The Highland Inn's upscale menu mirrors its elegant country setting

Although it’s only minutes from the busiest parts of Howard County, the Highland Inn feels removed from the hustle and bustle of the area. From the pretty setting to the well-executed, classic food, dinner there is a welcome respite from everyday troubles.

The Highland Inn’s owner, Brian Boston, made his local reputation at the Milton Inn in Baltimore County. Like the Milton Inn, the Highland Inn is nestled in a quiet country setting. Peaceful and charming, the space, in an updated farmhouse, is a little less formal than the Milton Inn, but it is lovely enough to make a meal feel special.

During our visit, the Thursday evening crowd was lively at the small bar in the front of the building; in the back dining room, couples and families with older children took in the country view.

Over a bracingly stiff gin and tonic and a crisp glass of Bilboa Valinas Albarino from the impressive wine list, we debated the merits of the menu -- and there were many. In the kitchen, chef Mark Davis cooks classic American food, adding just enough creative twists to keep things interesting.

A small round of venison paté -- an unusual find on a menu -- delighted us with its rich flavor. Studded with pistachios and served with tart cherry mustard and a medley of pickled vegetables, we made quick work of the appetizer. Each bite was exciting, a combination of smooth and crunchy, sweet and tart.

A frisée salad with lardons and a six-minute egg looked gorgeous -- especially the silky egg. Next to the venison paté, however, it seemed a bit boring (and it needed a touch more seasoning). But we recognized that at any other meal, the salad would have been a home run.

From the Highland Inn’s extensive a la carte menu, we chose a six-ounce filet mignon with bordelaise sauce and grilled asparagus (eight- and 12-ounce filet mignons were also available, as were a number of other cuts, fishes, sauces and side dishes).

Cooked just to medium rare and served with fresh grated horseradish, the meat was tender and nicely seasoned. The sauce, served in a small dish, was rich, heady and dense, and the asparagus, bright green and liberally sprinkled with crunchy salt, was a welcome note of spring.

Our favorite entrée was the duck confit, a carefully and slowly cooked leg of duck with some of the crispiest skin we’ve eaten. Under the duck, a savory scoop of risotto studded with butternut squash and cubes of golden beets was creamy, hearty and satisfying -- an excellent complement for the crispy duck.

The Highland Inn’s wine list was comprehensive and neatly organized. Though our first choice wasn’t available, our second option, a bottle of Chateau de Caladroy Cotes du Roussillon Villages from southern France, was well-balanced and full of dark fruit, making it a good match for both the duck and steak.

For dessert, a macadamia nut torte paired the sweet nuts with caramel, cookie and chocolate ganache -- an elegant end to our meal.

As we scraped the last bits of torte from the plate, sipping a steaming, cinnamon-flecked cappuccino, we realized that nearly two hours had passed since we arrived at the restaurant. We hadn’t even noticed the time passing.

Our waiter -- an obviously experienced and knowledgeable man -- worked with the kitchen to set a pace that felt leisurely, but not full of lags, allowing us ample time to savor each course -- and our wine -- before moving on to the next.

Having time to enjoy an unrushed meal is a rare thing these days. Losing yourself in a meal, so hours pass without notice, is even rarer. And it is something to be cherished.

When You Go

The vibe: Though it’s a new restaurant, the Highland Inn has a lovely, old-fashioned atmosphere, with traditional décor, lovely horse-themed murals and pressed white linens.

You’ll fit in wearing: Business casual is the order of the day at the Highland Inn -- diners dress nicely, in slacks and skirts, but not overly formally.

Don’t miss: The skin on the Highland Inn’s duck confit is crispier than a potato chip -- and just as addictive. Served with creamy risotto mixed with golden beets and butternut squash, the duck is savory, tender and fabulous.

Best for kids: The Highland Inn’s a la carte menu, including steaks and fish in multiple sizes and a variety of vegetable and potato side dishes, is a good fit for smaller (and pickier) appetites.

Reservations: Accepted.

Price range: Appetizers, soups and salads $9 to $22; entrées $22 to $48; accepts all major credit cards.

Parking: Lot on side.

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