37 Beach Ave. 207-967-2321, www.whitebarninn.com; $320-$1,800, three-courseprix fixe $106
HARTSTONE INN, Camden, Maine Anyone who’s cooked for Julia Child can cook for us. Owner-chef Michael Salmon hosted the grande culinary dame on Aug. 10, 2001, when she complimented the dinner and autographed Salmon’s 1966 edition of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” But Salmon hasn’t rested on those laurels. Each evening he prepares a five-course menu of simply-prepared, often locally-sourced dishes, served in two cozy dining areas. We happily gave up complete control as Salmon and his wife, Mary Jo, along with their waitstaff, brought us bacon-wrapped quail, sweet potato and green apple soup, seared cod filet with garlic smashed potatoes, and chocolate-macadamia nut soufflé. The disarmingly friendly inn has 14 homey rooms and suites, with traditional furnishings and fabrics, and is walking distance to downtown shops. For total gourmand immersion, sign up for Salmon’s cooking classes, offered throughout the winter.
41 Elm St., 207-236-4259, www.hartstoneinn.com, winter rates $115-$195, five-course prix fixe $48.50
INN AT THORN HILL, Jackson, N.H. Yes, the rooms are spacious and more contemporary than country (think spa tubs, gas fireplaces, and steam showers), and the location is superb, perched on a hill overlooking pretty Jackson Village. There are sleigh rides, skiing, snowshoeing, and outlet shopping nearby. But, we confess: We barely ventured beyond the lounge and dining room on a recent visit. Settle into the slouching leather couch near the fireplace, and listen to live piano music while you nosh on creative small plates that might include corn fritters with sweet chili soy sauce or crispy shrimp over spicy udon noodles. The smart, award-winning wine list includes 25-30 choices by the glass. Then, ramble over to the more formal dining room, where you can nibble, perhaps on charcuterie or burgundy-soaked frog legs, before diving into main courses like the crab-crusted tenderloin, Peking duck on a scallion pancake, or grilled swordfish served Portuguese style with chorizo sausage.
Thorn Hill Road, 603-383-4242, www.innatthornhill.com, $169-$440, double occupancy including multi-course dinner, full breakfast, and afternoon tea
SUGAR HILL INN, Sugar Hill, N.H. This rambling, romantic farmhouse, surrounded by woodlands and mountains, is known for its lingering, four-course prix fixe dinners. Chef Val Fortin’s creative and sophisticated fare, with a focus on local sourcing, has won the hearts (or should we say stomachs?) of New Englanders and garnered a fair share of national accolades. When winter arrives, he turns to down-to-earth, hearty, comfort fare, like the braised pork osso bucco, horseradish crusted tenderloin (they do their own butchering and make all their own sauces and stocks), and roasted Vermont quail and venison. Comfort continues in the Tavern, where you can cozy up to a fireplace, and in the 14 rooms, cottages, and suites, with fluffy bed linens and cheery country decor.
116 Route 117, 603-823-5621, www.sugarhill.com, $170-$410, four-course prix fixe $60
INN AT WEATHERSFIELD, Perkinsville, Vt. We panicked when we heard that this inn had been recently sold. Luckily, award-winning chef Jason Tostrup, a pioneer in New England farm-to-table cuisine and nose-to-tail cooking, has stayed on, and new owners Richard and Marilee Spanjian are as dedicated as ever to offering arguably some of the best dining in the state. The menu reads like a map of Vermont and changes weekly, but may include dishes like the Moroccan-style stuffed squash, Szechuan peppercorn crusted Wagyu beef, and roasted shoulder clod with smoked parsnips. House-made breads are warmed in the original fireplace of the 1792 small-town inn. Upstairs, 12 nest-like rooms have luscious linens and surprising high-tech touches, like iPod docking stations, Wi-Fi, and DVD players.
1342 Route 106, 802-263-9217, www.weathersfieldinn.com, $149-$299, entrees $17-$28, four-course tasting menu $52
RABBIT HILL INN, Lower Waterford, Vt. Splurge for a luxury room where two can soak in a large spa tub and sit next to a glowing fire. Slip from under your heap of luxury linens for candlelight breakfast; sip afternoon tea in the parlor, and perhaps, go snowshoeing on nearby trails. When the sun sets over the mountains, head to the dining room where chef John Corliss works his magic. Corliss expertly marries seasonal sensibility with artfully simple and refined dishes, like littleneck clams over black linguine, deeply-flavored veal stew with root vegetables, and the signature “pumpple cake,” apple pie baked in pumpkin cake, served with cheddar cheese and grape walnut salad. Continued...