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Washington Duke Inn's Fairview elevates comfort food on its winter menu

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By Kathy M. Newbern and J.S. Fletcher ©2013

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There's no place we'd rather spend an evening out than one of our favorite upscale dining spots: Fairview Dining Room at the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club, which we've reported on here previously. The setting is elegant, the service is superb and the food is consistently wonderful, thanks to Executive Chef Jason Cunningham and his amazing team.

Every time we eat from Chef Jason's kitchen, the conversation is reduced to "um," "taste this," "wow" and "that is so good." Lucky us.

Our recent sampling was from the Fairview's new winter menu. We were among area writers who were invited for a three-course dinner paired with wine, but the organizers very thoughtfully provided individual tables, so voila, romantic date night equals work night for us. Win-win.

An amuse bouche of Flank Steak atop Spicy Cole Slaw started this particular culinary adventure. Server Andrew Stark presented two paired wines for the evening: a Napa Valley Fume Blanc from Grgich Hills Estate and a "very dark" Malbec from Argentina, Nieto Senetiner's 2011 vintage. Both worked well throughout the meal.

For appetizers, we each chose soup, the WaDuke Shrimp, Corn and Bacon Chowder for me while Fletcher was adventurous and opted for the soup du jour, which Andrew, described as seared steak with quinoa.

"Wow, what a starter," Fletcher proclaimed. "It's like an old-fashioned meat stew." Later, when we quizzed Chef Jason on other ingredients — we'd correctly identified the spinach. He smiled and said he had a super secret soup list, his own go-to. Can't blame him for not sharing all his secrets.

My chowder was pure comfort food, too, nice and chunky. After sampling Fletcher's, I decided his was a fireplace on a cold night. The meat was so tender and flavorful that Fletcher was smacking his lips throughout. "This is so good," he reiterated halfway through the bowl.

We should mention the bread basket featured a French baguette from Durham's own Guglhupf Bakery, plus there were made-in-house Fairview cheddar chive biscuits.

Fairview embraces the farm-to-table movement by working with local farmers and artisan partners. One such partner, Joyce Farms from Winston-Salem, was credited on the menu as providing the Pomegranate Glazed Joyce Farms Chicken, served with parsnip pear cornbread stuffing, carrot puree, house bacon, haricots verts and pan jus.

We were tempted, but instead I chose as my entree the Jumbo Lump Chesapeake Crabcake. I never met a crabcake I didn't order, oftentimes to my dismay. Not this night; this one was bursting with big lump meat with the perfect sweetness.

Assistant Restaurant Manager Patrick Greene filled us in that new Chef de Cuisine Murray Healy moved here from Maryland, and, said Greene, "has changed our crabcake, which is highly recommended." Chef Cunningham added, "He brought a recipe, and we made it ours." Fletcher declared it the best crabcake he's ever tasted; I agree.

Once again Fletcher was the adventurous diner, choosing as his entree the Smoked Bacon Wrapped Monkfish served with ginger sweet potato puree, turnip greens and spinach plus chipotle persimmon vin blanc. I loved the puree with his dish. He noted the monkfish medallions slightly resembled scallops (see the slideshow) and said there was a sweetness in the puree that balanced well with the fish, which was very meaty. The smoked bacon flavor was well integrated throughout.

As always the dessert course was as lovely as it was tasty, a delightful trio of Expresso Creme Brulee, Dry Irish Stout Guinness Cake (yes, real Irish Guinness is in the batter) as well as an Amaretto Cheesecake with an Oreo Cookie Crust (again, see the slideshow). I favored the latter, and Fletcher declared the cake the winner of this round.

