We’d just finished dinner at the Lincoln Inn and Restaurant at the Covered Bridge in Woodstock, Vt., a multicourse masterpiece that we’d be talking about (and craving) for weeks to come. Last meal worthy. A definite contender for top ten.
It started with warm rolls smeared with chili and rosemary butter; next, a tomato and roasted red pepper bisque topped with dehydrated tomato and basil “soil” (dehydrated basil mixed with brioche for a fun play on flavor, texture and presentation). There was a seared scallop, sea urchin, and salmon roe dish, a butter poached lobster served with black onion ash (blackened, burnt onions dehydrated and pulverized and used to create a stencil pattern on the plate). A light beetroot, pomegranate quinoa salad was served before the pigeon poulet rouge, that had been air dried for seven days and brushed with maple syrup. The next dish, Miyazaki wagyu beef tenderloin with escargot and oyster bourguignon, was one we’d henceforth compare to all other steaks. Ahh, remember that tenderloin at the Lincoln Inn?
Dessert was a dark chocolate delice with strawberry sorbet. Nightcap? Well, why not. There was an added perk to dining at the Lincoln Inn; we’d already booked rooms. Comfy beds and a goodnight’s sleep were mere steps away.
It’s great to have luxurious accommodations in beautiful settings. It’s doubly good to have fabulous, gourmet dining on-site. Here are five New England country inns with dining rooms that will satisfy the gastronomic desires of even the most serious of gourmet travelers. Bon appetit and bon nuit!
Lincoln Inn and Restaurant at the Covered Bridge
This historic 1875 riverside farmhouse inn, once owned by President Abe Lincoln’s cousin, is patterned after the rural European “restaurant with rooms” concept, where Michelin-star trained Chef Jevgenija Saromova performs her culinary alchemy. Every evening diners gather for cocktails at 7 in the small lounge area, where owner-proprietor Mara Mehlman greets guests and reveals the night’s multi-course menu. There is one seating nightly in the dining room for about 20 to 26 guests, who are served each course at the same time, and encouraged to linger over Saromova’s finely plated dishes. (There’s also a small, private Chef’s Table dining room, originally built for actor Paul Newman and his family, who frequently visited the inn.)
“I like to tell a story on the plate,” says Saromova, who often sketches a dish before creating it. “I draw it and then decide what might work with the ingredients at hand.”
The result is a piece of culinary art: classical haute cuisine with creative flourish, served in a relaxed, warm setting.
The focus here is clearly on the food, but there are six clean, understated rooms upstairs, with basic furnishings and small, private baths. And, breakfast the next day is included, not as fancy as your dinner the night before, but delicious nonetheless. 2709 W. Woodstock Road, Woodstock, Vt.; 802-457-7052; www.lincolninn.com. Room rates start at $150.
Belfry Inn & Bistro
Walk into the Bistro at the Belfry and you might find yourself speaking in hushed tones. With its soaring ceilings and stained glass, the Belfry feels like a house of worship. In fact, this c.1901 space once housed the Corpus Christi Catholic Church. Now, guests nibble Thai-spiced oysters, not communion wafers, in this reimagined space, or have drinks at a bar created from old church pews. (The former confessional now houses wine and liquor. Cheeky.) Salvaged architectural elements abound. A fireplace and live piano music add warmth to the dining room, as do the enticing aromas coming from the kitchen — perhaps Chef Suraj Chopra’s lavender-scented duck or the sear of the center-cut filet. The menu tilts toward “seasonal New American,” including a three-course prix fixe option.
Sixteen guest rooms are spread throughout three of the buildings that make up the Belfry Inn. Each of the guest rooms is unique. For sheer drama, choose a room in The Abbey, above the Bistro. Oversize stained-glass windows, spa tubs, and gas fireplaces are among the features. Other guest rooms are set within the c.1881 Painted Lady and the c.1827 Federal-style Village Inn. All of this is located in historic Sandwich Village.6 Jarves St., Sandwich; 508-888-8550; www.belfryinn.com. Room rates start at $157.
