05 June 2006

Dining: Simon Pearce, Quechee, VT

[Simon Pearce]The restaurant at Simon Pearce in Quechee, Vermont is obviously, as I think everyone must assume, there to sell their glassware and pottery. The food is necessarily an afterthought, and while it’s usually reasonably tasty, it can be variable due to changes in chefs and seasons. (Usually, fish is a better bet than meat, and appetizers are stronger than main courses.) The service is typically fine…comforting without being either too casual or too stifling. The only actual knock on the restaurant might be the one out of its control: it is very, very popular with both locals and tourists, and the mid-lunch or -dinner din can be deafening. But there are two reasons to dine here that surpass anything the food may or may not accomplish.

The first is the setting. Atop the waterfall that, at least historically, powered the mill and the forges at the heart of the various Simon Pearce industries, and looking one way towards yet another beautiful Vermont covered bridge and another along a peaceful river surrounded by overhanging trees, the window-laden dining room is beautiful in any season. Summer brings the gorgeous greens (and, as a bonus, open windows), fall the spectacular autumnal canvas on the surrounding hillsides, winter the stark grayscale of snow and falling mists of ice, and spring the thundering power of the melts that churn down from Killington to roar and crash over the falls right underneath the corner of the building.

The second isn’t much-advertised, and guide books tend to ignore it: the wine list is extraordinary. Not only is it long, but it still relies on a long-standing program of the careful cellaring of older vintages that are, to this day, sold at or near their original markups. I won’t mention specific examples from the current wine list (lest I deplete my own options!), but here’s one from the recent past: a stunning Beaucastel 1981 Châteaneuf-du-Pâpe for just $65. (Don’t bother asking for it; I drank the last bottle.) Even those uninterested in older wines will find much that’s worthwhile here, from the familiar to the arcane, and all at very fair prices.

(Review based on dozens of visits from 1996 to the present.)

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