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Down by the Bay

Twenty-four hours later I was wearing a cashmere blazer (GENTLEMEN WEAR JACKETS, PLEASE) and eating honey-and-tarragon-glazed shank of lamb Parmentier and glazed vegetables (the signature dish) at the Inn at Perry Cabin, midway up the Chesapeake in St. Michaels. Created by Sir Bernard Ashley (husband of Laura) in the 1980's, the "inn" is a rather grand house that is legendary among aficionados of luxury resorts. It's popular for anniversaries and birthdays, and probably for affairs.

Until recently even the tissue boxes were dressed like Camilla Parker Bowles, but the inn has been redecorated, in the Ashley spirit but more tailored. After exploring several rooms (all 41 are quite different), I moved into No. 32, under the gables with a wonderful view of the Miles River. Perry Cabin is the closest you will come to a Beverly Hills moment on the Eastern Shore. People play golf and tennis, or take out the boats they arrive on, or sit in the glorious yellow Morning Room and peruse the helicopter ads in the Robb Report. At night everybody heads to the restaurant, and while Johnny Mathis music loosens you up, you make your way through chef Mark Salter's celebrated menu. This is an Event Restaurant, and it serves Event Food, like carpaccio of venison with fig essence and truffle oil. When pineapple upside-down cake arrives for dessert, it arrives with mascarpone sorbet. See how many times you can gasp in an evening.

Easton is a living, breathing town; nearby Oxford, very much worth a visit, has all the dignity of a prosperous old village. St. Michaels is a resort, with streets aimed point-blank at the well-heeled visitor. Bistro St. Michaels and 208 Talbot are the classic restaurants to fight for a table at. Sidney and Jim Trond have a first-rate new specialty-food store, Gourmet by the Bay, where you can start the day with the perfect scone. Every other store in town sells antiques. Susie and Charles Hines at the Silver Chalice may be the most adorable dealers in town, constantly tying up bundles of colorful Depression glass with pretty ribbons. St. Michaels is the place to go hunting for oyster plates, those Gilded Age beauties (or monstrosities, depending on your point of view) from the days when oysters were a form of religion.

In the fall, the Eastern Shore puts on a more than respectable show of leaves, but nobody ever mentions it; they're thinking about oysters. Fall brings the oyster harvest, which every town of any size celebrates with a fire department supper. On Tilghman Island, about 10 miles from St. Michaels, the fun goes on all day long.

I was there bright and early, exhausting myself watching the workboat races, then eating my way from one end of the island to the other. At the firehouse turned dining hall, I collected a pile of steamed cracked crabs, then wedged myself onto a bench at a 30-foot-long table covered with kraft paper. Around me were people of all ages with messy hands and big smiles. In the park across the street, the oyster fritters on white bread didn't get past me. And at the Methodist church, someone was dumping a basket of oysters fresh off a skipjack as I paid my $5. An elderly man shucked a dozen of them right in front of me with his amazing pair of hands. It doesn't take long to eat a dozen oysters, so I did it again. I couldn't recall ever eating oysters before noon.


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