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Milton Inn still wows in 70th year

The Milton Inn enters the new year with a couple of milestone anniversaries to celebrate: The Sparks restaurant is celebrating its 70th year, and chef-owner Brian Boston is marking 20 years in the kitchen.

We're glad we rediscovered this historic Baltimore County gem, which went through a major refresh last summer that updated the wall paint, carpets, drapes, lighting and artwork.

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But the ambience hasn't changed. The almost 300-year-old fieldstone mansion retains its charm with six genteel dining rooms, a rustic lounge with a huge wood-burning hearth and outdoor seating in warm weather.

The American menu is more contemporary than its early days, with an attention to the seasons and local produce. There are also options like a casual menu with sandwiches and a list of small plates.

If you'd like a taste of the past, The Milton Inn is offering a yearlong classic dining experience Sunday through Thursday for $130 for two people. The multicourse meal includes dishes like shrimp remoulade, beef tartare, Dover sole with lump crab and Chateaubriand, plus a bottle of champagne or wine.

On our visit, we were firmly entrenched in the present — and thrilled with our meal. The staff was pleasant and professional, from the hostess who escorted us to our linen-draped table in the hushed, dusty-rose dining room with flickering hurricane lamps, to our diligent waitress who distinguished herself with a quiet, efficient manner.

We were introduced to our elegant meal with an oyster sampler that included an oyster Rockefeller, oyster casino and oyster imperial. Each one was plump and delicious.

The pan-seared Hudson Valley foie gras was another beauty. The pad of creamy liver sat on a cushion of spoonbread with a prosciutto base fanned out like a cape. The ensemble was swirled with a blueberry compote whose fruitiness tamed the liver's mineral notes.

The kitchen kindly divided a wilted winter salad for two of us. The flavorful mix starred endive, radicchio and mustard greens, made tart with slivers of Bosc pears, goat cheese and a slightly tangy Dijon dressing. It was a refreshing precursor to dinner.

Our most dramatic-looking entree, and a table favorite, was the wild mushroom phyllo. The en croute dish, wrapped in a golden, tender phyllo crust, enveloped a mound of meaty mushrooms, roasted red peppers and Grana Padano cheese. The concoction rested on sauteed spinach encircled by a pool of tomato-red-pepper coulis rimmed with a stream of green pesto. Each bite was a delight.

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The fennel-pollen roasted pork tenderloin was also a success. The thick slices of meat, lapped with a chanterelle cream sauce, were surrounded by smoked corn-white cheddar grits accompanied by roasted baby carrots and wilted spinach.

If you'd like to compose your own main dish, an a la carte section of the menu offers an assortment of steaks, fish and lobsters that can be gussied up with boosters like seared foie gras or a crab cake and sauces like Dijon peppercorn and even a root beer demi-glace — at an extra cost.

To match the food choices, the wine list is sophisticated and interesting. Pours are generous by the glass. The dessert menu features a number of libations — from cordials to cognacs — to pair with your confections.

We ended with a truffle torte that wowed even the chocolate scoffer at the table. The dense, fudge-like, flourless wedge of chocolate cake was outfitted in a coat of chocolate ganache and embellished with a wickedly tempting chocolate truffle candy.

The cheesecake also had its charms. The fluffy traditional treat with fresh berries won us over with its crackly topping of caramelized sugar that gave the dish its signature personality.

As The Milton Inn enters 2017, it is keeping an eye on its past while investing in its future. If you haven't been to the venerable restaurant in a while, it's time to go and celebrate its longevity and successes.

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