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THE CULINARY RETREAT
What: White Barn Inn
Where: Kennebunkport, Maine
The pitch: Let us fill you in on a secret about Maine: People don't really come for the rocky beaches, the quaint cottages, or the quirky character of the place. They come for the food. (Admit it, you're already thinking about lobster, aren't you?) What we love about the White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport is that it handily fulfills the gustatory urge—it's a Relais & Châteaux property whose restaurant distills the best elements of Maine—and it throws in all those extras—the gorgeous beaches and outsized charm—as well. The restaurant is in a restored barn with high ceilings and so much wood you'll worry about the number of candles. The tuxedoed waiters are blessed with the ability to be at once meticulous and relaxed (and funny)—the kind of personality that comes from working happily at one place for a very long time. Executive chef Jonathan Cartwright cooks up New England dishes with a little extra panache for his four-course tasting menu—drizzling truffle vinaigrette over scallops and sweetbreads as an opener, proceeding to shrimp, lobster, and sea urchins with a hollandaise glaze, then roast duck breast with potato foam, a cartful of New England cheeses, and an apple soufflé to finish it all off. What—not enough lobster? Order à la carte: The lobster spring rolls are our personal favorite, and how can you not try the steamed Maine lobster with fettuccine and cognac-butter sauce?
The details: Guests have been staying at the inn since the 1860s, and its organic evolution is reflected in the variety of room styles. You have a choice of 28 rooms, including four garden lodgings that open onto a courtyard with a garden and pool, and three wharf cottages built along the Kennebunk River, each with patio and fireplace. If you want the showstopper, book the Loft, with its own entrance, cathedral ceilings, large Jacuzzi bath and steam shower, and private veranda.
The killer app: If you've come this far for a knockout meal, you may as well go all the way, with a private dinner in the Wine Cellar. Home to the inn's 7,000 bottles, it's constructed of warm red cedar, mahogany, and marble, and is surprisingly cozy. The restaurant can seat up to 15 guests, and the sommelier will arrange special tastings to accompany the courses.
White Barn Inn
Tel: 207 967 2321
Doubles from $315; junior suites from $620