On our last full day on Orcas, we made reservations for an early dinner at one of the nicer restaurants on the island: the New Leaf Café
We planned a 5:30 dinner so we could watch the sun going down over the bay as we dined. Besides, that way we’d still have plenty of time for hot tubbing later in the evening!
The Outlook Inn itself is a tall, rambling wooden structure, sitting a mere 40 feet or so from the water’s edge … 40 feet that includes the entire width of Main Street. In fact, all of Main Street seemed filled with businesses sitting almost directly on Main Street … most, more than just proverbially. The entire town seemed to want to be as close to passersby as it could manage.
Beyond that quick hop from the front porch of the Inn lies nothing but cold, salty water … and two hillsides filled with trees and cabins, rising up from the still bay on either side! Very picturesque
The cafe itself sits on one side of the main entrance of the Outlook Inn, so we got a glimpse of the inn too on our way into dinner … making mental notes for future jaunts to the island. Our reservation was set for the same time the restaurant opened for dinner, and our host met us promptly at the adjoining door. He settled us into a window seat on the bay side of the restaurant–perfect so far–and my friend and I decided that we each needed a drink to celebrate the evening. After all … the guys were driving/navigating us around on the tiny island … we weren’t
Several specialty libations graced their bar menu, but one description in particular caught my attention … pretty much instantly. It read:
Elderflower Gin Martini: Martin Miller’s Gin, Elderflower Likor, fresh lime, splash of apple juice served in a martini glass.
One please! 😈
Oh, my! That picture–even if I ladled eighty pages of elaborately embroidered verbal description on top of it–will never even begin to express the flavor I found in that frosted glass. I’ve always loved the green, herbal flavor of gin anyway–and martinis are my favorite way to enjoy it–but this was gin extraordinaire, bracketed by sweet pear juice and the bite of fresh lime, with the elderflower liqueur bringing its own deliciously fruity flavor to the mix. It was sweet and tart, herbal and flowery … all at the same time. MMMmmm! Heavenly!
My friend decided to go in a slightly different direction, choosing one of their other interesting cocktails:
Lady Sage: House infused mango cucumber vodka, with fresh lime juice, peach bitters, muddled with fresh sage.
She enjoyed hers as much as I enjoyed mine. She shared a taste (as I shared a taste of mine with her) and it was tasty, too: icy cold and well-blended, yet you could taste each and every flavor in it. Sage is one of my favorite flavors on the planet, too … but the cucumber taste was a little much for me … so I’m glad I started with the one I chose. It suited me better anyway
My friends opted to start their meal with the appetizer special: a pork rillette served with fresh cornichons, dijon mustard, and fried almonds.
With a big basket of rustic bread added in, this tasty plate kept them busy for quite a while. Pork rillette is made from lean cuts of pork, which are then seasoned and slow-cooked in heavy fat, similar to the process they use to make duck confit. Once the meat is done–and completely succulent after simmering in fat for that extended period of time–it’s shredded and buried under a thin layer of fat in order to keep it moist. The New Leaf Café served theirs with very fresh-tasting cornichons and tasty little skinned and fresh-fried almonds. My friends couldn’t stop bragging about all of it! My little nibble told me–once again–that my friends have great taste
My husband opted for the French onion soup as his starter, topped with toasted gruyere cheese.
It’s one of his favorite soups–one I can for him, in fact–so he’s a little spoiled … because I make it EX-actly like he likes it. This was a little different from what I normally prepare for him … I normally give him a lot more onions, and make it without adding wine to it … but he said theirs was lovely just the same, and made a nice break from the version he normally prefers. I especially liked the flavor of the gruyere myself! Heating it brings out some wonderfully nutty flavors in the chewy, melty cheese!
I went in a different direction, myself … and my starter was–quite simply–amazing. I choose the Kobe beef carpaccio, dressed with porcini oil, parmesean, mustard aioli, and arugula.
I could have eaten my weight in it! It was–quite simply–the tastiest thing I’ve put in my mouth in ages! My meat was perfectly chilled, buttery soft, and sliced razor thin into sixteen little rounds of beef you could almost see through. Yet, the small overall weight of the serving was insignificant when compared to the flavor I found on that plate! The bloody, fresh tang of chilled Kobe beef came charging through–despite the strong flavors paired with it–to taste like the best rare steak on the planet. I added a squeeze of lemon juice from the fresh wedge they supplied, then had my waiter add some fresh-cracked black pepper on the top, too. That–combined with the vinegary nip of the capers … the tender bite of bitter greens … the classic umami of all that salty, shaved parmesean … the bite of dijon wrapped inside the smoothness of fresh-made aioli … and the richness of porcini mushroom-scented olive oil–made every bite a masterpiece! If I hadn’t already ordered other things to eat … I swear … I could have just ordered a couple of more plates of the Kobe beef carpaccio for dinner … and been completely satisfied!
