This New England Inn Is Celebrating Its Restaurant With a Coastal Cuisine Extravaganza. Here’s What’s on the Menu.
You can still teach an old hotel new tricks. Just look at preppy White Barn Inn, which is currently celebrating its 150th anniversary and the 50th year of its eponymous fine-dining restaurant.
Located in the lovely coastal town of Kennebunkport, Maine—best known for the Bush family’s Walker’s Point Estate retreat—the 19th-century “inn-stitution” became part of the rapidly expanding, five-star Auberge Resorts Collection back in 2018. Now it’s unveiled the results of a massive renovation that brought a relaxed farmhouse-chic informality to the 27 guest rooms and suites—although the utterly luxurious bathrooms with sumptuous soaking tubs are now anything but rustic. Interior designer Jenny Wolf led the charge in revamping the spaces while still maintaining that classic New England feel.
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But for the hotel’s old guard, this is worrisome stuff, and pearls were certainly clutched when the restaurant announced this winter that guests are no longer required to wear jackets to dinner. Mon dieu!
But though thou walk . . . fear no evil, because there is still plenty of New England country glamour and snoot left in this beautiful old bird.
The renovation largely left the unique, two-story, raw-wood restaurant as it was—to do otherwise would have been to fix what wasn’t broken. Inside, most continue to willingly dress up for a dinner, which is still served at white linen-draped tables, each with a unique animal ornament made by an English silversmith at its center.
“We have something special here,” Daniel Braun, the inn’s general manager since 2016, told Robb Report. “We had conversations about what should it be and what has it been. It’s quite historic and we don’t want to change it, but we need to keep it relevant.”
The food was one area where compromise wasn’t an option. It, too, is still refreshingly nostalgic.
“We were worried about whether people still wanted a prix fixe menu,” Braun said, noting that the adjacent Little Barn bistro adds an option for a casual meal. “But people are still looking for that special experience. We asked, ‘Is it too old fashioned? Does it still make sense?’ We wondered whether we should still have the pianist.”
Not only is the menu still in tact, but to celebrate its 50-year anniversary, the White Barn Inn Restaurant is serving up time-travel dinners prepared by executive chef Mathew Woolf (formerly of London’s Claridge’s, New York City’s Rainbow Room and Los Angeles’s Fairmont Miramar) in collaboration with chefs who had previously helmed kitchen, each bringing their old favorites back the table.
Chef Ed Gannon, who manned the kitchen between 1989 and 1992 (he’s currently the GM at Napa’s Stanly Ranch, also in the Auberge Resorts Collection), kicked off the celebration last week with an insane feast: meaty Maine Pemaquid oysters with Champagne jelly; citrus cured salmon pastrami with peekytoe crab salad; spicy lobster dumplings in a carrot and ginger broth; Dover sole with smoked leeks; and roasted venison loin with Maine blueberries. A spring rhubarb sorbet sobers the palette for that most decadent rich sweet, a chocolate marquise.
Chef Jonathan Cartwright, who was in the kitchen from 1995 to 2015 (now the owner of Musette in Kennebunkport’s Cape Porpoise village) takes over on June 9, followed by chef Matt Padilla (chef from 2019 to 2022) on September 29. Two grande finale 50th-anniversary dinners, on November 3 and 4, unite all three former chefs with Woolf for a blow-out bash. Too many cooks are unlikely to spoil anything in the kitchen that night.
Something else that hasn’t changed? Mid-Atlantic accents shaken and slurred through pitchers of cocktails. As part of the banquets, the Inn is offering a toast via a new $75-a-pop birthday cocktail, made with a base of Louis XIII 50-plus-year-old Cognac—which some might call a crime not to sip solo.
While so many other historic hotels and restaurants chase the latest youthful looks, Braun said they gazed into the mirror, asked the hard questions, and came to “the same conclusion for each query”: Play the hits.
“The White Barn Inn Restaurant without a pianist? If that went away, there’s a very good chance there’d be a revolution,” Braun said.
Prix fixe dinner: $165 per person; 50th prix fixe dinner: $265 per person. Room rates from $799 per night.
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