MORRIS — A visitor’s first experience at Winvian Farm at 155 Alain White Road in Morris is reminiscent of a visit to an exclusive resort. Set on 113 acres and bordering extensive woods and lakes, a drive along a short winding road passes the several, various-themed cottages where guests stay. Following the sign for the restaurant visitors are directed to a nearby parking space by a valet. Simply entering the property is an experience in anticipation.
Inside the main building, there is a lounge area and a pool table. Attentive reception people take your coat and show you upstairs, to The Restaurant at Winvian Farm. The atmosphere, with its low lighting and several roaring fireplaces, is elegant, but friendly and unpretentious. The restaurant includes a sprawling outdoor deck (during summer) and, inside, several smaller, homey rooms with two to three tables per room, with a capacity of about 40 people, making every dinner a private dining affair in a stately living room.
Winvian Farm general manager Paolo Middei greets visitors, going out his way to ensure their comfort. He points out that the Restaurant at Winvian Farm recently again won the AAA Five Diamond Restaurant Award (the honor going to a mere one out of 30,000 restaurants, it is said) and retains membership in Relais & Chateaux, an exclusive hotels and restaurants fellowship. Middei said the place prides itself as being “seed-to-table” and sports a menu that changes periodically with the seasons and is customized to its guests.
Seated in the restaurant’s Green Room, with its forest-green walls, antique oil paintings and crackling fireplace, the diner is approached by restaurant manager Giovanni DeNardis, who arrives with focaccia bread with creamy herb butter. This initiates the march of the tasting menu dishes from the kitchen.
Ben Loizeau expertly helps with servings and stokes the logs of the fireplace. Loizeau is in charge of a wine cellar that stocks for the restaurant — a selection of 500 labels from 13 countries, from French whites to Sonoma Coast pinot noirs. The price for a glass of 2017 Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc is $14; prices range up to a bottle of a 2009 Romanée Conti Grand Cru Burgundy valued at $6,300.
A prix fixe three-course menu is $98 per person; a four-course menu, $115 per person. For the tasting-menu dinner, set at $140 per person, which comes generally one-by-one, you start with a succulent Winvian Garden Salad, which included fresh carrots, beets, radishes, apple, grapes, and pecans.
Then, as Peggy Lee’s song “Waiting for the Train to Come In” played in the background, a delectable grilled octopus arrived with a chimichurri, potato and piquillo pepper dish, and the ambrosial hand-rolled pici pasta, lamb ragout and Parmesan foam. The subsequent flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth black pearl salmon and braised beluga, lentil and spiced carrots were all part of the savory offerings.
Winvian Farm executive chef Chris Eddy, who has headed the restaurant since 2006, said on a recent Thursday: “It is about food that is prepared with a great deal of thought by professional artisans dedicated to a craft. What you get on the plate is the sum of a lot of experience and passion.” Eddy trained under famous chefs Daniel Boulud and Alain Ducasse.
Under Eddy’s management, Winvian landed on Connecticut Magazine’s Top-Five Best Restaurants in 2013 and garnered a 2017 Condé Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice Award.
“The menu is always different,” said Eddy, adding that the restaurant gets its produce and herbs from its own garden and greenhouses while in season. The garden is key to the organization’s fresh-ingredients philosophy. Eddy said the garden has grown from an eighth of an acre to three acres over the years.
“We don’t plow the entire three acres,” he added. “We rotate and grow everything organically. In fact, it is beyond organic by using compost and nothing synthesized. Come what may, we do not spray our crops.”
“There are a lot of different herbs we use,” Eddy said, adding that the restaurant has a small team in the fields full-time, ready to bring in any kind of herbs for cooking.
“We have them all,” he said. “What don’t I grow?” He said he grows every variety of potato, peppers, and lettuce. “It’s the real deal,” he explained. “Anything you can think of, we have.”
The freshness and variety of the crops, he said, contributes to the menu’s “multi-faceted, high-quality stuff. We have the growing season most of the year. A shoulder season dictates what ingredients we use.” A shoulder season is a travel period between peak and off-peak seasons.
He added, “Our approach has come to be appreciated by a great deal of people through the seasons and through winter.”
The restaurant sources its meat and poultry locally, and the restaurant’s menu combines familiar and new dishes. “The menu is a fine line,” Eddy said. “On one hand, it is a business and you give people what they want and recognize, such as red meat and steak, which is always important. But you also get to introduce a lot of new and different ideas and styles, with different vegetables’ preparations and textures, for example. We can take vegetables and powder them or cook them slow.”
Working with a small staff of five cooks and two prep cooks, Eddy said he works alongside pastry chef Jim Hutchison to ensure that every meal and dessert served is created to perfection.
On his personal approach to dining, Eddy said, “You have to put your heart and soul into what you are cooking.” He added, “Half the people I cook for, who come to the restaurant, I am cooking for them personally. It is a beautiful thing.”
The crescendo of the evening consisted of dessert served by the creator, chef de cuisine Patrick Espinoza himself. Samples included a moist milk chocolate cream cake; a sweet-but-never-cloying caramel-cake-and-sauce; a cool, satisfying orange-and-passion-fruit cream mousse; and an inviting, sweet carrot-and-buckwheat cake.
Prior to dinner, Winvian Farm general manager Paolo Middei gave a tour of the property. Winvian Farm also has lodging, which consists of 18 eclectic cottages. These cottages comprise a log cabin; to a dwelling named Secret Society that is in the form of a Masonic temple with a skylight; a library-themed cottage; and a Helicopter-in-a-Hangar Cottage, which sports a restored, 1968 Sikorsky Sea King Pelican HH3F helicopter.
Nightly rates are from $699 per night. During most of December, the hotel holds “Maggie’s Winter Special,” named after Winvian owner Maggie Smith, offering a nightly rate from $499. All rates include a full breakfast.
“The cottages are both whimsical and luxurious,” Middei said.
The property also includes a nearby spa that offers reiki, reflexology, a salt glow treatment, and private yoga classes among its services; it is open to the public as well as Winvian guests.
Winvian Farm’s history is colorful as its restaurant offerings and cottages. It was built in 1775 as a yet-unnamed white clapboard family house, set among meadows and forest. It was built by Seth Bird, an eccentric but respected physician known for bringing a coffin along on his house calls. In 1948, the Smith family bought the estate, renaming it “Win-Vian,” a combination of the first names of Winthrop Smith and his wife Vivian. The couple and their son raised livestock and grew vegetables.
“Winthrop was the founder of Merrill Lynch,” Middei stated. “And Vivian was a model and actress.”
When Smith was widowed, she married Charles McVay, captain of the World War II cruiser U.S.S. Indianapolis and author of the war memoir “In Harm’s Way.” Taking the helm of the property was daughter Maggie Smith as well as her own children, Heather and Win Smith III, and Winvian opened in January 2007 with just a few cottages. Middei said by the summer of 2007 the rest of the cottages were designed by 15 different architectural firms, each approaching their cottages from various traditions. Despite the nationwide financial collapse coming right after the opening, Winvian Farm continued to thrive in its status as a world-renown luxury resort. The property also hosts weddings and corporate functions.
“We can accommodate 54 visitors,” Winvian Farm general manager Middei said of the cottages. “We are very busy, and there are always new events here.”
The Restaurant at Winvian Farm’s hours are Monday (Chef’s Set Menu) at 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. for in-house guests only; Tuesday closed; Wednesday through Sunday, open for dinner from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday, open for lunch from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Winvian Farm is located at 155 Alain White Road in Morris. It can be reached for restaurant reservations and lodging at 860-567-9600 or www.winvian.com