Fall is the time to discover L'Auberge Provencale. This graceful stone house has actually been there for over two centuries. But it has been a restaurant only four years, and in the last year and a half a small inn as well, with four guest rooms in an adjacent cottage. The young French owner-chef, Alain Borel, has brought four generations of innkeeping background with him from Avignon and also has a way with a garden. Beyond the cottage are rows of tomatoes, squash, beans including the hair-thin haricots verts, baby corn, salad greens, grapes and herbs. The fields yield raspberries which the Borels make into wonderful chunky, tart jams. The herbs go into their vinegars. Whatever they can grow or make from scratch, they do.
The environment and service combine the luxury of country -- the thoughtfulness made possible by a slow pace -- with city sophistication. As for the food, I can't advise you what to order this week; as at any good restaurant, the menu changes seasonally, in this case at least once a month. I can suggest, however, that you concentrate on appetizers and certainly try any pastry the chef has concocted.
Any night one might find 10 to 12 main courses, half of them fish such as lobster in truffle butter with golden caviar, swordfish with tomato butter and lovage, grouper baked in parchment. And the meat dishes range from duck breast with lime sauce and peppered pineapple to squab with sage and raspberry sauce to filet mignon with fresh morels.
The accompaniments show thought -- saffron rice with the fish, and herbed whipped potatoes (unfortunately salty) with the meat, then sauteed garden- fresh zucchini with pearl onions for both. But the Monastery rye bread that accompanies dinner, though creditable bread, is too strong to accompany food of such fine delicacy. And the salad is just plain dull, a surprise in full view of such a garden.
The dessert list includes an intriguing selection of creamy cold things such as Frangelico parfait and chocolate charlotte, as well as homemade sherbets. But truly memorable was a cherry-almond tart, the crust so short it was almost a brown betty, crunchy with almonds and a perfect base for the fresh cherries.
The inn rooms are attractively Victorian, and worth the stay not only for their high four- poster or iron beds, embroidered towels and eyelet pillowcases, but also for the next morning's breakfast. White Post, Virginia. 703-837- 1375. D $17.95-$24. D daily. Closed Tues. AE, DC, MC, V. Res req. Full bar.