Wife and I recently had a pleasant stay at the Inn at Easton (Easton, MD). We ate at the Inn one night and at 208 Talbot in St. Michaels the next. The contrast between our dining experiences at 208 Talbot and the Inn at Easton says a lot about how restaurant quality is improving in the United States. My comments are long, so Ive broken them up into two postings. Here is the first, focusing on the Inn at Easton.
I know I am not the first to say it, but the Inns chef, Andrew Evans, is seriously talented. The dinner menu is contemporary fine dining, with Australian influences (New Aussie-American?). Saturday nights menu is prix-fixe ($55). As we were relaxing in our room Saturday evening, the tempting aroma of freshly-baked rolls wafted upstairs. At dinner we discovered they tasted as good as they smelled.
The rolls were followed by a gift from the kitchen: a tall shot glass of oyster essence. It was a sea-foamy and ultralight liquid, with what smelled like a touch of bacon (but might have been smoked peppers).
Wifes first course was a warm goat cheese and tomato tart with pickled beet salad and balsamic vinaigrette, which she enjoyed very much. I decided to take advantage of the rare (for me) opportunity for Australian food and started with the grilled Australian Moreton Bay Bugs. Insects? I had to ask, too. No; they are actually a kind of small lobster-lighter in texture, less chewy, but not as sweet as lobster. I received three small, shelled tails, which were served around a small papaya salad with a yellow bean sauce. They were very nicely prepared, interesting, and tasty. It was a good light appetizer.
A mixed green salad served as an intermezzo. It was a competent salad, if nothing special. For some reason there was a piece of butter in mine (but not Wifes). I think it was an accident.
For our main courses Wife chose the pan-roasted Atlantic salmon. She had salmon earlier in the week at Butterfield 9 (which she described as perfect), so the Inn had a tough act to follow. It did a pretty good job, though I think Wife cared more for the creamed savoy cabbage that accompanied the fish, along with a potato fondant and a beet and sherry sauce. Again, I went the Australian route, and for the first time ate kangaroo! After years of reading at Winepros (an Australian wine review web site) that such and such Shiraz should be accompanied by roasted kangaroo, I was able to try it-alongside a beautiful wine (2001 Marquis Phillips Shiraz 9). Pistachio-encrusted and served on the rare side, sliced, over spaetzle, red onion jam, and black currant juice, it was a real winner. In taste the roo was not too different from farm-raised venison. However, since it is very low in fat, the meat is slightly chewier-but only slightly: you could still slice through it with a butter knife. The pistachios added a nice crunch, and the spaetzle-onion-currant accompaniment was delicious.
Dessert for me was a granny-smith apple tarte tatin with caramel ice cream and candied walnuts, which they ask you to order with your main course, souffle-style, since it takes a while to make. Very nice. Wife had the trio of sorbets-lemon, tangerine, and blackberry--which she described as incredibly intense.
Service was friendly and knowledgeable. It is not formal service, but it is restrained and elegant when the moment calls for it, and more casual or chatty if prompted by the customer. Despite the location, far from an urban center (and thus without a large, trained, competitive pool of talent), I was impressed with the service. The food looks good on the plate, and the presentation is on par with fine city restaurants. The wine list is a good size for such a small restaurant, and includes, as you might expect, a number of Australian gems. Wines appeared to be priced more or less at the standard restaurant mark-up of double retail.
The Inn is a large, old (circa 1790) brick house near the edge of the downtown Easton area. The interior has some modern touches, including an interesting light fixture in the parlor, and bold colors on many of the walls. The Inn has seven guest rooms on its three upper floors (stairs only, no elevator). The lodging experience was above average and the house staff were courteous, friendly, and efficient. I would characterize the Inn as fitting into the category of aspiring casual luxury. Aspiring in that there are a few minor things that could be improved, e.g., flimsy plastic hangers in the room closet, cheesy muzak-like music piped in too loudly during breakfast, etc. Casual in that the house staff do not wear uniforms, men can comfortably forgo a jacket at dinner, and the rooms have just a minor rusticity to them. Luxury in that the staff is very accommodating of guest requests, linens and pillows are quite nice, dinner is excellent (as is the generous continental breakfast), turn-down is accompanied by bottled water and chocolate mints, and the house itself is beautiful. Highly recommended.
(Part 2 to follow.)