Thursday, September 08, 2011

Inn at Langley

400 1st St, Langley


Thanks to a gracious invitation from my friend Stephen McClure, sommelier at the Inn at Langley, we were able to score a table in the Inn’s dining room for a tasting menu by Chef Matt Costello. This was a TEN COURSE MEAL and there’s a lot of ground to cover here, so I’m just going to dispense with my usual bullshit introductory paragraph and just jump into it.

Things started off well enough with a seemingly arbitrary combination of amuse-bouches. There was a tall and cylindrical shot glass containing a translucent lime- green liquid which we were told was a “BLT consommé,” a little stand with a glossy maroon bing cherry on top, and a peculiar thing of some sort that looked like a big pink Hershey’s Kiss. These were brought to the table on a cluttered little platter and looked like a chess board that a losing player, caught in the grip of his opponent’s endgame, frustratedly tried to sweep clean.

The BLT consommé was quite good, though served unfortunately cold, with a shimmery tomato flavor and a draft of smoke in the finish. The cherry was stuffed with something, and was somehow supposed to represent a deconstructed Manhattan cocktail: it didn’t taste like bourbon, but you could get a hint of bitters in the finish. And the pink Hershey’s Kiss was a beet meringue, filled with camembert. In general, this combination of flavors seemed pointless. Each thing taken separately worked, though there was no rhyme or reason to the combination of BLT, cherry, and camembert. But it was crazy, and ambitious, so I figured I'd give it a chance.

First up was a salmon mousse. The mousse had been frozen in a big bowl of liquid nitrogen which, as the chef stirred the freezing mousse, spilled white vapor all over the countertop. Little pink crumbles of frozen mousse were served strewn across the plate, along with magenta semicircles of pickled onion and a garnish of coriander flowers. I’d feared that the mousse would still be frozen into crystalline chunks or, even worse, that the chunks would melt, and then ominously recombine themselves into a fully formed salmon mousse a la the T1000 from Terminator 2 but, luckily, no: it was soft and pillowy, with a very mild salmon flavor. Accompanying this was a small clear disc of rosewater gel which was an effective palate cleanser.

Next came a pretzel roll. This was served with a tiny cylinder of goat’s milk butter and razor-thin discs of sliced radish. The pretzel was so fucking good: crusty and burnished bronze on the outside, like your mom’s face, yet steamy inside, like your mom’s panties. Even better was the goat milk butter: so creamy and tangy, I really don’t understand why goat butter isn’t more popular, though it probably has something to do with people not wanting to say “Do you have goat butter?” to the guy at Whole Foods. The pretzel and butter together were almost too rich. In fact, the watery and piquant and dirty-tasting radish, which I ate last because I couldn’t keep from wolfing down the pretzel, was an effective change of pace.

The third course was a “baked potato.” No, I’m not one of those people who use quotation marks inappropriately, like when they’re trying to emphasize something. Once when I was a kid I patronized a snow-cone stand with a sign that read “Please ring the ‘door bell’ for service.” The door bell wasn’t in reality a midget’s ball sack with an LED attached to it; they just thought they’d call attention to the fact that you should use the “door bell” instead of yelling “hey bitch come out here and get me a snow-cone.” What I mean by this pleasant walk down memory lane is that my cloistering of the phrase “baked potato” in quotes means that it wasn’t actually a baked potato. What we got was a small chunk of pork belly, slow-cooked sous vide for 15 hours then seared. This was served in the bottom of the bowl adjacent to an ivory cloud of potato foam, dotted with miniscule bracelets of diced chive. But we weren’t supposed to eat it like this: eventually the waitress emerged with a small kettle of potato consommé, which she poured into the bowl, halfway submerging the belly and lifting the foam afloat. The consommé, sadly, was not served boiling hot, as consommé is classically served. Nonetheless, this “baked potato” was “awesome.” So awesome, in fact, that it made me temporarily forget how to use quotation marks.

Jesus Christ it was good. The pork was so tender you could cut it with a spoon, which was lucky for us because they didn’t give us a knife. When you took a step back from this dish and tasted it altogether it really tasted like a baked potato. If you got too close, though, and ate each ingredient separately you couldn’t get the effect. This was culinary pointillism. Accompanying was a lacy cheese cracker, white cheddar or gruyere or something sharp, topped with crumbled bacon bits. Like most crackers, myself included, this cracker was largely superfluous.

The fish course was a neat triangle of seared halibut, served atop a puffy nimbus of mint foam. With this came a scattering of vivid green peas and a couple buttery baby carrots scarcely thicker than those tiny pencils you score golf with. Splashed across the plate was a stripe of bruleed anise foam. This was generally good, though the halibut trended to dryness and the anise foam was so overpowering, it kicked your mouth’s nuts repeatedly. But the peas and carrots were the most among the most Platonically perfect examples of vegetables I’ve ever eaten. Who needs halibut? They could’ve served me a bowl of peas and carrots and I would have said “Thanks, dude.”
Then we had an intermezzo: a small scoop of melon sorbet, served atop a smear of feta cheese, crowned with a miniature bouquet of fennel flowers. This was simultaneously salty, sweet, and accomplished its mission of refreshing the fuck out of me.

