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Long-Distance Dining

A surprising new foodie mecca in Maine; a dream dinner at the biggest little inn in Virginia; a wine-tasting tour in Sonoma County without the Napa attitude

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Coastal Maine is suddenly the destination foodies are talking about, at least since award-winning chef Melissa Kelly (formerly of the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company Inn) and New York chef-impresario Matthew Kenney opened new restaurants in and around Portland. They have discovered what Rod Mitchell of Browne Trading Co., fish purveyor to the stars, and fish smoker Des Fitzgerald of Ducktrap River Farm Fish have known for years -- that Maine is not just about great lobsters. "I have the ocean at my front door," says Kelly, "and local produce at its peak from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners, the biggest organic association in the country." Kelly and her fiancé, pastry chef Price Kushner, opened Primo last April in a Victorian clapboard house on four acres overlooking Penobscot Bay, with vegetable gardens and a greenhouse. Her American menu follows Kelly's philosophy of simplicity, seasonality, and freshness, with a wood-burning oven and hearty pasta dishes reflecting her Italian heritage. An hour away, in the heart of Portland, Matthew Kenney (a Maine native) has opened Commissary in the Portland Public Market, plus Sugar, a pastry shop next door. Also, this summer Kenney is reopening the old Nickerson Tavern in Searsport, where he plans to offer sophisticated country dining, using produce from his eleven acres. Between meals, you'll need to sleep occasionally, and Kelly recommends the Berry Manor Inn, not far from Primo, for its cozy Victorian charm.
GILLIAN DUFFY

Details Primo, 207-596-0770 (open for dinner Thursday through Monday); Berry Manor Inn, 800-774-5692 (rooms start at $105 during the summer); Commissary, 207-228-2057.

Reservations are hard to come by at the Inn at Little Washington, the winner of the James Beard Restaurant of the Year award that's set in the rolling hills of Rappahannock County, Virginia. (It's just an hour and a half from Washington, D.C.) But if you're willing to sleep somewhere else and can handle a late-evening start time, you can be dining on its duck consommé, its fantastic local rabbit with spaetzle, its tenderloin of veal with forest mushrooms, within two weeks. The vast wine list has surprises like a Pascal Jolivet Grand Cuvée Sancerre rouge for an amazingly reasonable $68. Later, enjoy a postprandial cigar and a glass of Poire William in the courtyard, where ladies are offered wraps by obsequious attendants. It's all too deliriously delicious, and you'll easily spend upwards of $500 for two; the prix fixe is $138 on Saturdays, but with champagne, wine, and after-dinner drinks, well, let's just say you'll be giggling with giddy disbelief when you get the check. You could toddle upstairs to one of the inn's own expensive and overstuffed rooms, but instead, beat a retreat to Sharp Rock Farm, minutes away at the bottom of Rag Mountain, where you can stay in either the cottage or the carriage house. The next day, play golf at the nearby Shenvalee course or, if you go in the fall when the leaves are changing, wind your way down Skyline Drive, which runs along the Blue Ridge through Shenandoah National Park, as the setting sun sifts gold through the trees.
JESSICA LUSTIG

Details The Inn at Little Washington, 540-675-3800 (doubles start at $340); Sharp Rock Farm, 540-987-8020 (rooms start at $150).

Ever since Northern California emerged as America's answer to Tuscany, the focus has been on Napa Valley -- which explains why Napa has turned from a once-rustic town surrounded by quirky wineries into a crowded, posh hamlet frequented by the likes of Madonna. The less-well-known town of Healdsburg, however, in neighboring Sonoma County, has managed to keep its feet on the ground: It's funkier, less pretentious, but still has plenty of great wineries -- and it's an easy hour-and-a-half drive from the San Francisco airport. Stay at Madrona Manor, an 1881 Victorian bed-and-breakfast that would have pleased Edith Wharton, but before you check in, grab a gourmet snack at Viansa, a pristine hilltop winery with a stunning view from the patio. Make a dinner reservation at Zin, where owner Scott Silva will recommend local wineries to check out the next day. Lately, he's been sending people to Meeker winery, run by a couple of Texans in a former turn-of-the-past-century bank, and David Coffaro winery, where zesty Zinfandels are sampled to the accompaniment of the Grateful Dead.
DAVID AMSDEN

Details Madrona Manor, 707-433-4233 (rooms start at $165); Viansa, 800-995-4740; Zin, 707-473-0946; Meeker Vinyard, 707-431-2148. Go to Wineroad.com for excellent maps and guides.


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