Wednesday, March 12, 2014
By N.L ENGLISH
KENNEBUNK — Over the years, including the six I have been writing this column, the White Barn Inn has come up for discussions focused on money.
White tablecloths and framed art contrast with the rustic beams and wood walls and floor at the White Barn Inn, where the service is exemplary and the food unsurpassed.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
WHITE BARN INN, 37 Beach Ave., Kennebunk. 967-2321; www.whitebarninn.com
HOURS: Open April to the beginning of January every night for dinner; closed Jan. 3-20; open Jan. 21 to April 1 for dinner Wednesday to Sunday and on Feb. 14.
CREDIT CARDS: Visa, Mastercard and American Express
PRICE RANGE: $98 prix fixe for a four-course meal with “surprises” or $140 nine-course tasting menu
VEGETARIAN DISHES: Yes
GLUTEN-FREE: By request, and even better with as much notice as possible
KIDS: Leave them home – even though they are welcome.
RESERVATIONS: Highly recommended, and require a credit card to hold the table. Cancellation fee of $25 per person if you cancel less than 24 hours before the reservation. Dress code requires men to wear a jacket (loaners on site), and frowns on athletic wear, cargo pants, sneakers and jeans.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: No
BOTTOM LINE: Over the top in luxurious extras, elaborations, polished service and other furbelows, the White Barn Inn serves food that trumps them all.
Rating based on a five-star scale. It is the policy of the Maine Sunday Telegram to visit an establishment twice if the first dining experience was unsatisfactory.
Could its prix fixe dinner possibly be worth the price? My answer is yes.
From an exultation over the lobster bisque to hallelujahs upon tasting the halibut, the venison and the salmon, our dinners gave us joy.
And if, toward the end, when my blood-sugar level was spiking and the urbane server detailed the chocolates with an insinuating voice that brought to mind John Cleese telling Mr. Creosote, “wafer-thin …” well, never mind. Too much is just right, every once in a while, so long as it is so exceptionally good.
My newspaper-supported dinner budget stretched high enough only for one person, so I am grateful to two friends who paid their own way, allowing me to taste multiple dishes and discuss all we were experiencing on a higher-priced Christmas Prelude Weekend night ($105 per person). The a capella group Women of Note sang two holiday songs each hour for the three hours we dined, enlivening the room with excellent harmonizing and a really jazzy alto section.
The long, sophisticated wine list winds through realms and bottles beyond my reach. My one quibble with the White Barn Inn was its list of wines by the glass: only one priced in the single digits, and the highest priced $34.
Rutherford Ranch Merlot ($10), a rich red wine touched with oak and flaunting dark berries, began things well, and the St. Francis Cabernet Sauvignon ($13), darker and more lush, made elegant sense with the venison. The first was poured in a Bordeaux glass and the second into a Burgundy glass. Pascal Jolivet Sancerre ($16), a French Sauvignon Blanc, was pronounced excellent.
We chose three courses and a dessert after a spell of pleasant agonizing, and welcomed the man with the bread basket who listed the six-plus kinds of bread he had on offer. Fresh, lovely butter and a fruity olive oil in a tiny carafe sat on the table on a silver tray.
Our table looked into an open porch stuffed with greenery, branches of red berries and a Christmas tree hung with gold angels and ribbons, all girdled with strings of white lights. The restaurant is in a barn – the walls paneled with worn, gray wood – but white tablecloths, shaded lights and silver animal and bird sculptures on the tables make up a fraction of the decor that transforms the space into an art-filled cocoon.
When any of the food items swooped in, they were carried by a phalanx of servers and set in front of each of us simultaneously, along with a quiet description. The service of every course at every table resembled a performance of synchronized swimmers who were careful, as one of my companions had been on her high school team, to always smile.
A little, wonderful first bite arrived made with a slice of lobster tail, creme fraiche, lemon vinaigrette, pineapple-melon salsa and a dab of caviar.
Lobster spring roll wrapped a crisp wonton wrapper around tender lobster nested in finely shredded carrot, crunchy snow peas and daikon that oozed a wonderful aromatic liquid.
Half a tiny roast quail on a trumpet royal mushroom – not likely in the plural, since the slender, delicious thing was quartered lengthwise – made a few delicious mouthfuls along with a liver stuffing sweetened with pomegranate reduction. A half moon “tortellino” was stuffed with sweet corn. But the truly intoxicating taste on the plate was almost-raw foie gras, astonishingly liquid, light and deliriously good.
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