The gustatory marathon continued with risotto: a glossy pile of risotto was served with a foie gras emulsion (which was modestly referred to on the menu as mere “duck liver”) and sautéed wild mushrooms, topped with an impressively large slice of black truffle, easily bigger than a pog. And if you remember what a pog was, then you’re old enough to properly appreciate the taste of a slice of black truffle. The risotto was flanked on either side with twin piles of macerated huckleberries, slices of roasted onion, and a weird awkward disc of something which we were told was some sort of mushroom- based product. The risotto was delicious: creamy and rich, with millions of miles of flavor. The truffle was, as per the Inn at Langley’s locavore mission, a local truffle and not a Perigord, but I sure as fuck won’t hold it against them. The only misstep here was that weird mushroom circle thingy: I felt like flinging it but decorum demanded I didn’t.

We rounded the bend with the meat course: a medallion of a grassy- tasting lamb tenderloin, seared outside, cooked to a confident medium rare and then sliced, so that its red eye stared up at you like a drunk on a bus. This was perched atop a smear of artichoke puree. Tiny balls of green and yellow squash were served alongside and, curiously, camouflaged among these was a floppy green sac of spherified béarnaise sauce. We were supposed to break the sphere and release the sauce amidst the balls of squash. When I broke the sphere, it belched out a gout of completely smooth green sauce all over those spheres. Creamy sauce spurting all over spheres? What does this remind me of? Saturday night with your mom, of course! The problem was that the sauce, heady with tarragon, was too much for the squash.

Personally I wish it had been served, jiggling precariously, atop the medallion of lamb. After all, béarnaise is traditionally a sauce for meat. Still, I have to give them props because the sauce itself was expertly prepared. After all, just making a Hollandaise that won’t separate is tricky enough in itself, then these motherfuckers SPHERIFIED it. Later I ate the deflated sphere: it was salty and slimy. Eating it seemed wrong, kinda like those insane hippies who eat human placentas.

The cheese course consisted of a quenelle of ice cream which, according to the menu, was flavored with toasted grass, but it’s my opinion that whoever wrote that was toasting a different kind of grass because it mostly just tasted sweet. Either the flavor was VERY subtle, or my taste buds were fatigued by all of the imperial gluttony that preceded. My memory becomes hazy at this point: there was a smear of triple cream somewhere, and yet another jelly disc: this one with a bracing green tartness, made of sorrel.

Finally, dessert. The menu called it “blackberries from the side of a country road.” A big dark purple quenelle of blackberry sorbet was surrounded by clouds of sweet herbal foam. Flowers dotted this serene sugary landscape. I was too tired to concentrate so just blindly gulped it, the way a kid eats ice cream, or the way I go down on your mom. This dish, like the baked potato, was a pleasing pastiche of flavor.

We thought we were done, finally but no: they made us eat cotton candy. Actually “made” is a strong word, because I would’ve eaten that cotton candy out of a rotten armadillo shell: it was CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE COTTON CANDY! They somehow obscenely combined two awesome treats into one. The cotton candy had been formed into a snow- white disc, with a spiral of coca dust in the center. It was served on a stick, as cotton candy usually is, which was in turn anchored into a shot glass of coca nibs. You weren’t supposed to eat the cocoa nibs but I did anyway. This was some crazy Willy Wonka shit.

So that’s it. Dinner at the Inn at Langley is an interesting experience, to say the least. This gluttonous marathon punishes you, but the courses are so creatively fucked up, curiosity about what’s coming next trumps the fact that your stomach feels as stuffed with food as your mom feels stuffed with cock. The wine pairings, too, are a thing of beauty. I don’t usually talk about wine, but we got a LOT of wine; enough, in fact, to get me shitfaced: no small feat. And finally, in the spirit of full disclosure and blogging law and the federal government and all of that pussy shit I don’t really care about, I must make a revelation: the Inn at Langley cut me quite a deal. Normally the tasting menu is $95 per person, and the wine pairing will set you back $85. I, however, paid far less than that. Yes, they knew who I was. No, I almost never reveal myself to a kitchen. In this case it was unavoidable since they knew we were coming because Stephen set up my reservation. I feel justified in writing about this because it was a tasting menu, and so everyone ate exactly the same food which was prepared all at once, and there were like 6 tables, including the communal table where we were seated, and everyone got the exact same service too. So fuck your ethics.

Rating 8.5 ethical standards out of 10

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