Sugar Hill Inn
Sugar Hill, N.H.
Surrounded by the White Mountain National Forest, and in the shadows of the Presidential, Franconia and Kinsman mountain ranges,, this quiet and romantic inn (no kids allowed) is an easy place to settle in and relax. You could go skiing or biking or hiking, and there are plenty of attractions nearby, or you could simply cozy up in the library to read a book, grab a seat next to the fireplace for drinks in the tavern, soak in your whirlpool bath, gaze out at the mountain scenery.
The original farmhouse dates to 1789, with exposed wood beams, stone hearths, and wood floors. There are nine rooms in the main inn, all have been updated with quality furnishings, fine linens and modern baths; most have fireplaces. There’s also a two-bedroom guesthouse and three private cottages, including the newly built Dream cottage, with cathedral ceilings, fieldstone fireplace, whirlpool tub and private sauna.
When it’s time for dinner, head to the candlelit dining room (there’s seating for 18 or so), snag a table next to the fireplace, and enjoy a four- or five-course prix fixe meal. The menu changes frequently, but expect dishes like celery root and white chocolate soup (it tastes much better than it sounds), pork belly and tuna appetizer, mushroom risotto with butter poached lobster and truffle, and roasted rack of venison. 116 Route 117, Sugar Hill, N.H., 603-823-5621; www.sugarhillinn.com. Room rates start around $200.
The Danforth Inn
Be prepared to be surprised and seduced at this sophisticated inn and restaurant, housed in a stately 1823 Federal-style mansion in Portland’s grand West End neighborhood. Tempo Dulu, under the helm of executive chef Kyle Bledsoe, specializes in Southeast Asian-inspired dishes, served in three sleek rooms, punctuated with bold contemporary art. The highly touted restaurant (it’s also open to the public) serves inspired, meticulously sourced and elegantly plated dishes, like fried sweetbreads with tamarind bumbu glaze, smoked venison carpaccio with nua nam thok, five spice braised pork belly with soy cured egg and chili poached apples, and Penang poached lobster tail with coconut turmeric rice and roasted lychee. There’s an a la carte menu, chef’s Indonesian rijsttafel tasting menu (olive oil tuna lab, Bali pork with kecap and chili, bumbu Bali halibut steamed in banana leaf), and a lobster tasting menu (you have to love a place that offers a “pink hot lobster dog”)!
Lucky are those who also book a room. There are nine of them, all updated, with elegant baths, modern furnishings, and bold original art. And breakfast the following morning (included in the room rate) awaits. Think: congee with poached egg, pork belly, crispy garlic, ginger and pickled jalapeno. 163 Danforth St., Portland; 207-879-8755; www.danforthinn.com. Room rates start at $199.
Christmas Farm Inn & Spa
Longtime fans love the good-vibe, holiday theme (rooms named Rudolph and Everything Nice, decorations year-round, drinks in the Mistletoe Pub!) and tout the down-home hospitality and friendly service at this family-owned mini-resort, set on a hillside in pretty Jackson Village.
There are a variety of accommodations in a mismatched complex of buildings. The 1786 Main Inn and adjacent Saltbox, with age-warped wooden floors and country décor, have 18 simple rooms. Scattered up the hillside are seven cottages with working fireplaces and separate sitting areas. The historic barn has loft suites for parties of six to eight, and further up the hill, the Carriage House has 12 king suites with spa tubs and gas fireplaces, above a full-service Aveda spa. Something for everyone.
Ditto for inn diners who have a wide choice of hearty, hefty dishes, like tenderloin beef tips, veal schnitzel, lamb shank, turkey dinner, lobster and shrimp scampi, pistachio crusted salmon and mushroom risotto. Wild Game Night dinner is a local favorite that may include elk roulade, venison osso buco and shredded duck risotto. 3 Blitzen Way, Jackson, N.H.; 603-383-4313; www.christmasfarminn.com. Rates start at $99.Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.