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Traveler's taste

At Lake Champlain spot, savory surprises await

NORTH HERO, Vt. -- At the center of Lake Champlain's northern island chain is the North Hero House, an 1891 inn overlooking a cozy bay. The locals know it for its Friday night buffet, but a friend and I thought we'd try it midweek.

Our table was on a narrow, enclosed porch with a view of Knight Island. Having ordered, we sat and gazed at the water. It was a silvery gray, the color of fish. On the lawn below were tables with umbrellas, for those evenings too balmy to dine indoors.

The menu was a surprise. Here we were on a freshwater lake, about to feast on a smorgasbord of seafood: calamari, crab cakes, salmon, even fresh lobster bisque. Because we were in Vermont, I chose the grilled pork tenderloin with maple-bourbon glaze and peach chutney. With the right balance of sweet and nutty, the sauce could be divine.

The bisque arrived, a blaze of orange on a white background with white crab sprinkled in the center. It was smooth and delectable, with overtones of pumpkin and paprika and just a hint of sherry. I raved to our server, who confided that some people order the bisque and nothing else.

Moments later he was back with fresh-baked rolls. In the basket we found another surprise: two tapenades, one a salty olive spread, the other a tangy ginger-eggplant. Waiting for the next course, I glanced outside. A gentle wave disturbed the water's surface. A plate appeared between us overflowing with calamari fritters draped over mesclun greens, a dip of lime-cilantro aioli on the side. We tasted something spicy: It was red pepper and pepperoncini disguised to look like calamari.

The pork looked fabulous. Tender slices lay fanned out beside mashed potatoes and a swath of deep green spinach braised in a butter-lemon sauce. Though pleasingly savory, the meat's flavor was drowned in maple, a sweetness made even stronger by the sugary peach chutney. My companion, forever taunting me for envying what's on his plate, had bettered me again. His grilled beef tenderloin was perfectly seasoned with a sauce of black olives and sun-dried tomatoes. Charred on the surface, it was pink and succulent within.

We were midway through dessert, a chocolate bombe topped with raspberries and whipped-cream stars, when I noticed it was dark outside. I had meant to watch the sunset. I had fallen captive to island flavors. As for the view, I had forgotten to even look.

North Hero House, Town Center, Route 2, North Hero, Vt. 888-525-3644. Open daily 5-9 p.m. Entrees $18-$28. All-you-can-eat buffet Fridays with a baked lobster, $29.95.