FRANCONIA, N.H. -- Listening to the wind howling outside the more than 200-year-old Franconia Inn, one could easily imagine travelers of yesteryear pulling up to its doors for sustenance and warmth. On this stormy night, a family of four living two doors down did exactly that, since their house was without electricity.
''Inns are diverse. They change. They're seasonal. It's like a home away from home," said Alan Guerin, the inn's executive chef.
The inviting gas fireplace glowed in a cozy corner of the dining room. It was a night to be comforted by country fare. At the inn, which seats about 100 in two rooms, the ambiance has been casual gourmet ever since semi formal wear for country dining was replaced by jeans and fleece.
Guerin, 30, who also handles the menu at the downstairs Rathskeller Lounge, has been the chef here since November. His road to the inn through northern New Hampshire included five years as a sous chef at Jackson's Wentworth Inn, banquet chef at Whitefield's Mountain View Grand, and a stint with Stickney's at the Mount Washington Hotel. This is his first executive-chef gig, and he knows he'll feel the heat.
''This all has to do with how you organize and prepare yourself for the battles ahead," he said.
To begin our meal, a sneaker-shod server was quick with a warming wheat-bread basket accompanied by butter with roasted garlic cloves, which we ate over the watchful eye of the Old Man of the Mountain emblazoned on the decorative insignia plates on the table.
We ordered cup-of-soup starters, and the special was sweet potato and pumpkin for $2.95. Garnished with flakes of parsley, it was a smooth blend, not too tart, not too sweet. The signature lobster bisque at $6.95, sprinkled with paprika and a thyme sprig, was sweet with plenty of meat.
The menu features such items as grilled vegetable ravioli with shiitake mushrooms, roma tomatoes, and a sun-dried tomato cream, as well as a half rack of New Zealand lamb with pumpkin ravioli and bordelaise sauce.
We chose entrees that were $19.95 each: pork piccata with sweet potato risotto and black currant demiglaze, and roasted Long Island duckling with garlic Yukon mashed potatoes and pan sauce. The duck was tender and moist, and the piccata was succulent as well.
A blackberry cabernet sorbet and profiteroles with coconut cream and chocolate, each $5.25, topped off the meal.
Afterward, we had only to travel up the stairs to a room furnished a tad like yesteryear, with no phone or television.
The Franconia Inn, Easton Road, Franconia, N.H. 800-473-5299. www.franconiainn.com. Dinner 5-9 p.m. Entrees $16-$26.