Ever since a friend mentioned to me his unforgettable experience visiting Winvian in Litchfield Hills, Connecticut, I have always kept it on my “to do” list. In fact, when my daughter and I perused the website, she prematurely decided that it was to be her future wedding venue. So, when I received an email announcing a farm dinner event, my daughter and I jumped at the opportunity. Arriving at Winvian on June 11, 2014 was reminiscent of the approach to a French chateau, along with the service, culture, and class that such an experience entails.
In 1775, Dr. Seth Bird, an eccentric but respected physician known for bringing a coffin along on his house calls, built a home for himself and his family in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut. It was a white clapboard beauty, aproned with meadows and woods, and a comfort and sustenance for the generations.
In 1948, the Smith family bought the historic Bird estate and named it Win-Vian, a combination of the first names of Winthrop Smith and his wife Vivian. They raised a son, bounteous fruit and vegetables, and livestock on the property (today the luxury Spa stands where the pigpens once did but offers a rather nicer kind of mud treatment). When Win died, Vivian married Charles McVay, captain of the USS Indianapolis, whose riveting story is detailed in the book “In Harm’s Way.”
Photos courtesy of Winvian With the addition of eighteen individually designed luxury cottages and Hadley Suite, Winvian remains in the Smith family today, lovingly restored by Maggie Smith, her daughter Heather and son Win Smith III into a luxurious, unconventional and absolutely magnificent getaway and restaurant. The resort’s cottages each have a different, unique theme. I encourage a visit to the website where you can see a cottage with a helicopter inside! You will surely then be motivated to take a short trip to Winvian.
As we drove up to the gate and radioed the resort of our arrival, it was inconceivable that we were only 75 minutes from home We were directed to a covered driveway where our car was valeted and we were escorted to a quaint bar where we were offered cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. I assumed there would be an additional charge, but this was all included in our farm dinner price. With a drink and nibbles in hand, we joined other early arrivals in the garden. We were encouraged to explore and meandered through vegetable and fruit gardens, where we even spotted a sous chef picking morsels for the upcoming feast. After chatting with many friendly guests, it became clear that Winvian has many loyal “regulars”, those who come for every special event and every important celebration. It is evident why this is true.: Winvian exudes warmth and luxury at the same time.
Executive Chef Chris Eddy has long been an acknowledged master of haute cuisine, and trained under the likes of Boulud and Ducasse. But what makes him revolutionary is his insistence on using only the freshest seasonal ingredients, most from Winvian’s own organic gardens – ingredients Eddy and his talented staff have picked, prepared and plated themselves He is the passionate founder of Winvian’s pure food philosophy, and prides himself on being a culinary craftsman, creating spontaneous farm-to-table menus using simple, crisp and fresh foods accented with unusual and foraged findings. The results are extraordinary and have garnered rave reviews from revered food critics and guests alike – including Connecticut Magazine’s Top Five Best Restaurants in 2013.
Pastry Chef Jim Hutchison has gained renown for creating divine, imaginative desserts from organic vegetables, fruits and herbs grown at Winvian and nearby farms. Hutchison was chosen as a finalist in the 2013 Chicago Pastry Competition – a reality series in which he performed with his usual star quality. Brilliant green kale cake, beet scones, and other deliciously surprising flavors are created from peak quality produce and Hutchison’s modernist classical techniques. He trained at the Culinary Institute of America and worked for many years in New York City restaurants before bringing his great talents - and his penchant for applying mathematical and scientific theories of baking to Winvian.
With these two at the helm, a culinary adventure surely lay before us.
Assigned to a table with other excited diners, we readied ourselves for something special and weren’t disappointed. Our fellow diners included a father/daughter pair in the baking business. The daughter, being a vegetarian, had special requests, and those were welcomed and granted with style. Another couple had traveled by driver from Wilton, so that they could partake of the unlimited wine without concern for driving home. The final couple, transplants from NYC’s Greenwich Village, and former ice cream boutique owners, rounded out the table. It was a fascinating group, all drawn together by our shared love of food and wine. We were the only first time visitors, but won’t remain that way for long.
The menu began with a Beet Salad, highlighted by a lightly breaded and fried poached egg. The egg, freshly picked on the farm, was creamy and decadent. I tried to soak up every drop of it amongst the vegetables, which had been growing in the garden only a few minutes before.
The carrot risotto was next. It was creamy and perfectly seasoned, garnished with tiny roasted carrots and plated with modern Parmesan foam. Chef Eddy never chooses his special menus prior to an event like this since he plans his menu based on farm to table principles.
Next was the entrée: Marwan farm chicken, with sunchokes, garlic, chives, and smoked bacon sauce. It was tender and exceptionally flavorful. The portion size was perfect to both satisfy and leave room for dessert.
Finally, the unique dessert was a rhubarb-anise cake, with camomille scented strawberries and a poached meringue. It was light and refreshing but still decadent at the same time.
When the meal concluded, we would have enjoyed retreating to a cottage to spend the night in luxury, but given that the next day was a workday, we drove back to reality. The evening truly felt like an escape into a world of decades past. The entire staff was top notch, with a level of service rarely found today. We will surely be back soon, and my daughter’s dream of a wedding at Winvian , once laughed at by me as a pipedream, might really become a reality someday based upon our experience at Winvian on a captivating evening in June!
Winvian Resort: 155 Alain White Rd, Morris, CT 06763 (860) 567-9600
Photography Courtesy of Danielle Hartog