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Meander Plantation a culinary journey

January 4, 2007 12:50 am

By NANCY DEARING ROSSBACHER and STEPHEN W. SYLVIA

For THE FREE LANCE-STAR

She: Meander Plantation's white-columned, Tara-esque manse has stood stock still since the 1700s, and guests are invited to move at a pace that is only slightly less leisurely.

A predinner stroll along the plantation's garden pathways treats visitors to a view of hills that undulate lazily to the horizon. Guests can then wander into the antiques-filled inn, where cocktails are delivered and dawdled over.

He: But behind the unrushed atmosphere are owners and staff who work with careful, clockwork-like precision.

The owners arrived in 1991 with skills that dovetailed handsomely with the needs of the upscale bed-and-breakfast they envisioned. Texas-born Suzanne Thomas had a love of history, along with business skills, having been a publisher of newspapers in Chicago; Georgia native Suzie Blanchard had been involved in historic preservation and was a chef and a food writer.

In 2002, chef Paul Deigl arrived and brought creative dishes to the kitchen, featuring local produce in a prix fixe format.

She: The tariff is not cheap: $58 per person, not including tax, tip and alcoholic beverages. What is included is a culinary ride that moves at a measured pace. On a recent weekend evening, the journey began with hors d'oeuvres in a large, well-appointed reception room . There, we nibbled on smoked salmon with dilled cream cheese, and ginger-soy beef on skewers.

We ambled to the crimson-walled, candlelit, white-linen-laid dining room, where our five-course saunter began.

He: The first course was two large, melt-in-your-mouth poached shrimp on a bed of lemony grits with bright green arugula pesto meandering atop. It was a delicate and picturesque starter.

The second course was a bold choice. Frisee lettuce, or curly endive, has such a peppery, even bitter, flavor that it is commonly used in mixed greens. Chef Deigl used it as a stand-alone and then ratcheted it up by using a pickled-onion vinaigrette. Small cubes of fontina cheese countered the tartness, and fried onion rings atop added crunch and flavor.

She: The third course was the intermezzo, a palate-cleansing dollop of red grape-wine sorbet served in an elegant, fluted glass.

The entree course is the only one in which the diner is offered a choice, although the kitchen will make accommodations for dietary restrictions. My entree was a pan-fried, boneless, plump and flaky trout with a crab cream sauce flecked with tiny bits of tomato. The rich sauce did not overtake the delicate flavor of the fish.

Flanking the fish was a near-silky risotto with sweet, tender-crisp sugar snap peas.

He: The lamb entree was five thick, medium-rare slices of loin so tender that it scarcely required the application of a knife. A dark and smooth sauce of melded ancho chile and orange added interest. The dish was completed by mashed sweet potatoes that were rich with sour cream, along with gently sauteed green beans with shallots.

The road not taken that night was pork tenderloin with bourbon-pear chutney and toasted almonds, with braised savoy cabbage and wild-mushroom flan.

She: The finale was a rich, but not overly sweet, flourless chocolate-peppermint cake with vanilla creme anglaise. Bright shards of crumbled pink peppermint atop added eye appeal.

He: The entire three-hour experience was so relaxing that had we not been taking mental notes for this review, my inclination would have been to close my eyes and allow myself to slide into a pleasurable culinary coma.

She: The Inn at Meander Plantation prides itself on its extensive list of Virginia wines. Along with the fixed-price dinner, patrons may opt for wines by the glass ($8) or the bottle. The prices on the latter top out at a lone bottle of 1998 Barboursville Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($115) in the cellar, but many selections are in the range of $20 to $40.

Diners may also go for a medley of four wines ($25) selected for that evening's dining choices. I went by-the-glass for the suggested salad pairing, a 2002 Vidal Blanc, and for the trout accompaniment, a crisp 2005 Linden Sauvignon Blanc. Both were well-selected for their mates.

He: Last thoughts: The leisurely atmosphere is the result of a crackerjack staff and a well-trained, well-timed, talented kitchen.

She: We don't hand out star ratings, but after dinner I remarked with content that I had just been happily four-starred.

Nancy Dearing Rossbacher and Stephen W. Sylvia publish a Civil War magazine together. She likes to cook. He likes to eat. To reach Rossbacher and Sylvia, e-mail them at
Email: editor@nstcivilwar.com. Or call 540/374-5448 with comments about today's restaurant review.




THE INN AT MEANDER PLANTATION

Address: 2333 N. James Madison Highway, Locust Dale (eight miles north of Orange and 10 miles south of Culpeper on U.S. 15 at the Robinson River crossing)

Phone: 800/385-4936 (reservations required)

Hours: Open to the public for evening dining Thursday through Saturday, with hors d'oeuvres and cocktails at 6 p.m., and dinner seating at 7 p.m. Breakfast and in-room dinner baskets (Sunday through Wednesday) are available for overnight lodgers.

Prices: Dinner costs $58 per person, not including alcohol, taxes, tip. Wine costs $8 by the glass or $25 for a selection of four pairings. Wide range of wine by the bottle and full bar available.

In-room dinner baskets cost $60 for two people. Three-course breakfast included in room rate.

See meander.net for lodging information and rates of other offerings, including a cooking school, seasonal lodging specials, and a three-night Wine Country package.

Atmosphere: Graceful service in a charming Southern setting. Numerous steps can make for difficult wheelchair access, but the staff is nothing if not accommodating. Nonsmoking.

Payment: Major credit cards accepted.




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