In which Richard Frisbie was served an exquisite dinner at Blantyre:
Food, Champagne and fruit in my room when I arrived at Blantyre
The wind blew glittering ice crystals across the expansive grounds beneath the hilltop Tudor mansion. Snow piled against the pillars of the portico, forming a thick carpet under the arched brick entryway. Icicles hung from the drift-laden roof nearly obscuring the frost-coated windows. I felt as if I were stepping into a scene from Dr. Zhivago. So this is Blantyre, I thought as I stamped snow off my boots and entered another world.
The Music Room at Blantyre
The cottages in the Berkshires are reminiscent of another, more opulent era. Built as summer homes for the moneyed class to escape the grime and heat of the city, they were grand and elaborate mansions, not cottages at all. Ornately carved wood-paneled walls, with leaded and stained glass windows overlooking vistas beyond the croquet and tennis courts, delineate the grace and elegance of their setting. The cottages were the playground of the privileged.
Some are gone, lost to fires, subdivisions and/or financial collapses, but Blantyre remains - restored to all its original elegant and pastoral splendor, buffered by the surrounding 117 acres in Lenox, Massachusetts. The gated entry to the driveway is marked Private, but Blantyre is open year-round as one of the finest hotels in the world - exclusive, expensive and an incredible value for all the services offered - a Grande Chef Relais & ChÃ¢teaux Hotel. Blantyre was my destination for a recent winter weekend of hedonistic spa treatments, gourmet food and exquisite wines, all in the company of the mistress of the house.
My hostess, Ann Fitzpatrick Brown, is a charming raconteur with an encyclopedic knowledge of the origins of all the furnishings, linens, silverware and crystal that fill Blantyre. She should have it, she bought them all! Depending on the time of day, she regaled me with stories of the renovation and furnishing of each and every corner over coffee, hot chocolate, (9 flavors!) or a rare selection of 2500 vintage wines from the unrivaled cellar. Her attention to detail and her love of finding and acquiring each perfect piece for each individually designed room became apparent as we strolled through the public spaces and private quarters. Blantyre is perfection personified, presided over by a capable, gracious and solicitous staff that usually outnumbers the guests. Blantyre is Heaven.
Ann Fitzpatrick Brown
Presiding over the culinary portion is Chef Christopher Brooks, a charming and very talented man at the helm of a spotless kitchen. From light, lower calorie cooking that can include some sparingly creamed and buttered accompaniments, to rich and complex soups and stews, and desserts so light and flaky you fear they might float away, chef Brooks and his able staff prepare gourmet meals and snacks to suit every taste and diet.
A formal dinner (gentlemen in jackets and ties, ladies in evening wear) one evening included six courses served in two different rooms. The presentation, serving and settings were all gloriously understated - simple, elegant and beautiful. It was truly a memorable dinner.
CanapÃ©s were served in the Music Room. A piano in the corner was played quietly, as it is every evening. Flutes of champagne were poured. (Â“ItÂ’s not champagne, itÂ’s Krug Grande Cuvee.Â” I was told. Not understanding, it was explained as being the company slogan for this premier French Champagne.) And a colorful and very pretty collection of edibles filled the table. I could have spent the evening there, conversing with the other guests and sipping that great champagne.
All too soon we were called to the Dining Room. Our seating was by chance, literally. Â“Take a cardÂ” Ann encouraged, holding a tray of antique playing cards. We then found the match to our lucky card among the ones at each place setting. Make a pair, have a seat - charming!
The Soup Course was familiar as part of our cooking lesson earlier in the day. A video illustrated article: RICHARD FRISBIE :: At Blantyre - Dashi will show you how to make it. The dashi was clear, light - glistening with a smidgen of butter to give it a sheen -Â and perfect as a companion to the Maine scallop ring. It was as tasty as it looks.
