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The Artful Diner writes restaurant reviews for nj.com. To receive e-mail notification when a new review or article is posted, send a note to artfuldiner@verizon.net.

Inn at Vaucluse Spring
231 Vaucluse Spring Lane
Stephens City, Virginia
(540) 869-9544

December 2004


You turn off Route 11 and follow the ruts in County Road 638 past a rather sinister looking automobile graveyard. Welcome to the boonies. By this time, of course, you're having some major misgivings. Could this establishment really be as good as its highly touted press notices—"Awarded 'Four Hearts' as one of the area's Top Ten Romantic Inns" Washingtonian; "200 years of Virginia history are enhanced by the bucolic setting and warm hospitality." New York magazine; named as one of the "Top 12 Romantic Hideaways in the East" The Discerning Traveler; "A 103-acre oasis of tranquility, the inn is comfortably elegant and friendly. Saturday dinner is like a house party." Jim Yenckel's Great Getaways; "Paradise Found. After years spent searching for the perfect inn, two couples found their dream in the Inn at Vaucluse Spring. With homey three course breakfasts, cozy country rooms, and acres of Virginia landscape, it's a historic place where guests, too, find their bit of heaven." Country Home magazine—after all, you've been fooled before... But not this time.

You discover fifteen rustically romantic rooms and suites domiciled in six separate structures scattered about the ruggedly picturesque campus. And the jewel in the crown is the beautifully restored Manor House, an old mansion replete with high ceilings, cozy sitting room with crackling fireplace, and two intimate dining areas similarly endowed.

Here, upon arrival, you are greeted by proprietor Barry Myers, a gentleman fairly bursting with bonhomie, who will sit you down, offer a mug of hot local apple cider, and proceed to chew the fat like a long-lost friend catching up on old times. À la Peter Mayle, Mr. Myers, former head of an architectural firm in the nation's capital, has found happiness far removed from the hustle and bustle of urban strife... not in Provence but in the gently rolling hills of the Virginia countryside.

A sumptuous breakfast is served each morning—fresh-from-the-oven ginger scones with ginger butter, ambrosia, crepes filled with apples and apricots embellished with calvados cream and complemented by delicious ham sausage, and potent coffee and freshly squeezed juice—as well as an informal Friday night supper ($27.00 per person) and four-course gourmet meal ($45.00) per person) on Saturday evenings. During a recent sojourn, we were fortunate enough to partake of the joyous Saturday evening festivities.

Mr. Myers' wife and co-proprietor, Neil, handles the cooking chores; and although she possesses no formal culinary training, as a dedicated foodie, she seems to know intuitively what combinations of ingredients are likely to tantalize the discerning palate. Fresh, seasonal meats & produce and seasonings from the Inn's grounds take center stage, and Mrs. Myers fashions the various components into a satisfyingly down-home yet decidedly elegant gastronomic gestalt.

Following a gathering in the sitting room—a meeting and greeting of other couples fortified with hors d'oeuvres and mulled wine or sangria and a welcome by your hosts and explication of the menu of the evening (meals may be adjusted to accommodate most dietary restrictions)—you are escorted to a candlelit table for two in one of the romantically-imbued dining areas.

Our evening commenced with a delightful soup of shiitake and portobello, a clear broth sporting a hint of sherry and awash with shallots, carrots, and sprinkling of chives. The flavor was right on the money, neither too bland nor too assertive.

This was followed by a mixed green salad adorned with delicate slices of pear that had been poached in port wine; crumbled blue cheese and pecans added to the fun... But the coup de grâce was delivered by an exquisite drizzle of port wine dressing.

The main course was maple-glazed pork seasoned with nutmeg, allspice, and cinnamon. Moist, succulent slices were arranged between parsnip mashed potatoes and sugar snap peas enhanced with just a hint of garlic. Once again, the presentation was courtly but comfortable... And the meal concluded on an equally high note with a traditional Southern favorite: a slice of dense and decadent marshmallow/coconut cake garnished with crème anglaise.

The compact wine list features selections from France, the United States, and Australia. Our choice was a 2001 Naked Mountain Chardonnay ($26.50), an excellent Virginia vintage that is refreshingly light on the oak and proved to be a perfect match for the pork. And since the vineyard is just a short hop away, we made it a point to stop by to purchase several bottles for our future enjoyment.

Our experience, of course, was certainly no "one hit wonder," as the Inn's dinners have been featured in Southern Living magazine and on PBS's Country Inn Cooking; recipes have also appeared in two cookbooks, Recipes for Romance and Country Inn Meals to Remember.

When you're in the mood for a romantic and gastronomic getaway, the Inn at Vaucluse Spring is highly recommended on all counts.

The Artful Diner Diner is a freelance food writer who writes restaurant reviews for nj.com. His latest review can be seen on his nj.com weblog at http://blog.nj.com/artful_diner/. An archive of past reviews for nj.com as well as reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this Web site at http://www.artfuldiner.com/reviews .

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