An Impromptu Review: A Nearly Flawless Dining Experience

 I used to say that I didn’t enjoy going out to restaurants. With American chains like Applebee’s and Ruby Tuesday’s popping up in every shopping center in the area, it’s really no wonder why this distaste for restaurant dining coincided with my peaked interest in health, nutrition, and high quality food. It’s not that I only ever went to these places – I knew my share of reputable, smaller gems, too – but it can be difficult to get the bitter taste of assembly line meals out of your mouth when that is, by and large, the majority of food options surrounding you.

Last night, for a treat, my parents took me to a very local restaurant within a bed and breakfast named The Settler’s Inn, located one town over from our small mountain vacation house. With outdoor eating overlooking their flower garden, a menu that boasts local ingredients including herbs and vegetables grown on their own property, and flavor combinations that you wouldn’t find at the neighborhood Chili’s to say the least – this was just my kind of place, and I was excited to try something new.

When we arrived, we chose to sit outside, which was definitely the right decision. Inside was beautiful, but dark and way too cold from an overzealous air conditioner. Meanwhile, the outside deck was warm and inviting and overlooked a beautiful little garden and gift shop. None of us ordered drinks or cocktails, though my dad said the wine list was enormously impressive (I’m still too much of an amateur to appreciate such things) and some of the cocktails looked intriguing.

Each of us ordered a salad for the first course. While both of my parents ordered a peach, blueberry, watermelon and feta salad over greens (which came in a beautiful presentation and tasted like – shocker – real, fresh fruit and not some watery imitation), I chose a romaine-based salad with spiced almonds, gently roasted tomatoes, and the most amazing blue cheese crumbles I have ever tasted. The menu claimed that it also had figs, and I was excited to try a fresh one of those for the first time, but it wasn’t until I took my last bite of salad that I realized I had been duped. I would imagine that the fig’s inclusion in the salad was more of a seasonal thing and because they couldn’t get their hands on them, they didn’t add them, but I did feel a little disappointed since I have been dying to try them out all year.

I ordered an appetizer as my main course, partially for portion control (since, let’s face it, I had every intention of eating dessert) and partially because it just called to me more than the entrees, though in the end it was far easier to point out the items I wouldn’t want to try than those that piqued my interest. My dad ordered a duck breast with a fresh blueberry sauce, served alongside vegetables and potatoes; my mom had a trout stuffed with arugula and parmesan, served with a lemon risotto – both were equally as delicious as the presentation and previous course suggested. My dish, though – oh, this dish! An seared sesame ahi tuna steak with ginger lime aioli, cream cheese sushi, nectarine jicama slaw, wakame (seaweed) and red caviar (and wasabi and ginger, of course!)…this was la crème de la crème, folks. I am still in a state of food euphoria as I recall this dish. I had never had a tuna steak before, nor had I ever tasted caviar or jicama, though I’ve been dying to try all three. Everything was cooked and balanced perfectly, sweet and savory, smooth and crunchy, umami and cool and refreshing. I didn’t love the caviar – the flavor was subtle and the texture rubbed me ever so slightly the wrong way – but I’m too happy to have even tried it to let that dampen the experience. It was all so indulgent – and I mean that not in the heavy, calorie-laden sense, but in the total enjoyment in a culinary experience sense. What’s even better is that the portion sizes weren’t obscene, and none of us finished our meals feeling at all uncomfortable with the amount of food we ate (and trust me, we cleaned our plates).

 Then there was dessert. The “after dinner sips” tempted me, with raspberry truffle, white chocolate and chocolate liqueurs galore and the occasional surprise like a crème de menthe liqueur or Bailey’s Irish Cream, but I couldn’t let the alcohol distract me. I was going for the real dessert, the food, the stuff that dreams are made of. Was there anything on that menu I didn’t want? Well, yes – a toffee pudding with caramel topping sounded a little too sweet for my sweet tooth. But other than that, they offered a blueberry-lemon crème brulee, a peach sorbet with balsamic syrup and fresh melon, a chocolate-almond tart with fresh strawberry sauce, garden mint ice cream with chocolate cake, and a cheese platter. My dad ordered the peach sorbet, which I didn’t try but he thoroughly enjoyed; my mom ordered the crème brulee which I did try, and both of us really liked that – the lemon gave it a distinctly unique edge to more traditional versions and I loved the scattering of fresh blueberries throughout the creamy filling. I ordered the garden mint ice cream, which was house-made ice cream from mint leaves of their own garden, perched atop a thin almost brownie-like round of chocolate cake; the plate came garnished with chocolate fudge and honey sauces, and the entire dish was out of this world. Unfortunately, I was evidently so enthralled by the dessert that I completely forgot to take a picture of it – hence the practically licked-clean plate you see above. I’m picky about my mint chocolate – the ratio has to be just right and if it’s green, I don’t want anything to do with it – but this was spot on. The texture of the ice cream was soft and creamy, and the mint was cool but subtle enough to blend wonderfully with the fudge sauce and chocolate cake. I admit to feeling a little fuller than I normally prefer to feel after I finish eating, but I still didn’t leave overly stuffed and I savored every last bite and every single calorie. If I can look back on an indulgence and say that about it, then there’s nothing wrong with it in my book (unless it happens, you know, every day. At every meal. And snack. But you get the point).

Overall, this restaurant has officially given my other favorite restaurant a run for its money. The prices are steep, but I would absolutely prefer to treat myself to a meal at Settler’s Inn twice a year than Houlihan’s every month or the local pizza joint every week. Saving up for a meal as special as that one is so worth it to me: the fresh ingredients that are just bursting with the high quality that comes with being locally grown or raised, ambiance that relaxes you, and staff that is attentive without being crowding. If you ever find yourself in this small northern Pennsylvania town and you can afford to spare the change that comes with this kind of restaurant, I highly recommend it. It’s an experience that you aren’t likely to forget soon after, as I can tell I certainly won’t.

And, lastly, because I couldn't leave you without a close-up shot of the gardens and I've been talking all summer about putting a face to this blog, here is a picture of me in the gardens - a little blurry and not the best, but at least now I can be more than a picture of cupcakes with fondant pawprints on top!


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