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Saturday, December 29, 2007


Just prior to Christmas the Legal Diva and I took off to the great white north......., well just south of it actually. In her infinite wisdom my better half bid on, and won, a culinary holiday at The Inn at Essex. The New England Culinary Institute provides it's students on the job training at The Inn at Essex at the same time as providing the public with a great place to stay, chill, and eat well.

That we did.

On the Wednesday before Christmas we packed up Sally and hit the road to Essex Junction, Vermont, just outside Burlington.

It took New York City two hours to release us from it's clutches. We made the now commonly known mistake of sticking to the on-line directions. I've lived in the tri-state area, in all three states mind you, for the lion's share of my 42 years. I know that you should avoid the Cross Bronx Expressway (I-95) northbound into Connecticut at all costs, at all times. Did we take 87 to 287 to 684 to 84 like we should have? No, we stuck to the coast, and crawled to New Haven, where we picked up 91 as well as speed.

Starbucks needs to advertise their locations along the highways.

Two hours later, as we crossed into Vermont, it started snowing, and we started slowing.

Nine hours on the road brought us to The Inn at Essex. The last hour was a white knuckle poor visibility tension fest. It's a good thing I grew up where I did, where I learned how to drive in snow on mountain roads. Sally did just fine.

After we checked in, dropped our bags, and freshened up in our spacious three room suite, including a kitchen and a ginormous bathroom with a shower and a jacuzzi tub, we went to get a bite at The Tavern. The Tavern is one of two restaurants at the Inn, and it's....., well, a tavern. We got there after 10pm, so we had to order off the late-nite menu. The Tavern has a great late-nite menu. The legal Diva had buffalo wings and a caesar salad. She tells me the salad was very good, and I believe her. I can attest the the greatness of the wings. They were even better than mine. I chalk it up to the quality of the chicken. Given an even playing field, I am quite sure I'd hold my own. The blue cheese dressing was superb, and I'm sure that was due to local cheese making. I had a swiss burger. I ordered it medium, and the wise grill master served it to me well on the rare side. Again, the quality of beef was undoubtedly the main factor, and I was happy to have been corrected. Great burger, truly great. I've not had better.

Part of the package deal that we got was complimentary breakfast every day. We made it a point to make it to breakfast. The first morning I had oatmeal with a side of class made blueberry sausage. All items made by students are noted as such on the menu. Those sausages were a highlight of the week. I don't like oatmeal. The Legal Diva had crab cakes benedict. Not bad she says. The crab cakes were a bit overbreaded. I know the hollandaise was outta sight; I dunked a hash brown. The hollandaise blew mine, and OD's, away.

Then it was massage time. I know that the prospect of a swedish massage was a major factor for my beloved, but I must confess I was a bit leery. Hollis, the masseur, was working alone that day so we had to get our massages in succession instead of concurrently. While Hollis worked over the Legal Diva, I took the opportunity to go trekking through the newly fallen snow. I love the snow, it calms me, as did the bat hits. I didn't think I'd be able to make it through a full hour of being handled by a stranger. I questioned my ability to sit still that long without tv, a book, something....

Well, Hollis put me at ease with some light chat, and before I knew it, I was actually enjoying the massage. Jackson the hater, the poo pooer of convention was again proved wrong, and this time about himself.

For lunch we heated up some excellent local canned soup in our room that we served with a fresh loaf of 'local common' bread while we played gin rummy. I kicked her ass.

Another feature of our package deal was a complimentary private tutorial dinner with a Chef. We joined Bob and Florence from Toronto in Chef Courtney's intimate but fully tricked out kitchen, and Chef Courtney took us through a three course meal for four (us). She gave us a good foundation of culinary basics (mise en place, knife handling, pomegranate management), and made sure we all got a chance to take part in the preparation. We had an arugula and radicchio salad with pomegranate and vinaigrette, filet mignon with truffle polenta and green beans, and chocolate lava cakes. We learned well, and ate well. A wonderful experience.

Breakfast Day Two. Me: ham, poached egg, toast. Perfect. Her: corned beef hash. None better.

There's not much to do up there this time of year except ski, and we had already decided that skiing was a different vacation. We were there to eat and chill. I am, however, by nature, an explorer. When I visit a new locale, I gotta get the lay of the land, and I need to seek out the local culture. The Legal Diva must love me because she let me drag her away from the fireplace for a few hours while we checked out two local institutions, namely Shelbourne Farms - makers of cheese among other things, and the Magic Hat brewery.

Well, the drive to Shelbourne Farms was pretty, but the operation was closed to the public for the winter; only the gift shop was open. We poked about, bought some trinkets, and split.

Magic Hat was up and running. Sadly, we weren't drinking. It was still early......I was driving.......I know, I know......shut up. Anyway, the brewery is cool, very Vermont modern hippy vibe. Colorful and fun.

We ate dinner at Butler's, the upscale restaurant at the Inn. It was just us and a table of priests lingering over a bottle of red. The Legal Diva appetized on a divine cheese souffle, whilst yours truly brazenly tried the veal cheeks and sweetbreads. We were both very happy with our choices. For the entree, I opted for the stuffed rabbit. I was out for adventure. The bunny was ok. I think it is just a matter of rabbit being an unremarkable protein. The Legal Diva fared better with her choice of the lamb chops with cous cous and a chopped lamb and eggplant.......uh, puffy thing.

Breakfast Day Three. Her: sausage gravy and biscuits. Too rich, too much sausage, not enough gravy. Me: eggs benedict, hollandaise on the side. Wonderful.

We did have some Christmas shopping to do, so we spent the afternoon in downtown Burlington. I like Burlington. It took us no time to find a cozy Irish pub. We did manage to get some shopping done, before and after the Guinness and oysters.

Our last dinner at the Inn was at the Tavern, but I don't think our hearts were in it. We had hit the wall. Mostly we ate The Legal Diva's order of fish n' chips (excellent), and my duck confit pizza was relegated to 'take back to the room' status, which means it went uneaten outside of the slice I had before we left the Tavern. It was fine, I suppose. I was numb.

We watched five movies in four days.

We did not make the fourth complimentary breakfast.

Just couldn't do it........

We had a great time. Mayhap we'll do it again.

great post. would love to see a few more details, though.
How dare you say someone makes better wings than thou. I am the wing bitch. Your wings rock and I hate wings. And I love engaged Ted. The Legal Diva makes you do cool shit. To quote Jack Nicholson, she "makes you want to be a better man."
not to imply that you were ever a lesser man.
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