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Kennebunkport, ME
The White Barn Inn has one of the most romantic dining rooms I have seen anywhere: a converted 1820 white barn with vintage wood floors, tapestry chairs, 19th-century paintings of farm animals on the walls, a rear glass wall showcasing the flora of the season, and rustic antiques decorating the upstairs loft. Add candlelight, plenty of corner nooks for privacy, a pianist playing softly, and you get the idea. Plus, the menu is up to the setting. It changes weekly, but when I was there last summer every dish was a standout of bold, well-balanced flavors: seared foie gras and quail confit tortellini with green asparagus and a truffle-infused sauce; lobster spring roll with carrot, daikon radish, snowpeas, cilantro, and a Thai spicy-sweet sauce; seared local diver-harvested scallops with pancetta and dill oil. The main course, steamed Maine lobster on homemade fettuccine with carrot, ginger, snow peas, and a cognac coral butter sauce, was so good that I had it twice. That's the good news.

The bad news is that anyone who comes here expecting the perfect rustic retreat (not illogical, given its Relais & Châteaux membership and many articles praising it as the ultimate hideaway) will be disappointed. The inn is located on one of the main roads coming into Kennebunkport and there are no grounds, as the property is just large enough to contain the buildings housing the 25 rooms and a swimming pool (a nice one, composed of Gunite and fieldstone). Besides being squeezed together, the rooms are also inconsistently furnished. Some, such as my favorite, the Poolside Cottage, are rustic and quaint with fourposters and fireplaces. (However, it is right by the pool and has no privacy.) On the other hand, my room, the Loft Suite, had privacy but strange decorating touches, such as a headboard of tufted white leather and a white ceramic outstretched hand next to the Jacuzzi. My advice: Consider this a down East version of a European restaurant with rooms. One of the best things about staying over is breakfast—cheddar-cheese grits with grilled Maine lobster and local forest mushroom omelette. $230-$525. 37 Beach Avenue; 207-967-2321; fax 207-967-1100. Reservations: 800-735-2478.


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