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Sunday brunch and dinner, is

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ext time you have a special occasion to celebrate — a birthday, perhaps, or your in-laws are in town — get thee to the Pitcher Inn. A pic­ turesque establishment in the midst o f Warren Village, The Pitcher Inn practically screams “special occasion.” Its light and airy, spiffily done up, and has one o f those “local, seasonal” menus that we’ve all come to expect from a high-end estab­ lishment in Vermont. Moreover, it’s not stuffy the way many inns are, and the dining room lends itself, by some trick o f design and light­ ing, to lively, easy, private conversa­ tion. T he inn itself has a story. T he original buildings, built in the late 1880s, burned to the ground in May 1993 due to an electrical fire, according to Heather Carino, who manages the Inn with her husband John. Her parents, W in and Maggie Smith, bought the land shortly thereafter, and rebuilt the current inn on the old buildings’ footprints. “They’d been coming to Warren for years and years to ski,” says Carino o f her parents’ decision to become innkeepers. “They just wanted to give something back to the com m u• » nity. T he newly rebuilt Inn, which opened last December, has eight rooms — a ninth will soon open — each designed by a local architect around a theme, such as “The Schoolroom,” “The Trout Room” and “The M ountain Room .” Staying over will set you back $200 to $425 a night, including breakfast. T he dining room, open to the public for breakfast,


well worth a drive. It’s spacious and well-lit, with custom-made wall sconces, indirect ceiling lights and candles on each table. Maple and cherry floors are liberally sprinkled with antique rugs. The tables are set with heavy white-on-white linens; the custom-built Windsor-style chairs are as beautiful as they are com fort­ able. Potted plants add a touch o f soothing green. The overall effect is both intimate and expansive — it looks like a place where nice things would happen. And they do. I went to the Inn with my husband and a cousin from Lyon, France — a region which has spawned some seri­ ous cooks. We sat down to appetizers of chilled pea soup ($5), crab cakes ($7), and a salad o f haricots verts with walnuts, dried cherries and Maytag blue cheese ($7). The crab cakes, served with a nice aioli, were the winners; my cousin found her soup a bit too heavy on the creme fraiche, and my hus­ band’s plate had too many fla­ vors screaming for attention. The blue cheese won. O ur other choices included oven-roasted mussels with pancetta ($7), house smoked salmon ($7.50), cream o f roast­ ed garlic soup ($5.50), a fresh tom ato salad ($7.50) and a field green salad with herbs ($5.50). We segued nicely into the entries, though we had diffi­ culties making up our minds: O n the menu that night was grilled yellowfin tuna Nicoise ($20), a roasted rack o f lamb with Japanese eggplant and couscous ($24), pan-roasted chicken with a honey-balsamic sauce ($19), and grilled Black Angus beef with a grain-mus­ tard barbecue sauce ($23).

Pitcher Inn Warren

My husband chose a “Napoleon” o f sea bass, egg­ plant and tomato ($20); my cousin picked salmon en papillote with ginger, peaches and herbs ($20). And I — already filled up on crab cakes — had the “cafe” portion o f duck breast with blueberry, citrus and vodka sauce ($16 for the small portion, $21 for the large). The duck was one of three entrees — the others were the tuna and a risotto with peas — offered in smaller, or cafe, portions, which I think is a great idea, especially if you want to indulge in several courses. We ate in relative silence, partially because our high school French had pretty much given out, and partly because the plates were holding our interest. My husband’s “Napoleon” was definitely the oddest thing on the table — one o f those architectural won­ ders that used to grace the menus o f all trendy restaurants. But it was tasty and cooked with care. My cousin never actually shared a bite o f her salmon, but I noticed that it disap­ peared. “W hen I go home now, I can tell people that American food is not only M cDonald’s,”

she said. My duck was the best, though, and I tend to stay away from duck because I’ve been served such lousy prepara­tions. This duck tasted like, well, duck — not some sickeningly sweet sauce. It was per­ fectly cooked, and absolutely delicious. All the plates were nicely presented, with good-sized por­ tions o f vegetables and rice or potatoes. T he waiter was per­ sonable yet not intrusive, and the service was perfectly paced. A nother bonus, aside from the option o f smaller portions, is the wine list, which is varied and nicely priced. I was told later that the inn marks up its wines only about 45-percent, as opposed to the 100 to 200 percent markup employed by many establishments. I was pleased to find nearly a dozen wines by the glass priced at about $5 — a rarity these days — and was even more pleased when the waiter offered me a taste before pouring. We managed to eye the dessert menu; a dark chocolate creme brulee ($5) caught our attention and, upon first taste, intense appreciation. O ther choices included a fruit sorbet with berries ($5), a lemon pop­

pyseed shortcake with straw­ berries and whipped creme fraiche ($4.75), and a local cheese plate with fresh fruit ($5.75). T he man behind the menu is the estimable Tom Bivins, a 1991 New England Culinary grad who made his reputation locally as the chef at the Inn at Shelburne Farms. After work­ ing at Shelburne Farms for eight years, Bivins said, he was “in the market for something new.” According to Carino, he hit it off with the management instantly. Given free rein at The Pitcher Inn, Bivins said his aim was to keep the food “fresh, seasonal, local and accessible,” and to prepare low-key food that does not “try to compete with the architecture.” If you want an over-the-top experience, rent a room in the wine cellar for a private party ($75 per person, excluding the cost o f the meal). Bivins noted that at least one marriage pro­ posal has taken place there. T he Pitcher Inn is friendly and appealing, yet elegant, with a m enu that delights and service that surprises with its professionalism. You m ight think about going even if your in-laws aren’t in town. ®

The Pitcher Inn, Main Street, W arren Village, VT 05674 (802)496-6350; open daily except Tuesdays, 8-11 a.m. for b reakfast, 6-9-30 p.m. for dinner, and Sunday brunch, 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. Visa and M astercard accepted, handicapped accessib le. R eservatio n s advised.

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