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Checking In

Tight quarters squelch a quest for romance

Email|Print| Text size + By Patricia Harris and David Lyon
Globe Correspondents / November 14, 2004

SALISBURY, Conn. -- We stumbled across the White Hart Inn in a roundup of romantic lodgings published last February and reasoned that even though we were looking for a foliage stopover in the southern Berkshires rather than a Valentine's hideaway, romance knows no season.

Indeed, like beauty, romance is in the eye of the beholder, and our eyes were certainly happy when we spied the rambling white inn perched at the head of the village green here and basking in the orange glow of maples at peak color.

The romantic potential was only enhanced when we entered the big lobby where chairs and a sofa were arrayed around a wood-burning fireplace. A CD release party for a local singer was in full swing in an adjacent room, and mellow, jazzy vocals drifted through the lobby.

Our room, number 16 on the second floor, had two windows overlooking the American flag flapping on the green. The snug space (about 115 square feet) was filled to capacity with a queen-size bed and mahogany headboard that matched the low dresser, a television (with cable) perched on a small chest, and a round wooden table with two straight-backed chairs. Blue and white floral wallpaper, lace curtains, and a green duvet struck a soothing note. The big bathroom had a full tub, pedestal sink, and hair dryer. All in all, it was a perfectly comfortable space -- but low on romance.

Because it was inexpensive by White Hart standards, we asked about upgrading to more romance. The desk clerk gave us the key to room 18. Tucked under the eaves on the third floor, the larger room gained charm (and a writing desk) from its architectural nooks and crannies. Moreover, the bold floral wallpaper lent it a certain flair. Still, it was an extra $30 a night, and we decided to pass.

The rooms were precisely what we should have expected from a 19th-century country inn. Though it has evolved over time, the White Hart started life in 1806 as a tavern with a few rooms for travelers. An 1867 enlargement made it a full-fledged inn. The current owners bought the property at auction in 1989 and restored it.

The Tap Room, with wide pine floors and wood-paneled walls, inhabits some of the original structure. Low ceilings, a big fireplace, tiny tables, and cozy banquettes create an intimate dining space that seemed effortlessly romantic. Many regulars wandered in: A group of older gents dined while eyeing the football game on TV, a June-November couple just back from their honeymoon held court from a pair of wing chairs, and a trio of thirty-somethings drank and talked loudly at the bar.

The button-down-and-blazer menu suits the ambience. We started with a goat cheese panna cotta served over arugula with a sundried tomato confit -- an appetizer big enough for two. The filling for the homey chicken pot pie was underseasoned, but the puff pastry on top was airy and delicious. A slab of venison tenderloin rubbed with juniper berries was unctuous beneath a dark Umbrian game sauce. Dessert was the only misstep: a dry chocolate cookie, topped with vanilla ice cream and a rich homemade fudge sauce.

We ate breakfast (not included in the rates) in the other dining area, the Garden Room. It is as ideal for morning as the adjoining Tap Room is for evening. Sun floods through a wall of windows that offered views of a garden still tangled with morning glory vines. Good buttermilk pancakes with blueberries and brioche French toast came with local maple syrup, but we never found out if the orange juice was fresh-squeezed. Our waitress added two glasses to our bill, but never delivered them.

Shops along Salisbury's short Main Street cater to the country gentry. We perused an antiques shop, garden shop, Asian import store, and a rare book dealer. We grabbed sandwiches from the local grocery and repaired to the White Hart's front porch, where we whiled away a unseasonably warm afternoon. The wide veranda is a gem, with wicker chairs and settees and a front-porch view of the village green.

Alas, dirty glasses, an overflowing ashtray, and crumpled napkins -- remnants from a previous evening -- littered the tables and floor. We hope the editors of yet another magazine don't find out that the space they once proclaimed ''the quintessential porch" (it says so right on the brochure) suffers from such neglect.

Patricia Harris and David Lyon are freelance writers in Cambridge.

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