The Inn at
Langley, Whidbey Island, Wa, tasted on July 7, 2005 — Given
that I can't travel all year long it can be hard to visit places
more than once. And while many people who write about food think
that it's unfair to write about places you ate at once, I don't
really have a choice. I figure that you can't be worse than your
worst day and you can't be better than your best. And given that I'm
looking for places with a healthy dose of consistency, they should
fare just fine. In this spirit, a little while ago I posted about
our visit to the Inn At Langley last year.
The next day we went back and had dinner again at the
Inn at Langley's restaurant hosted by their resident chef -
Costello. What difference did a year make?
Well, it's kind of funny. In one way the meal we had was
completely consistent with the first meal we had about a year ago.
Overall, quite enjoyable. On the other hand the context of revisiting
the restaurant was valuable as well. The things we liked were just as
good if not better, and the things we didn't love, well, now we were
certain of it.
Dinner started off with an amuse of
Marinated Anchovies on Tomato Chutney with Lovage.
Fishy spicy sour but clean. This was like fish sauce but with no Asian
overtones. The dish was striking. And the tiny strips of lovage were
surprisingly flavorful with their celery-ish tones. This was followed by
Chilled Sweet Corn Soup with Sweet Onion Panna Cotta.
The soup was cold but the flavor was warm. It was beautiful to look at
too. Just sweet fresh corn taste. If I had one complaint it would be
that I couldn't taste the onion in the otherwise yummy panna cotta. I
wish I could have. I bet it would have made it even better.
The salad was
Baby Beets and Figs with Orange Confit and Vanilla
Vinaigrette. As with last time, the rule of three was operative here
in a couple of dishes. Three flavors making interesting combinations.
Each has to be a great counterpoint to the other two. And this is what
makes it interesting. I also liked that none of the items were the star.
Each shared the stage. I am not a big fan of fig or orange confit but
these were both quite good. And as for beets, I'm pretty sure that I am
completely, deeply, and passionately in love with them.
Palate cleansing was on the menu next with
Apricot Sorbet with Muscato and Lemon-Flavored Herbs.
The sorbet was very good. The herb counterpart helped. Typically flowery
overtones are not my thing, but here they were complementary and quite
good. This was excellent.
It was at this point in the meal that the juxtaposition
of the two experiences really made it clear to me that Chef Costello is
providing (what I imagine to be) a true Whidbey Island experience on his
plates. It sounds so trite and cliché to say that a chef is trying to
express the region around him in his dishes, but in an unassuming, and
not pretentious way, that's exactly what this food was. Simple. Not
hyper-original-on-the-edge, but not run-of-the mill by any means.
Structured, colorful, balanced, and frankly fresh, clean, and
interesting like the air on the Island. Remember, interesting is
It was also clear to me when the entrees came why I'm a
small plate fan. One of the entrees was the
Halibut with Potato-Cauliflower Puree, John Peterson's
Cabbage and Penn Cove Mussels. The other choice was the
Roasted Pork Loin on Local Green Beans with Tiny
Zucchini and Tomato-Red Wine Sauce. I have no doubt that if Chef
Costello had pared these dishes down to the size of the previous ones,
they would have shined. But there is something about the entree where I
think chefs can lose focus and try to do too much on the plate. On the
plus side, the pork crust was super savory and the various beans and
zucchini were perfect. The sauce was good too but the pork,
unfortunatley was, overcooked and dry. With the halibut there was
interesting seasoning, but the fish itself was not very interesting in
flavor or texture. The cabbage underneath however was excellent. Instead
of giving everyone a choice of the entrees, why give everyone both at
1/3 the size. I bet they'd come out way way better.
Again it was impossible not to notice that the
Chef was doing basically all the cooking by himself. Neat!
Luckily the cheese plate again reminded me of how good
the dishes there could be. The cheese course consisted of
Brillat Savarin Cheese with Cherry Crepes and Shallot
Jam. Rather than featuring the cheese with some bit players as
accompaniments (even carefully prepared bit players), Costello makes the
cheese share the stage with two other items served in (relatively)
generous proportions. In this case the theme could have been "bitter" in
a good way. The cheese, cherries, and shallots all had that undertone,
It was really quite enjoyable especially in constrast with the soft
texture of the blintz.
And finally for dessert we had
Rum-soaked Almond Cornmeal Cake with White Peach Sorbet
and Rum Custard. This was really nice as each element of the dessert
had a completely different yet entirely cream texture.
Entrees aside, we really enjoyed our meal at the Inn At
Chef Costello is obviously super talented. And in some ways he has
found a pretty unique voice in terms of his cooking. In a time when even
the most cutting edge restaurants can often seem to be derivative and
repetitive, Costello doesn't hesitate to make his food and say something
about his surroundings. I have a feeling that the areas that weren't
quite as enjoyable go against his grain. I can't get inside his head,
but I think chefs often serve these entrees because they're expected by
the typical restaurant diner. I bet if Costello really let loose, the
entrees would disappear and the meal would be elevated that much
further. If that were to happen I bet we'd make the long trek out to
Whidbey Island more than once a year.