There are times in life when you discover, for any number of reasons, and in any number of ways, that a thing is not actually a thing. Or, perhaps more specifically, a thing is not the thing you thought it was. That is not to say that it is not what it ought to have been, or what you really needed. It is at this point that the devotee of religion expresses thanks to their higher power, the spiritualist thanks the universe, and the rest of us heathens just feel generally appreciative for whatever caused the thing to be more than it was or was supposed to be.
Confused yet? Good, me too. Now we can begin.
Tucked away on the shores of a bay just outside of Eastsound sits an inn. Within this inn there is a restaurant. This restaurant is modest in size, with no more than a dozen tables inside from what I could tell, although there were more tables outside if you wanted to brave the weather. With an upscale farmhouse look the interior of the restaurant crafts an environment and aesthetic that, as we found, does actually complement the meal we were about to begin at The Inn at Ship Bay.
Prior to reviewing restaurants my companion and I both do some research. While not a groundbreaking thought this generally includes peaking at a menu for a general feeling about what we might have. Regular readers will already know my weakness for duck. The menu we saw had duck. On the night, the duck entree was not on the menu. Now, this is not strictly relevant to the forthcoming review, only to say that potential diners should be cautious of pre-planning their meal lest they be disappointed in a similar fashion.
In addition to the lean but effective menu we were presented we were also offered a number of specials which included a warm tomato salad, Coho Salmon, and a six-course tasting menu. It should come as no surprise to you, dear reader, that in an effort to provide you with the best and most thorough knowledge we could offer we were morally obligated to indulge ourselves with the six-course tasting menu, and the wine pairings that accompanied it. After all, what kind of review would this be had we passed this opportunity up, and how could we expect you to ever trust our judgment again?
I also feel that I should explain that while we opted for the wine pairings with the meal and on the whole did a very good job at complementing and accentuating the food it accompanied. This however is not the primary purpose for the review and, for the sake of clarity and brevity, has not been include in the review with one exception that bears mention and was not part of the pairing menu.
Our first course, which took the form of two Judd Cove oysters on a half shell was as you might expect. While very good, not a great representation of composition, culinary skill, or creativity. It was an oyster, not a strong first course.
Our second course, however, was all the things the first course lacked, and more. A warm pear soup, made from pairs off the grounds, a house-made cracker, and a slice of cured pork. Each component was excellent within its own right and exactly the kind, of course, one would hope for. The one criticism I have regarding this course is that the cured pork, for me, did not work with the flavors of the pear soup. Of course, it worked well with the cracker, but cured ham and crackers aren’t an incredibly revolutionary idea, are they? This is, however, a mild criticism at worst, and not worth getting hung up on. A very strong second course.
Our third course took the shape of a fish course featuring seared Arctic Char served on a tomato puree. Again, the tomatoes were collected from the grounds of the inn. Between fish and virtually anything else, I will virtually always choose the “anything else”. I find a cooked fish course to be tedious, and even when done well, I always feel there was something else I would have enjoyed much more. Were I to return to Ship Bay, and the Arctic char to be on the menu, I would order it, confident it was, if not the best then at least on par with, the best meal they have.
Our next course, the poultry course, was one I almost wanted to jump for joy about, though it comes with a funny story. Duck (thank “insert higher power here”), braised fennel, and a pepper sauce that I want the recipe for. This was perhaps the best-conceived course of the meal. Each component worked with every other one on the plate. The duck was excellent, and the sauce… well, I’ve already said I want the recipe, need I say more? This was a triumph of a course. The amusing note here is when I mentioned that I was disappointed the duck was no longer on their A La Carte menu the server responded, “unfortunately we ran out of servable duck”. She clarified that she meant in terms of portion size, but I found it funny that, by implication, she served us non-servable duck.
Our fifth course was one that will give any vegan readers some delight. A melody of chanterelle mushrooms braised alongside kale and leek came next. This course was again, very good. I think, oysters aside, it was the least developed concept and lacked a unifying component. It was fairly homogenous in texture, but diverse in flavor. As part of the broader meal, it was good.
Our sixth and final entrée course was beef. Grilled hanger steak served alongside lentils, tomatoes, and an assortment of vegetables, and oddly enough, peaches. The only thing that did not work for me in this course was, predictably, the peaches. It didn’t add anything to the meal, and instead confused many of the other well-developed flavor combinations that worked well by themselves. Additionally, for this course, I found the hanger steak to be tough. The server responded that it is to be expected as it is “extremely grass-fed”. Is this something I don’t know about? I grew up eating locally raised grass-fed beef and didn’t suffered inherently tough steak because of this. I found this odd.
We finished the meal with a dessert course that consisted of a light blonde cake, berry compote and lemon crème. This was a perfect way to finish the meal and highlighted all the right ideas throughout the course including locally grown and sourced ingredients, creative combinations, and well-portioned courses.
It is also important to note that the pace of the meal, which ended up taking two and a half hours was commendable. Preparing a tasting menu is hard. Instead of four or five plates for a table that has two people (an appetizer to share, an entrée each, and a dessert to share or each), we had 12 plates, each immaculately plated, and all coming out in a smooth, timely, and efficient fashion. This, to me, is the most commendable aspect of the night.
Following dessert, and on a whim, we inquired about limoncello and were delighted to hear that they make their own. Suffice to say, it was excellent and the perfect end to a near-perfect meal.
Another disclaimer it is important to make is that this is the only restaurant on Orcas thus far that we have been offered a tasting menu. Some might argue that this gives an unfair advantage to this establishment. Through the diversity, quantity, and composition of the meal they had the ability to flex their skills in a way that an a la carte menu doesn’t. In all of this, you’d be right. So, does this factor into our numerical score for the restaurant? While I can’t speak for my companion, it will factor into my score, and to any concerned patrons or proprietors of competing establishments, maybe you should consider a tasting menu too…
So, in summary, Ship Bay Inn Restaurant provided a sublime and well-rounded dining experience to fit occasions ranging from the formal to the casual. With the exception of one or two nitpicky critiques, I can find no glaring issues with service, food, or atmosphere. The price of your meal will reflect the quality, but it will all reflect value. I highly recommend Inn At Ship Bay.