You can download the new winter menu at http://www.washingtondukeinn.com/_files/_pdf/DINNER_WINTER_12162013.pdf. And remember, there's still lots of holiday going on at Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club, too. Check out these offerings:

“FAITHFUL FRIENDS” - The Holiday Tea
Served daily 2:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. through January 5
Relish the intimacy and unhurried pace of this time-honored tradition. Classic Tea, $25, offers a wide selection of teas from The Republic of Tea served with a variety of sandwiches, fresh homemade scones and a variety of sweets handcrafted for you. Our Tea Royale, $32, also includes a glass of Champagne, Mimosa or Kir Royale. To accommodate your hectic schedule, we will be offering afternoon tea service seven days a week through the holiday season.
It’s the perfect time to don your holiday attire as those “who are dear to us gather near to us once more.”
Online Registration: http://www.opentable.com/opentables.aspx?t=rest&r=15346&m=22&p=2&d=12/13/2013%207:00:00%20PM&scpref=100

“SUGAR PLUM TEA” - A Festive Christmas Eve Tea
12 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, December 24
After the house is decorated, gifts are wrapped and the rush is settling down, come enjoy your Christmas Eve Afternoon Tea style. Classic Tea has been elevated to include a special dessert bar, complete with an array of holiday sweets. The Vista Restaurant will feature live holiday music by pianist Paul Holmes. Each guest will receive Gingerbread Cookies as a take-away “goody.” Hot Cider and Hot Chocolate are also available for children and adults alike. Children 6-12 $15, Adult $28
Online Registration https://www.eventville.com/catalog/eventregistration1.asp?eventid=1010826

CHRISTMAS EVE BRUNCH
11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, December 24
Take a break from your last-minute shopping and come unwind with us for a relaxing Christmas Eve Brunch in the Fairview Dining Room. The Fairview will also feature live holiday music with Paul Holmes featuring the dining room's traditional brunch menu features items, both savory and sweet.
Online Registration https://www.eventville.com/catalog/eventregistration1.asp?eventid=1010825

CHRISTMAS EVE DINNER - Prix-Fixe Dinner in the Fairview
5:30 p.m. - 9 p.m. Tuesday, December 24
Executive Chef Jason Cunningham has been hard at work again creating a special four-course prix fixe dinner for Christmas Eve. Come escape the hustle and bustle of the holidays with an elegant dinner in the revived Fairview Dining Room. There will also be live holiday music to boost your spirit. $65
Online Registration https://www.eventville.com/catalog/eventregistration1.asp?eventid=1010824

CHRISTMAS BUFFET EXTRAVAGANZA - Our Yearly Holiday Buffet Tradition
Noon, 3 and 6 p.m., Wednesday, December 25
The Fairviews' famous holiday extravaganza includes an assortment of chilled seafood and salads, traditional hot entrees and side dishes, a chef carving station with succulent roasted meats, extensive dessert display, and choice of coffee, tea or soft drink. Adults $69, Children 6-12 $25, and children ages 5 and under are free. Executive Club Discount does apply for the Christmas Buffet this year.
Online Registration https://www.eventville.com/catalog/eventregistration1.asp?eventid=1010822

About the Inn

The Washington Duke Inn is the only AAA Four Diamond hotel in Durham and was recently named as one of only 15 hotels in the Southern Living Hotel Collection: a small, curated group of independent, four- and five-star level hotels, resorts and inns that span 18 Southern states and offer the best in authentic Southern hospitality. Nestled on 300 acres filled with tall pines and hardwoods, the Inn is known for its beautiful facility and grounds, 271 elegantly appointed guest rooms and suites, marvelous cuisine in the Four Diamond Award-winning Fairview Dining Room, the Bull Durham Bar, the Robert Trent Jones-designed 18-hole championship Duke University golf course, and convenience to local points of interest. The Inn is owned by Duke University.

If You're Going: For more information or reservations, call 919.490.0999 or 1.800.443.3853, or visit washingtondukeinn.com.

Coming Up Next: Looking for a stylish New Year's Eve celebration? Check out what's on tap at Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club on the Duke University campus in Durham.

If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy:
• Other Stories by Kathy M. Newbern, Raleigh Luxury Travel Examiner
Stories by J.S. Fletcher, Raleigh International Travel Examiner
@FletcherNewbern
@YourNovelcom
National International Travel Examiners Kathy M. Newbern and spouse, J.S. Fletcher, report on luxury destinations, spas and cruising around the globe. They are award-winning members of the Society of American Travel Writers and created YourSpaReport.com and YourNovel.com, their personalized romance novel business.

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