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Peerless experience

'Tis the season to indulge at some of Ashland's finest restaurants before most close their doors for the month of January.

Whether it's a holiday gathering or romantic evening out, The Peerless Restaurant & Bar has served familiar fare with original twists and expert preparation in the Railroad District for 15 years. The elegant setting features large bay windows with white linen-draped tables around a gas fireplace. Large, abstract paintings by Talent artist Steven LaRose enliven the decor.

Restaurateur Crissy Barnett, who also owns the adjacent, historical hotel, introduced small plates two years ago to attract more customers amid the recession. Small plates may consist of a single protein — blue cheese-stuffed lamb meatballs, for example — or represent a miniature meal with vegetable and starch, such as Indian-inspired chicken with preserved lemon and naan. The latter is evidence of executive chef Stefan Pena's international interpretation of regionally grown and produced foods on a small menu augmented by seasonal specials.

The format of lighter main courses also encourages diners to save room for one of The Peerless' delectable desserts, which most recently included vanilla-bean creme brulee, malted-milk cheesecake, Bosc pear crostata, carrot cake, beignets and Callebaut chocolate cake. The complimentary warm, sliced baguette also shouldn't be passed up.

Pricing most likely relegates The Peerless to special-occasion status among many local diners. Yet the experience, most agree, warrants the investment.

Recommended: Decadent duck confit is moist and falls off the bone under a layer of crispy skin with sweet, citrusy glaze; risotto of butternut squash, mushrooms, lardons and garlic boasts a rich, complex flavor under Parmesan shavings and crisp ribbons of fried leek; Bosc pear crostata's hot, flaky pastry comes with a scoop of walnut-maple gelato.

Alternative diets: Four salads and two side dishes suitable for vegetarians; otherwise, most special dietary requests accommodated.

Beverages: Diverse list of local, other domestic and imported wines by the glass and bottle; regional craft beers on tap and imported bottled beers; specialty cocktails; extensive list of Scotch, cognac and brandy; full bar.

Price range: Soups and salads, $9.50 to $10.75; small plates, $10.25 to $20; entrees, $24 to $32; sides, $5 to $9.75; desserts, $3.25 to $9.75.

Extras: Happy hour from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the bar; reservations recommended; elegant banquet rooms and custom menus available for private parties; secluded dining outdoors in fine weather; no substitutions; no split checks on parties of six or more; 20-percent gratuity added to parties of five or more.

Serving: From 5:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; closed in January.

Info: 265 Fourth St., Ashland; 541-488-6067; www.peerlessrestaurant.com.