The White Barn Inn with Chefs Cartwright + Kish
At the White Barn Inn, there are many elements in place from a bygone time – crystal decanters of port and brandy are set out each afternoon in the lobby for guests, the dining room inhabits a restored barn from the 1820s in which the TK wood imparts a cozy, lived-in feel. Candlelight reflects off of hefty silver cutlery and large picture window exposes the view of an illuminated garden.
This night in particular, the White Barn was hosting a special event to benefit the Bocuse D’Or Foundation. Resident chef Jonathan Cartwright was collaborating with Kristen Kish, executive chef at fellow Relais and Chateaux Boston restaurant, Menton. Kish was also the Season 10 winner of Bravo’s hit TV show, Top Chef. This, of course, attracted a varied crowd that night, but that didn’t mean divided.
Patrons for the dinner were seated communally, and my group, comprised of everyone from restaurateurs to artists that specialize in field and stream hunting portraits, turned out to be quite entertaining. As I’m seated the man next to me inquires if I am “The Admiral of this ship,” to which I reply “Yes, and that means we’re all in big, big trouble.”
A first glance at the collaborative menu reveals two very different styles of cookery – classic dishes from Cartwright and more playful contributions from Kish. As a brigade of servers close in to pour wine and offer us an array of warm breads, the first course arrives. Kish materializes to describe her dish: sashimi of kampachi, also known as amber jack, with kumquat, yuzu, and hazelnut. By themselves the kumquats are quite aggressive, but they are nicely balanced by the mild flavor of the fish while the nuts add depth and crunch. The same goes for her next offering of foie gras terrine with apple meringue, carrot cake, and walnut – each ingredient carefully plays into a sum greater than its parts, aided greatly, in this case, by a garnish of currant berries scattered throughout the plate that make the terrine sing.
The representative from fine wine importer Maisons Marques + Domaines is on hand to explain each pairing, one of the standouts being the 2008 Ladoucette “Baron de L” Pouilly Fume from the Loire Valley. The intense minerality of this wine, balanced out by vivid floral and herb notes, leads me to believe that even though there is a bit of age on it already, Sauvignon Blancs such as this can handle a good deal more time in cellar. The aforementioned flavors provided a perfect backdrop for one of Cartwright’s signature dishes, butter-poached smoked lobster.
We transition into weightier courses, such as Cartwright’s pork loin and truffle-braised crispy pork hock with asparagus risotto and Madeira sauce, and the reds come out. The First the 2010 Querciabella Chianti Classico from Tuscany, which our representative describes as “notes of brambleberry, hawthorne, and quince,” prompting my dining companions and I to admit that none of us actually had any idea what hawthorne was supposed to smell like. Regardless, the fairly tannic wine softens when consumed alongside the rich, decadent pork hock and perfectly cooked loin.
Then one of the most pleasantly surprising pairings that I have ever experienced arrives – Menton’s palate cleanser, which consists of a scoop of black pepper sorbet resting in herbal tea with flecks of shiso and citrus. Tea, generally being tannic on its own, seems like a very unlikely companion to wine, yet the 2003 Roederer Estate L’Ermitage from Anderson Valley was somehow spot-on and alarmingly perfect. The weight of this sparkler, combined with mellowing from age, made it somehow equally as refreshing as the savory sorbet itself.
The pastry chef from the White Barn takes on the closing role, with an intense yet airy deconstructed Black Forest gateau. Normally resembling more of a layer cake, this version is far more refined than most, allowing diners to assess each element on its own. As we are finishing, we are presented with silver trays bearing an array of mignardise, ranging from truffles to mini pecan pie.
As the meal concludes and diners begin to mill about and say their goodbyes, I find a perch at the bar where I can sip Japanese whiskey and relax. Eventually Kish joins me, and after having a drink to unwind proceeds to commandeer the piano in the dining room and showcase yet another of her talents. I consider singing along, but decide to take mercy on the patrons still seated at their tables. Instead I simply ponder how yet again the White Barn Inn has delivered with an absolutely outstanding dining experience that is worth travelling for.
37 Beach Avenue | Kennebunk Beach | 207.967.2321 | whitebarninn.com