My friend chose something that I also considered from the menu: their Pork cutlet, caraway spatzle, house-made saurkraut, braised pork belly, and fried egg dinner.
Doesn’t that just look wonderful? I snagged a taste, too … of course! That’s the beauty of being a food blogger. Friends always go “You want a taste of this?”
I agreed–of course–and I couldn’t find a single bad thing to say about ANYTHING on her plate either! The pork cutlet was crispy on the outside, perfectly seasoned, and tender on the inside: just like you’d expect it to be. I could eat a plate full of those cutlets just like that, or slap one or two on some bread with mustard, ham, Swiss cheese and dill pickles … and grill myself right into Cuban sandwich heaven! The braised pork belly they’d added to the plate was … well, braised pork belly. It’s pork fat/food of the Gods anyway–no matter how you cook it–so it’s hard to make it bad in any way. Theirs was crispy and salty … and just melted in your mouth … so it was almost like a salty crumble for the cutlets in that preparation. The egg on top was cooked to perfection as well: the white firm, the yolk creamy and only just beginning to set around the edges. Pierced, it also made a beautiful sauce for the cutlets and bits of salty pork belly.
Now … most foodies would have given you a throw-away reference to the base layer of the plate at the beginning of that description–just to be sure they’d mentioned it–and then they’d spend the next several paragraphs discussing the stuff on top of the base. Note my shift in the standard presentation. That’s intentional … because the homemade sauerkraut and spatzel found under all that pork and egg goodness actually stole the show away from the main players … even as hard as that is to believe! The sauerkraut was still crunchy, yet tangy and nicely fermented, too … obviously something that had been bubbling in a crock in the back of the kitchen a few days or more. And the spatzel was EXCELLENT! It was tender without being chewy or gummy, and the caraway seeds made it just scream I WAS MADE FOR PORK!
The little braggarts were right, too
Her husband decided to try one of the specials for the evening: Grilled halibut with steamed veggies, some sort of flavored butter/oil, and yukon gold mashed potatoes.
I’m not usually much on grilled fish (shhh! I know! The PNW Fish Police might show up at any time to arrest me) … but I could have easily eaten and enjoyed his dinner, too. The fish tasted amazingly fresh, and the thickness of the cut kept it moist as they grilled it, too. Normally, I’d be reaching for some kind of tarter sauce or something to help me choke it down (thanks to being forced into Weightwatchers for years through my childhood, where you had to eat baked or broiled fish like eight times/week), but this fish was as delicious as it was moist and fresh.
My own husband decided to go with a classic: Grilled filet mignon, crushed peppercorns, and port wine demi-glaze, served with yukon gold mashed potatoes.
Mmmmm … that was definitely a tasty piece of steak. He gave me a sliver to taste … and it was tender and moist and perfectly cooked. I wasn’t quite as hot on the demi-glaze (as I’ve said before, I don’t really like wine-based sauces) but –personally–I didn’t think the steak needed anything except a fork and a knife to enjoy it fully.
Rather than order one big meal myself, I opted to have two more small plates as my entree. The first was the New Leaf’s Duck mac ‘n cheese, with toasted hazelnut crust.
I told our waiter as he cleared my carpaccio plate that I’d probably set the bar too high by having that first, that the kitchen would really have to step up their game from there to beat that first small plate. I was right. If I’d had the duck mac ‘n cheese first, I would have probably tried to bathe in it. The pasta was a perfect al dente, the chunks of duck meat were moist and tender, and the cheese sauce was amazingly creamy. I never really tasted roasted hazelnuts in the crispy coating on top–so I’d have to make a little deduction for that (don’t tell me I’m going to taste something … and then make me hunt for it)–but all in all the mac ‘n cheese was first class … just not quite as killer as the carpaccio 😐
To accompany my mac n’ cheese, I also ordered a second small plate: Shoestring truffle fries with sea salt, parsley, and white truffle oil.
MMmmmm! I wonder if I could carry a little spritzer of white truffle oil around with me in my purse? That way–when faced with average restaurant fries–I could just spritz them a bit with my own supply of white truffle oil. It pairs SO WELL with that good old browned vegetable grease flavor you get on most fries, and–with those crispy bits of sea salt–just made what were pretty average fries just ROCK OUT!!
By this point in the meal, I was so full I could only eat a few of these babies–and, of course, I shared them around the table … to rave reviews–but they were awe inspiring. In fact, I think the next time I venture over to Orcas, it’s going to be two plates of carpaccio, please … with a side of white truffle fries … and an elder berry martini … please
Can you tell we enjoyed our meal?
See that picture? What you see there are four very satisfied folks on their way to the hot tub … after thoroughly plundering the New Leaf Café at the Outlook Inn on Orcas Island … and giving them a solid A!