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Checking In

N.H. inn colorfully refreshed, calmly refreshing

Email|Print| Text size + By Patricia Harris and David Lyon
Globe Correspondents / June 11, 2006

NEW LONDON, N.H. -- We have always admired the New London Inn for its leviathan proportions -- the masses of white clapboards only occasionally relieved by green shutters and the two-story porch that stretches along the street. The sign out front says ``1792," and the inn looks every bit of that -- the embodiment of a sturdy old plowhorse of an upcountry Yankee inn.

On a visit in May, we found we weren't the first ones to be impressed . The parlor walls are hung with depictions of the inn through the decades: old photographs with the earliest touring automobiles out front, a color print of country ice skating with the inn as a backdrop, a painting of the inn in summer, and several picture postcards. The wall above one fireplace carries a folk-art portrait of the inn with a country fair taking place on the adjacent green. The same scene adorns the welcome screen of their website .

When we checked in, we were relieved to find that the new owners , New Yorkers who bought the inn in late 2004, had no impulse to gussy up the place. Certainly someone with a strong sense of self-confidence devised the color schemes. All the woodwork, including paneling and wainscoting, is painted the color of Guernsey cream to set off the saturated tones of the walls.

In our room, No. 20 in a front corner of the second floor, the deep brick tone was echoed in a lavish print of poppies. Chocolate brown drapes framed three windows, and an eclectic mix of furniture covered our needs: a queen-size bed, two modern bedside tables, an antique bureau and writing desk, a padded armchair, and a stand that held a new television with slots for tapes and DVDs (of which there is a small selection in the parlor ). The bathroom was minuscule, holding a commode, pedestal sink, short tub with shower arm, and a tiny stand for amenities, which included a bright green rubber frog.

With their visual rhythms of supporting columns, comb like balustrades, and strip flooring, the porches were as impressive as they had looked from the street. It was easy to imagine spending a slothful afternoon reading, rocking, and watching the comings and goings along Main Street. The wicker furniture beckoned, but unseasonable weather put a damper on porch-sitting .

So we retreated to the parlor, where enveloping couches and padded chairs defined two sitting areas. One nudged up against library shelves filled with vacation reads. It also had a handsome backgammon table and a stack of children's games. The other area faced the fireplace across a chessboard on a rustic coffee table.

Like many guests, we visited as much to eat dinner as stay the night. The milk chocolate walls of the handsome dining room were punctuated by French and Italian food and drink posters, and a wall of windows looked out onto the adjacent green. As we sat down, two boys with lacrosse sticks were lobbing a ball back and forth in the golden light of early evening.

Like the rest of the inn, chef Jerod Rockwell's dinner menu strikes just the right note of tradition with fresh touches. We started with slices of country pate adroitly paired with a tomato -garlic -ginger chutney, and a serving of ricotta-herb gnocchi sauteed perfectly in butter to ensure a toothy crust and soft interior, then dressed with quickly sauteed tomatoes and spinach. Our entrees were well-conceived combinations: chicken breast served with tasso and thyme basmati rice and fresh asparagus, and sesame-crusted tuna slices with a ragout of fresh morel mushrooms, fava beans, wild ramps , and new potatoes. We were also impressed with the modest prices and food-friendliness of the wine list.

When we returned the next morning for breakfast, we found a nice spread laid out in the room off the bar: scrambled eggs, poppyseed muffins, coffee cake, juice, yogurt, and cold cereal. What we didn't find was anyone to bring butter or jam, or to get some fresh hot water for tea. (Coffee-flavored hot water in a thermal carafe was only good for mixing Sanka.) In fairness, it was a weekday morning and the inn was not very full, in contrast to the fully booked weekend ahead.

In fact, we saw only one staff person all morning -- when we checked out. The stage setting had definitely lived up to its promise, but we missed having more players.

Contact Patricia Harris and David Lyon, Cambridge-based freelance writers, at harris.lyon@verizon.net. CHECK THEM ALL OUTSee a state-by-state archive of Checking Ins at explorenewengland.com/checkingin.

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