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Dining in New England : Cape Cod Offers a Cornucopia of Good Lodgings

September 25, 1988|PAUL LASLEY and ELIZABETH HARRYMAN | Lasley and Harryman are Beverly Hills free-lance writers

CENTERVILLE, Mass. — "Good morning and come into the kitchen!" shouted Brian Gallo as he whipped up the batter for 10 Dutch pancakes at The Inn at Fernbrook, on Cape Cod.

"I've always wanted to do this," he said, smiling, when we asked if he ever tired of preparing a different breakfast each morning for his guests.

We joined the other guests, already seated around an antique dining table in a front room of this 1880s Victorian mansion.

Soon Brian and his partner, Sal DiFlorio, brought in pots of coffee and tea, pitchers of freshly squeezed orange juice and the "Dutch Babies"--luscious light pancakes dusted with powdered sugar.

Over breakfast, we exchanged stories of Cape Cod discoveries with the other guests--a couple from Alabama, a family from The Netherlands and a couple from Ohio.

Dramatic Fall Colors

Fernbrook is one of several New England inns that offer fine home-cooked breakfasts amid early morning camaraderie. Many innkeepers also have good dining rooms of their own or can recommend a nearby restaurant.

Such good food and lodging, combined with the dramatic colors of autumn, make visiting the New England countryside a great fall getaway. And as more inns and country restaurants remain open year-round, winter is becoming an increasingly popular time to vacation here.

Brian and Sal serve afternoon cookies and tea, but they prefer to send guests to neighboring restaurants for dinner.

They recommended the Regatta at Cotuit, about 10 minutes away. Located in the Crocker House, a 1790 dwelling on the side of Route 28, the Regatta can hold its own among restaurants anywhere. Its various rooms have been turned into cozy dining enclaves, many with fireplaces. Oil lamps on the tables provide a soft glow, and the service is both formal and flawless.

The food at the Regatta is as perfect as the service. Four fresh Cotuit oysters ($7.50), just warmed through, surrounded a timbale of spinach. A chilled soup of plum tomatoes ($4.50) was full of the aroma of vine-ripened fruit and had the texture of smooth cream.

The Dutch family at breakfast had told us about the lobster bisque ($6), so we asked if we could split an order. It was rich with the flavor of lobster and served with a touch of garlic mayonnaise on a crouton.

A pear sorbet flavored with fresh thyme was served as an intermezzo. Fresh swordfish ($24) was served with a butter sauce flavored with lemon verbena. The fish was moist, browned slightly on the outside and complemented by the tartness of the sauce.

Buffalo medallions ($30) were served with two sauces--a hazelnut bearnaise and a pinot noir reduction. Dessert was a chocolate-chip bourbon pecan tart with whipped cream or the house-made ice cream.

"Nantucket comes alive after the season," Phil Read, owner of the Jared Coffin House on Nantucket, told us. "It's cool, the land has its own fall color, the cranberries are ripe and, best of all, once the summer is over we get to enjoy our town again."

And for guests at the Jared Coffin House, it is not as hard as it is for others to get reservations in the dining room, Jared's. "We try to serve local ingredients. We buy the fish and lobster locally, and most of the produce is grown on Nantucket. Only during the winter do we have to buy elsewhere," Read said.

We began with hot, freshly baked, aromatic blueberry-lemon bread. A Lobster bisque ($6.95) came with a topping of tender puff pastry. It was gently spiced with curry. A golden tomato soup ($4.25) was less successful. It was overwhelmed by garlic and was neither warm nor cold.

We tried the fresh Nantucket bluefish ($19.95), a local specialty. It was just right. The slightly oily fish stood up perfectly to a sauce Nicoise with tomatoes, onions and olives. Freshly grated parmesan cheese was sprinkled on top.

Baby carrots, a hot cabbage with a slightly sweet dressing and tiny green beans were full of flavor. Dessert was a fresh berry tart.

Brunch a Tradition

Sunday brunch at Jared's is a tradition and reservations are a must. The prime rib hash ($7.25) and the Grand Marnier French toast ($6.50) made with Portuguese sweet bread were both very good.

The Brinley Victorian Inn in Newport, R.I., is in a small Victorian house on a quiet side street away from the harbor-side bustle. It's cozy and romantic.

Innkeeper Peter Carlisle told us he serves the best muffins in the world, and while we can't verify that expansive claim, his were exceptional, with chunks of fresh fruit in the batter.

Over coffee and muffins in the living room he told us about La Petite Auberge. We walked there for dinner and never regretted his recommendation.

In an early 18th-Century building that was the birthplace of Stephen Decatur, Roger Putier and his wife Martine have created a series of lovely dining rooms.

A fireplace burns cheerfully in a small bar off the entrance. We could have been in a country restaurant in France. Chef Putier believes that good French cooking should be substantial, and his is a menu in the classic style of Escoffier.

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