiated.  I respect the “small bites” philosophy and I enjoy that manner of eating, but with flavors so compelling, there was a discord between my stomach and my wallet.

Even so, I would recommend Lark for foodies and adventurous eaters. Of particular note were the Carpaccio of Yellowtail with preserved lemons and green olives ($15, pictured top right), the Crispy Liberty Farm duck leg with watercress and pomegranate salad ($11, pictured middle right), and the Valrhona chocolate hazelnut mousse with cocoa ladyfingers and candied hazelnut ($8, pictured bottom right).  You may want to consider ordering two of each!

Lark on Urbanspoon