Chef Janis McLean said she is most excited about building her menu around locally available meat, fish and produce, obtained from boutique growers. "You often hear the term 'sustainable local providers,' but now it will really happen," McLean said recently. She had just received her first delivery of local organic eggs.
The dining room has always been one of the city's most lovely, a vestige of the inn's origins as two handsome townhouses. Original floor-to-ceiling mirrors accent either end of the long, narrow dining room, matching exactly the pelmets for the draperies on either side. An upholstered circular bench anchors the center of the dining room. Comfortable but proper balloon-back chairs are pulled up to tables draped in crisp linens.
McLean's menu is small: four appetizers, four salads and six entrees.
The shrimp and grits appetizer is a Southern specialty, and here it is kept simple and true to its origins: stone-ground grits serve as a base for bourbon-marinated shrimp that are pan-seared and drizzled with a bourbon and country ham glaze. The shrimp are fresh and not overpowered by the marinade or the glaze. And though it's an appetizer portion, it's large enough for a small entree.
Jerusalem artichoke soup, a favorite in Europe, isn't found as often in this country, but McLean's version is worth seeking out. McLean roasts the tubers (actually the root of a sunflower-type plant) to give the soup an earthy tone, then tops it with truffled cream and crisp shallot slivers.
Salads here should not be dismissed as so much rabbit food. Grilled bits of hearts of palm accent a mound of slightly bitter baby arugula tamed with slices of blood oranges and creamy mild avocado. Mixed spring greens are garnished with artisan goat cheese, dried cherries and a caramelized shallot vinaigrette.
Each of the entrees is complicated to prepare but offers clear, vibrant flavors. Lamb is done two ways -- as a rosemary-scented chop and a lamb and olive ragout -- and then paired with creamy polenta. There is a roasted organic baby chicken and traditional crab cakes, as well as a Delmonico steak with braised wild mushrooms.
Black cod is roasted but still moist and juicy and is laid atop sauteed fresh spinach and French lentils.
There are several desserts, but the one to seek out is the lemon chess pie. This old-time favorite isn't puckery tart, but the flavor of the lemon shines through.
--Nancy Lewis (March 29, 2007)
Banana Cream Pie
A thick wedge of fruit-flecked custard with soggy vanilla wafers is definitely not what arrives at the table in this elegant Victorian dining room. Chef Janis McLean has rethought the Southern dessert's elements from the bottom up. Hers features a delicate chocolate-crumb tart shell made from in-house biscotti; thin and firm banana slices; and a not-too-sweet pastry cream flavored with white chocolate and mascarpone cheese, then lightened with whipped cream. A dollop of chantilly cream and a shard of amber-colored sesame-seed nougatine gild the already-pretty presentation, along with three bruleed banana slices on the plate ($8).
-- Bonnie S. Benwick (March 26, 2008)