December 12, 2010

Taste & Tell: White Barn Inn’s prix fixe dinner is worth every penny


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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


, 37 Beach Ave., Kennebunk. 967-2321;

: *****

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


By request, and even better with as much notice as possible

Leave them home – even though they are welcome.

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.

BAR: Full


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.

Lobster bisque held all eyes and ears, as it was devoured with eruptions of delight.

Executive chef Jonathan Cartwright had been interviewed on “The Charlie Rose Show” on PBS the night before we ate his food, talking about “85 Inspirational Chefs” and “Chefs At Home,” books to which he contributed. We were pleased for him but just the same so happy to learn he was in the kitchen, infusing his mastery into the dishes.

The deep, roasted intensity of the bisque lent that soup an incredible power, something between roasted and burned, requiring some unerring courage to edge toward the boundary of what’s it’s possible to enjoy.

“Intermezzo” meant cranberry sorbet with a teeny vial of raspberry vodka (one diner thought the liquor gave the sorbet too much bitterness), a “Bon Bon” that was a pasta dumpling filled with Parmesan with prosciutto foam, and a cup of clam chowder that shared with the bisque a taste that was mineral-like and sharp, like the tang of saltwater.

Atlantic farm-raised salmon was silky, cooked through as requested but ordinarily served medium rare, the “chef’s temperature” that you can revise when you order. Baked fingerling potatoes were adorable, squeezed open in a cross-cut and filled with creme fraiche topped with farm-raised California osetra caviar.

Halibut was opaque, and the curl of smoked lobster tail beside it introduced the element of fire amid paprika butter sauce. Shades of past lobster bakes rose from the plate.

A venison loin with a ruby center and browned edges held pure iron in contrast to shredded red cabbage cooked with vinegar, a sliced chestnut stuffing on top, and cranberry gastrique, a tart sauce based on sugar and wine or vinegar with fruit.

Potato croquettes with chopped mushrooms, poached cranberries and toasted chestnuts roasted after they were peeled elaborated on the forest of wintry flavors.

The raspberry panna cotta under lemon cream and a shard of crunchy toffee was a pre-dessert.
Chocolate-covered cheesecake, with a sturdy texture and a more pronounced cheese flavor, was remarkable. White chocolate creme brulee pleased nicely. And, set on crisp gingersnaps, cranberry and cider sorbet, ginger and cinnamon ice creams were each excellent, the cinnamon ice cream wearing two paper-thin slices of crunchy, dried green apple.

A silver dessert display with multiple arms and tiny trays held little chocolates with lime, white chocolate and white peach gelee, and each tiny square was perfect  – but we were flagging despite the smooth, hot and strong coffee.

Little cranberry cakes arrived with the check – in which only wine and tax was additional – but by then, only one of us had the stomach to take one last bite, and it wasn’t me.

N.L. English is a Portland freelance writer and the author of “Chow Maine: The Best Restaurants, Cafes, Lobster Shacks and Markets on the Coast.” Visit English’s website,

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