Making Connections on an Autumn Night

Posted on October 11, 2011 by

The White Barn Inn in Kennebunk, Maine, was the perfect setting to celebrate the beauty of autumn, good food and new friendships last evening. We’d had the gift certificate for nearly a year — thanks to our daughter and son-in-law’s generous gift last Christmas. But we never seemed to have the time or right clothes to wear through the busy summer months.

But we purposely planned to use it this weekend and now we are happy that we’d put it off for so long.

The first benefit of waiting until the end of a busy holiday weekend is that the cordial inn wasn’t nearly so busy as it would have been if we’d ventured there on Saturday or Sunday night.

We arrived promptly for our 6 p.m. reservation and had a few minute wait while the staff was putting finishing touches on the elegant dining rooms. First plus of the evening – meeting a friendly traveler enjoying his book in the inn’s comfortable reception area.

Small talk evolved. “We’re from Massachusetts,” we said. “I’m from Chicago,”  he noted. But “Chicago” really turned out to be Lake Forest, the lovely North Shore Lake Michigan town where we’d enjoyed the first year of our marriage 45 years ago. So we talked about the places we remembered there, told him about places to visit with his wife in Maine – their first trip to our favorite coastal state. Good feelings and a new friendship, if only for 15 minutes.

We shook hands, wished him happy leaf-peeping, then scurried in to the comfortable dining room, with its fabulous tableaux of fall colors displayed behind glass – orange pumpkins, golden gourds, purple, wheat and yellow mums all displayed artfully on shabby chic wrought iron pieces and worn wooden benches. I’d love to be able to make such an arrangement, I thought. But mine would be just piles of pumpkins and pots of flowers, not an aesthetically pleasing work of art. The array, though, made us happy, again, that we’d put off our dinner until fall.

And then there was the blueberry martini. I’m not one to drink cocktails, staying true to my chardonnay or pinot noir inklings. But last night, for fun, I ordered a martini, infused with blueberry and vanilla vodkas with three perfect berries floating in the glass. It smelled luscious from the moment the server placed it before me. Blueberry cobbler in a glass with a bit of a kick. Aunt Marge’s martini was never like this. Oh, yum.

Dinner followed – 4 perfect oysters, each infused with a different sauce – béarnaise, caramel popcorn, seaweed wrapped and one more I can’t remember but know was different and delicious.

Then silky smooth corn chowder infused with basil oil, the perfect intermezzo, followed by a fabulous beef tenderloin, cooked to medium rare tenderness and served in pools of pureed parsnips, I think.

The plate was perfection, except for that one lone nub of cauliflower that looked a bit forlorn on the plate and seemed lacking in flavor, almost as if it had been boiled to over-doneness. Maybe roasted cauliflower would have been a better choice, or even a few roasted root vegetables – sweet potatoes, red onion, butternut squash, turnip, parsnips — to add a shot of color to the plate. But why quibble with near perfection, especially since the meat was done to my liking.

We both had tenderloin and kept shaking our heads in disbelief that we were eating the whole thing, especially since one would have been more than enough for us both to share.

On to dessert – first a little taste of a jellied something or other – actually like a sophisticated raspberry gelatin in Bavarian cream. served in a tiny cordial glass.  That would have been plenty, I thought, full from my tenderloin. But no, a beautiful flourless chocolate cake arrived, accompanied by a lovely scoop of mint ice cream, drizzled with some caramel sauce and joined by a couple of tiny chocolate truffles. A chocoholic’s delight, I  wished I had more room for it.

And on the sweets came – a pedestal of petit fours including a tasty pecan morsel and another tiered chocolate one. My, my, I thought, this is one of the most fabulous meals I’ve ever encountered. We even received a sweet send-off with the check – three tiny muffins to cap the evening. I ate one and brought the other two home for morning breakfast, as if I ever would want to eat again after this gustatory encounter.

But it wasn’t only the food that made last night special. It was our servers Annika (I hope I am spelling her name correctly) and Ruby, who made the evening an event we will never forget. Annika is from Poland and talked amiably about her time here working in the U.S.

Ruby, a local girl from nearby Sanford, added a friendly casual touch to our evening, one we had not encountered on other visits here. A Jennifer Garner look-alike, she has big plans and ambitions to go in to this business. She is learning it from the ground up, having worked already in housekeeping and dishwashing at the inn and now on the dining room’s serving staff.  She is a natural and should go far with her friendliness and pleasant nature. We wish her well. Annika, too. They made the evening comfortable and comforting, not a bit stuffy as we’d occasionally felt on earlier visits.

And our next door table neighbors – the Brunos from Westford at the inn to celebrate their 30th anniversary – added to the  connections we made last night as we shared stories with them. Their sister teaches and lives in Acton. And it turns out our daughter knows her. One other reason last night was special.

Still basking in the glow of our autumn night at the White Barn Inn, we came home, fell into the soft covers and dreamt of perfection — food, flowers, service and new friendships that all added  up to a night to remember.

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