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Correction to This Article
The Feb. 11 Escapes column misspelled the name of the chef at the Ashby Inn in Paris, Va. He is Christopher Carey, not Carrey.

Inn Love

Three Alternatives to the Inn at LIttle Washington

Wednesday, February 11, 2004; Page C02

Let's give Virginia's Inn at Little Washington its due. With maximum Mobil stars (five for the restaurant, five for the inn) and breathless raves from around the world, we know it makes for a wonderful romantic getaway -- if your name is Trump. For most people, the special occasion to warrant a trip to Washington, Va., would be winning Powerball: A Saturday night room and dinner for two starts at $931 (smallest room prix-fixe menu of $158 per person, not including wine). So we asked Tom Sietsema, The Post's food critic, to suggest three alternatives to the almighty ILW -- romantic properties that deliver excellent food in settings worthy of an anniversary splurge at prices merely stiff, not staggerng. He suggested, and we investigated, these three.

The Inn at Easton

A vase of white orchids decorated the side table. A CD played seductive tunes by Diana Krall. A bottle of Veuve Cliquot Champagne chilled in a silver bucket. One look around our room, and my friend and I wondered how we would ever leave the Inn at Easton in Maryland's Eastern Shore.

An hour later we were downstairs hunched over a tasty cut of roasted kangaroo loin and a distinctive shiraz. A bowl of sticky fig and ginger pudding -- a beloved Australian sweet -- completed the meal. By the time coffee came and the lights dimmed, we were downright smitten with the place.

The 1790 Federal-style mansion was transformed into a seven-room guesthouse three years ago by owners Andrew and Liz Evans. Bold colors -- from the canary yellow lounge to the seaweed-green dining room to the lavender and lilac-blue guest rooms -- are a refreshing change from the flowered wallpaper in many B&Bs. Hardwood floors and Egyptian cotton sheets rounded out the urbane atmosphere.

But the service is small-town casual. The staff greets everyone by name and works hard to fulfill every request. When one guest mentioned late at night that she had a headache, Liz quietly slipped out to find some aspirin.

It's the cuisine, though, that really puts this place on the cutting edge. The kitchen has a distinctly Australian accent. After seven years in restaurants Down Under, New York-born Andrew would have it no other way. He regularly flies in grass-fed lamb from Australia and imports a wide array of Aussie wines and specialties.

The menu also includes more familiar fare. It changes every few weeks but regional treats are always included, such as Chesapeake fried oysters and a dish called Three Treasures of the Bay (a crab cake, an oyster and teriyaki-glazed skate).

A long afternoon stroll around Easton, a quiet town of pretty Victorian homes and boutiques, also reminded us that we weren't far from home. Easton Maritime Antiques had a display of nautical books and paraphernalia. The South Street Gallery, around the corner, featured an impressive selection of local and national painters. The historical Avalon Theatre, with a surprising variety of plays and musicals, is a stop for another visit.

By nightfall, we were ready to return to our table at the inn for another foray on the other side of the globe.

-- Gary Lee


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