The Notchland Inn
Hart's Location, N.H.
(near Attitash Bear Peak, Bretton Woods, Cannon Mountain)
In its previous incarnations, the Notchland Inn-an 1862 granite mansion presiding over a 400-acre mountainside swath near Crawford Notch-was not the cheeriest of settings. It took innkeepers Ed Butler and Les Schoof (former general manager of the American Ballet Theatre) to liven things up. Now the Gustav Stickley-designed parlor, an Arts & Crafts gem, sparkles as it should, and the 12 rooms-including a schoolhouse loft suite-all glow with their own fireplaces. But best of all, the revitalized restaurant brings destination dining to this neck of the woods. The draw is a fabulous $35 five-course-plus prix-fixe dinner, overseen by Culinary Institute of America-trained chef Jim Hunt. Diners are offered several choices at each course: soup (we couldn't pass up the lobster stew), appetizer (capellini with portobellos sautéed in vanilla bourbon butter, oh my), entrée (rosemary-crusted rack of lamb), delightful salad and dessert, where the "plus" part comes in. Repeat visitors (which virtually all visitors become) know to pace themselves for unlimited seconds of the likes of baked apple rum custard, chocolate raspberry cheesecake or bananas Foster. For entertainment, the inn mascot, a Bernese mountain dog named Coco, amuses diners by assuming the "pretty please" position just outside the hoar-frosted French doors. Information: The Notchland Inn, Harts Location, N.H.; (603) 374-6131 or (800) 866-6131; fax: (603) 374-6168; website:
Lake Massawippi, Quebec, Can.
(near Mont Orford, Bromont, Owl's Head)
About 10 miles east of Mont Orford, Manoir Hovey-a 1900 country estate modeled after Mount Vernon-combines the best of retro-style après-ski warmth with cutting-edge cuisine. Cocktails are dispensed beside the 10,000-brick hearth in the Tap Room, which is a former carriage house bedecked with an ancient birch-bark canoe. Upstairs, in a grand lake-view salon (also fire-lit), fabulous dinners unfold in three to six courses of varying complexity (approximately $28-$42, or included in an MAP rate of about $74-126 per person). Acclaimed chef Roland Menard is an undying advocate of regional cuisine. His foodstuffs are sourced so locally that neighboring farmers merit menu bylines: M. Olivier, for instance, provides the breast of mallard duck (served with a sauce of black currants from the Ile d'Orleans); M. Gagnon the rabbit that becomes a cardamom-scented ballotin set amid hearts of bullrushes; and Mme. Lapierre the pleurotes (oyster mushrooms) that cradle a fricassée of Quebec sweetbreads. Even desserts are deliciously down-to-earth, in such confections as warm zucchini cake on a marmalade of winter squash and honey-wine sabayon. It's easy to see how Manoir Hovey consistently carries off its "best of" awards-not just locally (there's keen competition among the leisure-oriented Eastern Townships), but province-, country- and even continent-wide. It's truly a national treasure. Information: Manoir Hovey, Lake Massawippi, Quebec; (819) 842-2421 or (800) 661-2421; fax: (819) 842-2248; website: www.manoirhovey.com
Gepetto's is the kind of restaurant that keeps people coming back again and again. It's a Sugarloaf base village institution, and no wonder: For more than 20 years, this casual slopeside restaurant has been serving a variety of fresh foods for both lunch and dinner. Prices are reasonable, portions are big, service is efficient. And you can't beat the location, especially if you're popping in for a quick lunch, when an express soup-and-salad bar is offered in addition to the menu. Big windows in the plant-filled main diningg room showcase the action in the village and a glimpse of the slopes. In the popular bar, you can catch up on the local gossip and snow conditions while nibbling appetizers such as lobster-stuffed portobello mushroom. The menu addresses appetites both small and large. Choose from hearty soups and salads, fresh-dough pizzas, small plates such as chicken quesadilla or linguini marinara, creative pastas or land-and-sea entrées such as lobster-stuffed haddock or barbecued baby back ribs. Nightly specials might include pistachio-encrusted rack of lamb or salmon filet. Information: Gepetto's, Sugarloaf/ USA base village, Carrabassett Valley, Maine; (207) 237-2192.
(Near Mt. Ste. Anne)
This lively restaurant and discoteque on Mt. Ste. Anne's access road packs them in with its reasonably priced, eclectic menu and fun-filled atmosphere. From the combination bar and dining room, you can gaze out huge windows and watch the lights come on at the ski area for night skiing and riding. Nothing is fancy here: just good family-oriented fare at fair prices (made even fairer by the exchange rate). And it's definitely a skiers' hangout. The vast room is decorated with ski and snowboard paraphernalia-including a chairlift chair-and well-placed televisions are all tuned to sports stations. The menu (you can ask for an English version if your French is rusty) is international in scope, with fondues, pastas, nachos, Californian chicken, wood-oven pizzas and even fajitas. But everything manages to have a French accent. Choices go well beyond the usual to include appetizers such as wild game paté and main dishes such as bow-tie pasta and smoked salmon, made with capers, shallots, white wine, parmesan cheese and cream. Indeed, you'd be hard pressed not to find something here to warm you up on a frigid winter's night. Information: L'Aventure, 355, rue Dupont, Beaupre, Quebec Canada G0A 1E0; (418) 827-5748; fax (418) 827-3663.
(Near Saddleback, Sugarloaf/USA)
You just don't expect to find a restaurant that's as good as the Porter House in a place like Eustis. It's a very small town, better known for fishing and hunting than fine dining. And yet the Porter House is generally considered to be one of the region's best restaurants. It's worth the drive from Saddleback or Sugarloaf. People even drive all the way down from Canada, lured by the quiet ambiance, sophisticated Continental cuisine (duck is a house specialty) and the award-winning wine list. The restaurant is located in a classic old New England farmhouse, lovingly refurbished. Of the three downstairs dining rooms, the front room, with fireplace, is the most intimate and romantic. White tablecloths and candles set the mood, but the restaurant is popular with families, too. The wide-ranging menu (entrées: $4-$18) includes such items as a vegetarian Portofino Pie, made with artichoke hearts, spinach and ricotta baked in a puff pastry; Porterhouse Steak; Lobster Brittany Casserole, made with mushrooms and sherry; and Chicken Fromage, baked with cheddar and herb cheeses. All are served with home-baked bread and salads topped with homemade dressings. Also homemade are the desserts, and no self-respecting chocoholic should miss the Chocolate Pot, a fudgy, moussey concoction topped with sweet whipped cream. In any case, make reservations in advance. This may be the boonies, but it's almost always a full house. Information: The Porter House, Route 27, Eustis, Maine 04982; (207) 246-7932.