143 MAIN ST.



(3 Stars)

ASSESSMENT: Star turn.

OPEN: Every day for dinner. Reservations necessary.

PRICE RANGE: Main courses, $28 to $39; appetizers, $11 to $23; six-course

tasting menu, $85.

CREDIT CARDS: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Steps at entrance.

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DIRECTIONS: North side, diagonally across from Guild Hall.

Four stars mean outstanding; three, excellent; two, very good; one, good; none,

fair or poor.

The 1770 House is elegantly reborn in 2002 as the showcase of chef Kevin


Penner, the original chef at Della Femina and The Star Room, here completes

his culinary hat trick in a charming, very old and very new place.

Through the years, the vintage inn has hosted eateries sporting dishes as

different as Senate bean soup and monkfish foie gras. Penner makes all that

seem like fast food.

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His performance takes place on a carefully fashioned stage, currently

framed by Christofle tableware and Laguiole cutlery. The set is in hues of

cream, with accents architectural and antique, tropical and modern. Overhead,

exposed beams underscore the inn's longevity. The handsome wood tables suggest

another era, too. Wicker brings in a country touch.

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Penner's eclectic cuisine and ever-changing menu are a fine balance of

subtle and bold, full of harmonious, East-West interplay. Begin with a

decidedly Eastern approach: meltingly tender braised pork belly, atop Asian

greens, sparked by a sweet Thai chile sauce.

Continue in that direction with vivid, chopped raw tuna, precisely molded,

served with a radish salad, soy sauce and juice from yuzu, a Japanese fruit

that hints of grapefruit and mandarin orange.

Move westward with a slablet of roasted Hudson Valley foie gras, balanced

at the other side of the rectangular plate with a blueberry pancake and vanilla

essence, an unexpected coupling that works.

Enjoy salads. The selections include an Italianate union of baby arugula,

fava beans, prosciutto, pecorino cheese and walnuts in a lemon-black pepper

vinaigrette; another of heirloom tomatoes, yellow and red, with ricotta salata,

micro-greens and a garlic-caper vinaigrette; and a third, the savory alliance

of mache, endive, Maytag blue cheese, Charentais melon, bacon, candied walnuts

and sherry vinaigrette. A lot of the sourdough and olive-studded rolls will

have vanished by this course.

Roasted Maine diver scallops arrive with chanterelles, peas and a rush of

thyme. They're plump and delectable. Risotto Milanese goes lavishly local with

Montauk lobster, plus fennel, garlic and basil. But the rice stays a bit firmer

than necessary and the ingredients don't quite meld.

Montauk striped bass is deftly roasted and turned Provencal with tomatoes,

rosemary, sweet basil essence and a gratin of Nicoise olives. But it seems

almost common compared with the eastbound, sweet skate wing, a seductive number

with black rice, and a marvelous green curry sauce that adds an undercurrent

of heat.

Turbot is roasted, sauced with tomato-and-tarragon, joined by pea shoots

and chanterelles. Miso-glazed Scottish salmon swims farther across the border

with wasabi sauce, hearts of palm, mango and scallion salad.

Thai yellow curry sauce fuels rosy, grilled squab. The bird receives an

added tingle from the company of spicy kimchi and mango. It's a stirring,

striking combination.

The grilled loin of Colorado lamb is exceptional, seasoned with rosemary

and emboldened by sweet garlic, cured olives and tomatoes. The hefty grilled

rib-eye of beef rests on a snowy potato puree, and is defined by its vinous

sauce Bordelaise.

Desserts are artful affairs. The caramelized banana tart finds a foil in

toasted-almond ice cream. Steamed lemon pudding is matched with lemon confit

and raspberry sorbet.

Buttermilk panna cotta has nectarine salad on one side, peach sorbet on the

other, strands of basil weaving a bridge of sorts. The satisfying wild Maine

blueberry financier is improved by vanilla ice cream and a blueberry coulis.

Valrhona chocolate ice cream is the mate of warm chocolate cake.

You'll want to linger over these sweets, or the cheese plate with that

Charentais melon and white truffle honey. Perhaps decide on which vintage of

Chateau d'Yquem sings to you, or whether a glass of vintage Port will do. Maybe

consider sherry or grappa, Cognac or Calvados. Expect attentive, expert

service throughout.

All this activity, of course. will result in your giving a very personal

boost to the regional economy. But you'll also know very quickly that you've

spent more for less elsewhere.

Deep in September, 2002 is about 1770.

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