The Woodward House
Litchfield County used to be dairy farm country and still has the rolling green landscape and the occasional long stretch of feed corn going for it, although you are almost as likely now to see a former secretary of state or Oscar-winning actress as you are a Holstein in some towns these days, as the area has increasingly become a second-house market for our betters (OK, not a Holstein, but a Brown Swiss? Forget it.)
Bethlehem, just north of Waterbury and the gateway into farm country, has, however, managed to hang on to its rural, cow-town character. It has a flashing red stop light in the center of town, a grocery store, a pharmacy, a breakfast joint, a pizza place and a monastery, and that’s about it. And now it has Woodward House, an elegant and inviting new restaurants palm springs on the town green.
The house originates in 1740–which makes it one of the town’s foundation buildings and used to be called Bird Tavern, though in recent years it served as a rental house.
But you get the sense, frankly, that the house is happy to have been restored to its original purpose to be a place of hospitality. Certainly, it glows now with warmth. You’ll notice as you go in how thoughtfully designed it is. The walls in one dining room are a cheery, late-sunset red, in another, the room is gold, in another yellow. The moldings are crisp white. The glassware is elegant (heavy bottomed, serious cocktail glasses, tall, Reidel-quality wine glasses ) and sparkles, the carpets are thick, lovely and appropriate. The table linen is white and well ironed. I don’t know about you, but for Lisa and me, these kinds of things go a long way. You know you are in good hands when care has been taken to get the details right.
As an amuse-guile, as I had my nose in a lovely, austere glass of Medoc, our waiter brought to us a smoked salmon mousse on a slip of waffled potato, delicious. We took some time with the menu. There is a foie gras crème brulée with pearl-onion jam on the “starters” menu that I will be returning for. I’d bet the shrimp and Maryland crab cakes with mango and pineapple salsa are pretty amazing too, but I started instead with the five onion soup with cilantro cream, while Lisa had a summer salad with strawberries, mangos, walnuts, and brie in a sherry vinaigrette.
Lisa’s salad was very nice, very balanced. My soup was deeply satisfying, like French onion soup but with more softness and character, the cilantro cream rounding the edges. I was particularly won over by the bowl, a white rectangular, terrine-shaped thing on a saucer.
I was torn. Part of me wanted to move next to the lobster summer stew, with fennel and tomato, but I have this foie gras thing, and I saw there was roasted duck breast with foie gras and sweet mashed potatoes in an apple cider sauce. It was very good. Lisa had a filet of beef tenderloin with a mint and Bing cherry demi glace, served with horseradish mashed potatoes. I kept hoping she wouldn’t finish it so I could, but it had been a long day and she wolfed it down.
And what a joy to find a restaurant with a cheese option on the dessert menu. I had that, with a glass of port, while Lisa had the lemon curd tart with blueberries. “Very lemony,” she said approvingly. “These things are almost always too sweet.”
We had a cappuccino, and our waiter came by and told us that the chef makes fresh truffles every day, and left two on our table.
So this was all very good. The service was extremely professional as well. If you do plan to spend a day in the countryside, you would do well to end it with a dinner here. If it is a date or a kind of date you’ll have impressed her or him, trust me. It just has something great about it that will make you feel that life is good.