A Fish Course of real Dover sole, a nod to chef BrooksÂ’ British roots, was lightly poached and served with Scottish Langoustine, truffle and the reserved ends from the chives we chopped for the dashi that morning. When Chef Brooks said that everything is planned to use all the parts of the ingredients for each meal, he meant it!
A Main Course of Pheasant Breast was the highlight for me. This gently cooked cylinder of tender white meat blushed when I cut it into medallions. It was perfect! When something that can be so easily overcooked is served to a table of ten, and every breast is pink and moist, you know that kitchen runs like a good Swiss watch.
A moment to discuss the wines:
Each course was paired with a vintage wine from the cellar of more than 2500 different varieties. Besides the Champagne Krug with our canapÃ©s, we were served in this order:
Urziger Wurzgarten Kabinett Dr. Loosen, Mosel Saar Ruwer 2006
Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru Domaine Jean-Noel Gagnard, Burgundy Magnum 1995
These next two were served as a comparison to see which we preferred with the pheasant. The bordeaux was double decanted, then returned to the bottle for serving. It was a smooth mouthful of ruby-red richness - full-bodied and remarkably complex. I could bathe in this wine!
Chateau Lafite Rothschild ler Cru, Pauillac, Bordeaux Magnum 1982
Joseph Phelps Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1985
The Phelps could have breathed a bit more, but its rich full flavor and slightly minty nose made it a close second as the wine for the pheasant.
Port Fonesca 1963
A fruity and full-bodied cherry red Â“EnglishÂ” style Portuguese port
And finally, with the Dessert Buffet served back in the Music Room:
Chateau dÂ’Yquem ler Cru Superieur, Sauternes 2001
A sweet, complex and one-of-kind bottle of wine.
The wines were an extravagance of riches, each the perfect companion for the food. Any that I found ratings on (besides perfection!) were 98 to 100. Each went down so smoothly during engaging conversations and delicious courses. It is obvious why the Â“Grande ChefÂ” was added to the already rare title ofÂ Â“Relais & ChÃ¢teauxÂ” when describing Blantyre.
The Cheese Course was comprised of local cheeses, some from where the butters came from (there were two!) and all excellent examples of a burgeoning artisanal cheese market in the Berkshires. The Â“blueÂ”, Â“muensterÂ” and Â“farmersÂ” cheese (they had local names, but this is what they reminded me of) were the best, especially with both the brown almond bread and fig bread served hot from the kitchen. The kitchen is so self-sufficient that they even smoke their own salmon and ham. IÂ’m sure theyÂ’d make their own cheese if such quality varieties werenÂ’t already available nearby.
For the Dessert Course we retired to the Music Room. Little bits of sweet nothings, edible works of art and fruits and candies, were passed, then arranged at the table where coffees and teas could be had. The pianist was still at work, playing happily away until the last person excused himself, and was played to bed with the final notes.
This was a meal to rival the best meals of my life, so carefully balanced that not one element out-shown another, with each at the peak of perfection, complimenting the other. I canÂ’t think of a better way to describe Blantyre.
A Grande Chef Relais & ChÃ¢teaux Hotel
16 Blantyre Road,
P.O. Box 995,
Lenox - Massachusetts 01240
Tel.: : + 1 413 637 3556
Fax: : + 1 413 637 4282
Owner and MaÃ®tre de Maison: Ann Fitzpatrick Brown
Grand Chef Relais & ChÃ¢teaux: Christopher Brooks
The World of Blantyre & the Cookery of Christopher Brooks. ($70)
9x12 hardcover 240 pages - 167 pages of beautiful photographs, some history and over 50 favorite recipes. (Inquire)
Richard Frisbie, FOOD Correspondent:
RICHARD FRISBIE is published twice a month to Gather Essentials: Food. It is a food junkie's take on growing, raising, preparing and - above all else - eating food. Together weÂ’ll explore the trends, addictions, equipment and regional specialties that make up the sometimes mundane and sometimes sublime cooking and dining experience. You can keep up with my other postings and Gather activity by joining my Gather network -- I look forward to hearing from you.
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