I’ve gone to top restaurants all around the nation, and I’m not quick to say it:
This was easily the best meal I’ve ever had in my life thus far.
I’m not going to lie, I had high expectations for a good meal before I ever walked in the door on New Year’s Eve. We make it an annual tradition to have a night out, just the two of us, on New Year's every year enjoying a fabulous tasting menu and then going to se the fireworks downtown. My husband and I are quite discerning in our search for truly great food, but once discovering James Beard Nominee Jeremy Hansen’s Santé in the heart of downtown Spokane, We try somewhere new every year, and we have had hits and misses. A memorable hit last year was at Hansen's other restaurant, Santé. We'd thought we found the best Spokane had to offer.
We were wrong.
Inland Pacific Kitchen is answering the call of Spokane's need for an avant-garde restaurant that regularly features a tasting menu in a modern, forward thinking culinary environment that values metamorphosis. We gleefully made an observation when we were fortunate enough to try their menu for their inception menu before it officially opened. I mean, if the number of glasses presented were any indication, we were in for a phenomenal meal.
Inland Pacific Kitchen is the brainchild of Jeremy and Kate Hansen, and I had heard about the restaurant after working with the chef as a TEDx Speaker Curator and Coach for his debut presentation, and was fortunate enough to tour the location as it was coming together. It was truly a labor of love for this Spokane culinary power couple from its very inception. Chef Hansen travelled to Japan and Denmark (to dine at the famed Noma 1.0 with Rene Redzepi) seeking inspiration for the dynamic tasting menus he was hoping to achieve.
Their New Year’s Eve offering was the last event before the official grand opening, and boasted a menu featuring all white ingredients. We asked to be added to their guest list with a curiosity and the expectation of a great meal, and yet wondered if an all white food roster would produce a boring or one-note result in flavor.
When we entered the space, we were immediately greeted by his highly-trained and friendly staff, and escorted to our seats in full view of the kitchen beneath wonderful, original local artwork. The integrity of the historic Washington Cracker Company building was lovingly preserved while still producing a decidedly modern vibe. The result was a space that you knew fosters and worships creativity and forward-thinking, while still honoring Spokane heritage and its hard-working values.
Flats of microgreens were laid out near the prep station and brought a lovely freshness indoors despite the fact that nearly 2 feet of snow had freshly fallen just outside the windows. We truly felt as though we had been transported somewhere far from Spokane, especially when the first course arrived.
The team at work was calm and highly focused. The kitchen was largely silent save for the graceful, near synchronized movement of the many chefs - Hansen, Sous Chef Chong Vang, Chef de Partie Timena Shebala, Executive Pastry Chef Lynette Pflueger and Guest Chef Arjuna Bull, with Simon Moorby deftly handling cocktails that he personally crafted for the meal centering around Absinthe.
The meal started what we worried would be bizarrely, with cauliflower, angel food cake and creme fraiche. Perfectly paired with a celebratory, light and clean champagne, we were delighted with this dark horse of a first plate. The cauliflower had that perfect and very French doneness - cooked, but not soft. It provided a welcome neutral background to the more unique accompaniments. In an edgy play on words and textures, the angel food cake was powdered “angel dust”, joked the chef, and lent the dish a sweet and salty balance that coupled beautifully with the tart and creamy creme fraiche. At this point, we knew we were in for a superb meal. If you can create such magic with a humble piece of cauliflower, I want to see what you can do next.
Second course was a showstopper that was likely influenced by Chef Hansen’s time abroad in Asia, and featured a sticky rice with coconut, lychee and rice paper, scented by an enveloping jasmine “fog”. The unbelievable combination of aromas and flavors gave this menu a “next level” feeling. Granted, we’ve seen the use of dry ice for drama, but it made it no less appealing to every diner present. At the table next to us, the lovely and dynamic Spokane power couple comprised of Ginger Ewing and Luke Baumgarten were equally in awe of this course, both with iPhones in hand trying to capture the fleeting ethereal effect of the fog as well. We both “oohed” and “aahed” over not just the composition, but also the roller coaster of flavor that lacked only the intentional choice of color on the plate. It was paired with a Soave from Italy that had the most lovely floral notes along with crisp pear and apple that pleasantly cut the sweetness of the warm rice pudding.
Course three was no less innovative, and has been demonstrated as one of the specialties of this team - the celeriac sorbet with crispy rice. The quenelle of creamy, silky smooth and sweet/savory sorbet had a complexity that shows Pfleuger’s strength in using bold ingredients in her creations. It was the moment that lent an almost childlike joy to the meal with a nostalgia from rice crispy treats, but elevated to a new height. The cold was welcome after the previous course, and the salty crisped rice was just right. Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley gave a smoky, buttery depth to this one.
Fourth was the artfully presented crumbled feta with white pepper aioli, apple, pear, yuzu and olive oil. It had a subtlety that still packed an ebb and flow of sweet and salty, with a beautiful breadth of tastes from all around the globe. This is what makes globalization so great; that chefs can take culturally diverse ingredients and make something truly new.
Following that was the true scene stealer of the night. When reading the menu, I would never have guessed that this would be the runaway favorite: fresh bay scallops with lemon creme fraiche and shaved fennel. This. Was. Incredible. The lemon creme was utterly divine, and had just the right amount of lemon punch, lightly sweet, and unctuous creaminess. The shaved fennel provided a welcome florality and crispy texture that rounded out each bite.
I’m not going to lie, at this point the meal became a delicious blur. We could hardly contain ourselves.
Even my very serious husband began to loosen up and find his inner child.
Next up was the Coconut Tom Kha. The milky broth was unbelievably rich in flavor, and at its center sat a perfect king oyster with tripe, and the puffed rice noodle was a great textural component.
After that, the luxurious butter poached monkfish with leek and white polenta and brightly pickled pearl onion. This one was Mr. Peterson’s favorite of the night. It was all the best aspects of what lobster can be, but in a fish, and the delicate texture was absent of even the slightest hint of fishiness, and as decadent as seafood can be at its best.
The second place winner of the night (for me) was the Chicken and Lardo with white chocolate, smoked parsnip, potato and wasabi oil. Boldly paired with a 2013 Argentinian Malbec from Andeluna…. DIVINE. I am pretty sure I would need to be resuscitated if I were fortunate enough to eat this one again. It was truly beyond reproach. The bright, floral and pleasantly spicy oil must have utilized the coveted fresh wasabi root, and the sweetness of the chocolate was heavenly.
Lastly, the Angel Food Cake had a delightful coconut sorbet, milk crumble, and meringue peaks topped with gold leaf. It was the point in the meal where I felt perfectly satisfied, and the lightness of each ingredient left us feeling as if we were floating right out the door.
The perfect end to a perfect meal. It was, at EVERY turn, a triumph. We could do little more than congratulate the chef and his team, and he was gracious enough to stop by and chat about the innovative future that he plans for this new Spokane culinary hot spot.
It left me feeling refreshed and inspired, and I’m sure if you are fortunate enough to dine with the capable, dynamic team at Inland Pacific Kitchen, you will, too.