Shelburne Farms: Downhill Alert
I love Shelburne Farms' philosophy: fine food, locally-sourced and organically produced, served at the height of its flavor. The problem is that the quality and presentation, at least under the new chef (whose background includes the decidedly downscale Three Tomatoes Trattoria and Bolton Valley ski resort ) doesn't match up to its stellar reputation and equally stellar prices.
I've been here under previous chefs and was always "wowed." This time, I took two bites of a "market garden risotto" and had no further interest in tasting the dish. Risotto is normally a delicate dish (indeed, I normally won't order it unless I'm confident of the kitchen's ability), and the description sounded lovely, but what arrived was a rather gloopy-looking mess of tomato-colored (presumably, beet-flavored) rice topped with large chunks of baby turnips and beets, with salad greens tossed in. It looked unappetizing, with muddied flavors and colors and an unappealing texture. While I vastly preferred a cold beet soup that was brilliantly colored and brightly flavored, it too, inextricably, was topped by a large, unwieldly branch of dill. It was puzzling that the chef didn't simply snip off dill strands, making the soup both more visually appealing and allowing you to actually taste the dill without a knife and fork. These kind of lapses may not be a big deal in your average restaurant, but they are inexcusable in a dining room of this caliber. On the upside, the service was very good, with the waitress quickly apologizing for the risotto, and taking it off the bill. My friends raved about their appetizers of quail and house-made pate, though rated the scallops entree as merely "good" rather than great. The desserts were delicious but spotty: a dark chocolate mousse served in a phyllo purse was excellent, while the creme brulee had a disappointing, watery consistency. It, too, was not finished by the table. Two final quibbles: cocktails priced at $14 (!) and the lack of a sommelier, or even a knowledgable server, to help navigate the interesting and varied wine list. Bottom line: this is a spectacularly situated restaurant with a noble mission. But if they want to charge these prices, they need to work out some of the kinks, and re-focus on the food. (For an example of two similar restaurants with flawless executions, I would point to Hen of the Woods and Michaels on the Hill.)