Wednesday, November 01, 2006

JOHN CHUCKMAN RESTAURANT REVIEW: MARQUIS AT THE BELMONT, CAMDEN, MAINE

Review of an outstanding restaurant written for The Maine Sunday Telegram when I served as restaurant reviewer there. Menu, prices, and possibly other information are now out of date.


RESTAURANT REVIEW: MARQUIS AT THE BELMONT, CAMDEN, MAINE

John Chuckman

The restaurant-review business does take some unexpected twists and turns. An interesting little restaurant in Rockland I had planned to review could not accept a reservation for the night I would be there. They were sold out. A second, back-up candidate also was sold out. Now, historically, this kind of thing just doesn't happen in Rockland. And while I was happy for their success and for what it represents in the city's renaissance, I needed a restaurant in the area to review. So, we went searching. What we found made a wonderful thing of adversity.

Marquis at the Belmont shares space with a beautiful bed-and-breakfast on a quiet residential street that many tourists or visitors to Camden possibly never see.

You enter into a living room complete with velvety sofas, antique furniture, and stylish, puffy window treatments - the kind of decorating found in House Beautiful, considerably too frou-frou for my tastes, but well done and gracious in feeling. This room serves as a lobby and waiting room. We were quickly shown to our table by a very personable hostess (who turned out to be co-proprietor and chief baker).

Apart from the living room, the restaurant has two rooms and a long, windowed porch. The porch is especially pretty, having a look I might describe as Laura Ashley or subdued frou-frou. The dining rooms are less overpoweringly decorated than the living room. Woodwork - and there are lots of nice moldings - is all done in a warm off-white, and the widows are all beautiful old mullioned types. There are oak strip floors and warm-colored carpets. One room has wallpaper, and the other has a remarkably well done trompe l'oeil finish in green, gold, and ivory. Tables are set with white linen, handsome older silverware, small candle holders, and a flower. Some charming floral prints are hung in key spots. Tables are not crowded together, and the entire atmosphere is pleasant and comfortable.

Marquis has a two-page wine list with a nice selection, most of them vintages, from many origins, California predominating. There are some fine labels, but the list has been carefully selected for value, and there is a higher proportion of interesting selections in the $18-$25 range than in many restaurants of Marquis's quality. More than half are available by the glass.

Our Cotes du Rhone, Dom d'Andezon, 1999, ($6.50) and Honig Sauvignon Reserve, 1998, ($7) provided a pleasant way to settle in and study a menu of moderate size but considerable culinary complexity. Indeed, I have to say, on first reading the menu, we experienced a hint of doubt. It has both a good deal of fusion cooking and a slight tendency towards the chi-chi - both potentially risky territories.

But when we received our appetizers, the work of genuine culinary imagination supported by high-order skills was obvious.

Our smoked duck breast tart ($9.50), a special that evening, had a perfect, flaky pastry shell containing succulent slices of rare breast, savory with smoke, with prosciutto bits and a herbed-cream sauce, accompanied by a small serving of only the most tender baby spinach leaves on the side. I sent compliments to the kitchen for one of the finest appetizers I've eaten, and when the chef and co-proprietor, a former cook at the well regarded Fore Street in Portland, was introduced after dinner (readers should know that owners and employees are never told who I am and that my visits are never anticipated), he told me this special would be added to the regular menu. I simply cannot praise this dish too highly. It was exquisite.

Very little short of this glimpse of culinary heaven was our other appetizer of asparagus, goat cheese, and phyllo crisps ($8). This consisted of a large dollop of delicious herbed Appleton goat cheese (the restaurant likes to use local produce where possible) surrounded by grilled asparagus and grilled cherry tomatoes flavored with lemon thyme plus large flaky crisps of phyllo for dipping - a very fine plate.

All entrees at Marquis come with a salad, something not often found in fine-dining restaurants. The chef's salad is fresh mixed greens plus baby spinach and grated carrot, dressed with a soy sauce-flavored, cream dressing. I found it delicious, but my expert Special Consultant in All Things Culinary thought the dressing a bit strong on the soy.

The other salad choice is a Caesar ($1 extra). This had fresh, crisp Romaine, nice croutons, and lots of shaved Asiago cheese. The dressing was good, but was extremely thinly applied, my preference being a very creamy treatment for this salad. Still, no one is likely to send this one back to the kitchen.

In view of the excellence of what we had tasted, I picked about as exotic an entrée as was on offer. Udon noodles with gingered curry and coconut sauce ($16) plus grilled jumbo shrimp ($5 extra) is a North American conception with Japanese noodles and Thai- or Cambodian-influenced sauce. And what a beautiful plate it proved to be. An elegant pile of sauced noodles, thick with Juienned peppers, red onion, zucchini, snow peas, and shitake mushrooms, and a half-dozen plump, lightly grilled shrimp - all the vegetables holding their beautiful coloring and everything richly smelling of ginger (I'm hungry again just writing this.).

Our other entrée was grilled beef tenderloin with roasted pistachio-blue cheese "butter", demi-glace, and mashed potatoes flavored with rosemary and roasted garlic ($22). Blue cheese on beef is an old idea, but this delectable spread tastes only mildly of the cheese. The flavor of pistachio-paste dominates, and it is a beautiful, if potentially heart-stopping, match. The meat was juicy, about as nicely done as the method permits. Some perfectly steamed, young carrots were included.

The menu tells us that desserts "change according to Rebecca's whim." Her whims that evening included a triple-ginger pound cake with blueberry sauce and a tart of chocolate ganache with macadamia nuts and caramel sauce (both $7).

The pound cake was delicious, the blueberry sauce good enough to make an excellent pie filling, and it was all topped off with fresh whipped cream.

The tart was a magnificent piece of gourmet goop - the shell the same perfect one used for the duck appetizer, the chocolate filling thick and rich and not too sweet like the center of a good truffle, and the caramel sauce creamy smooth. If you like chocolate, you cannot do much better than this.

Service overall was excellent and friendly, but there was one oversight of a missing utensil.
Our bill came to $110.74. This restaurant has been open for less than a year, and it sets a very high standard for innovative recipes, exceptional culinary skills, and a warm, friendly atmosphere.

Marquis at the Belmont
6 Belmont Avenue
Camden
230-1226/ 888-270-5118
http://www.marquisatthebelmont.com/
Food: 4 1/2
Atmosphere: 4 1/2
Service: 4
Dinner hours: 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday to Saturday
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express
Price range: entrees $14 to $24
Vegetarian dishes: yes
Reservations: accepted
Bar: full
Wheelchair access: front step with staff assistance
The bottom line: Excellent, innovative cuisine in a pleasant, relaxed setting

No comments: