Friday, May 13, 2011


What I find most touching about this book is the way it takes me back to a more naïve and thoughtful time, the late 1950s and early 1960s when people I knew would talk late into the night about matters like politics or philosophy.

For all the clichés about North American society being unimaginative and consumer-oriented at that time, it was actually an interesting time with rapid and important changes occurring. Women by the millions commuted daily to work in downtown offices, gathered with their friends for lunches in busy restaurants, and laid the economic foundations of feminism.

Cities streamed with high-school graduates who were the first in their families to attend university, often at less-than-glamorous postwar expansion facilities for fees that seem insignificant now. Paperback and cheap hardbound editions of classics and great books flooded the post-war market, again at prices which seem tiny today. It was a time, too, when films from abroad, seen in old revue cinemas, exposed young minds to wonderfully exotic perspectives and ideas and stimulated discussion.

Finding many such interesting and thoughtful people today in North America, even on university campuses, I think not likely. North American society has become only more immersed in consumerism, and there is hardly a flicker of idealism to be seen anywhere. Contemporary universities have become career factories. Even foreign films do not offer the same stimulating notions that they did. The cinemas themselves are largely gone, and many of the contemporary films have changed their tone.

The French are noted for café society and people who still like to discus philosophy and politics energetically and at length, although I fear it is a national quality that is declining along with the very numbers of cafes which serve as the necessary locations, a trend driven by the changes and demands of a more modern and, dare I say, North Americanized society.

But in this sweet little book, the two chief characters still retain these qualities. We have Renee – perhaps the French equivalent to the old philosophical New York cab driver – who reads serious authors and thinks serious thoughts although residents of the high-toned building in which she is employed would never guess from her deliberately-assumed protective manner as cranky old concierge. As someone who becomes her friend, we have a very bright girl, Paloma, who lives, in a rather rocky and uncomfortable relationship, with her successful and pretentious family in the building.

And we even have references to the great days of film with the magical Mr. Ozu, a deliberate reference to the great Japanese director who died in the 1960s.

This is not a complex or lengthy story, so I will not offer any of its details, but if the nature of the characters I have described appeals to you, you will enjoy the book.

I usually have a tough time with endings in fiction. They are far too often the weakest part of even some of the best books, and to some degree that holds for Ms Barbery’s book. I’m not sure that, in the end, the author knew what to do with her characters, so she has something unexpected and shocking occur. Of course, life can be like that, but fiction is not life.

It may take you a few hours to forgive Ms Barbery, but when you do, you will be left with a lovely lingering sense of having visited a nostalgic and interesting place.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Review of an enjoyable 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.

The location of The Cannery, in a handsome set of buildings by the side of the Royal River, is a very appealing one. The fact that a large marina for pleasure boats is part of the property adds an interesting connection with the water beyond just location.

Inside, the restaurant has a large expanse of windows, many towards the river. Walls are white plaster relieved by sections of wood, including a wooden upstairs gallery. Hanging bowl fixtures give a pleasant, warm light. There are many framed prints of 19th century coastal life and industry and a fair number of plants which unavoidably remind one of a 1980's fern-bar.

Of thirty-five wine listings, about a third are available by the glass. All but a few bottles are priced at $30 or less. Our Houge Washington Cabernet Sauvignon ($5.50) proved a bit harsh. Round Hill California Merlot ($5.25) I thought rather on the insipid side.

The menu carries on the theme of coastal life in the 19th century with a cover picture of people working in a cannery. Well, with so many references to the sea, how better to start than bowls of clam chowder ($4.95) and crab bisque ($8.95)?

The crab bisque comes in a large shallow bowl and is thick and flecked with a good deal of crabmeat. The white sauce thickener in the soup base, however, dominated the flavor with its rather pasty taste, and this detracted from the delicate flavor of crab. It is a decent bowl of soup, but the word bisque connotes something a little more sophisticated and creamier than this.

The clam chowder also was thick and chunky with pieces of potato and bits of clam. But the same basic soup base was used and to the same effect - a decent bowl of diner chowder.

Spinach salad with a warm pancetta dressing and roasted duck breast ($10.95) sounded mouth-watering, but it seemed from our waitress's description, to be a very large salad. However, any salad at The Cannery is available in a half portion at half price, a nice practice. The spinach, glossy with dressing, came surrounded by slices of hard-boiled egg, mushroom, tomato, and pickled artichoke and had several small slices of golden duck breast on top. The duck was very nicely roasted, still succulent, a real treat. However, the duck also gave me the first taste of a salad dressing which was much too sweet. Most elements of the salad were good, but it was difficult to understand the use of a sweet dressing and the inclusion of artichokes.

Our tart of grilled scallops, fontina cheese, roast tomato, spinach, and shallots ($8.95) was more of a success, but still a mixed one. The scallops were sliced with grill marks, off to one side of a tart which resembled a slice of thin quiche. The tart was excellent, truly a savory mix of flavors, but the treatment of the scallops was unexciting - lightly sautéed and drizzled with a touch of vinaigrette or lemon butter would have done them more justice.

I didn't know quite what to expect from sesame-and-panko encrusted shrimp with "nori towers" ($17.95), but, loving both shrimp and Japanese food, I ordered and hoped for the best. The five truly jumbo Gulf shrimp with their rough-textured golden crust were remarkably attractive (the result of the panko coating which is a Japanese breadcrumb with a wonderfully light, almost snowflake-like texture).

If you've ever made sushi (the nori-maki type) at home, using a maki-su bamboo mat to roll the nori (laver), vinegared sticky rice, and fillings, you will appreciate the elegantly made "nori towers." These actually are vegetarian nori-maki that have not been cut into slices.

The shrimp and the nori rolls were delicious, but again, with the first bite of shrimp, came some of the plate's sauce, which was an awful, cloyingly sweet, clove-flavored stuff. The plate also had, quite incongruously, some more pickled artichoke hearts. Here truly was an example of fusion cuisine that simply did not work. I couldn't help thinking what an excellent dish this would become using only the shrimp and nori rolls plus a couple of traditional Japanese dipping sauces.

Our marinated pork tenderloin ($16.95) with its mahogany stained and grilled exterior was very appealing. Essentially, this was an old-fashioned plate of meat, mashed potatoes, and steamed, buttered vegetables (broccoli and red pepper) - dressed up a bit with ultra thin crispy fried leeks on top and a few other minor touches. The tenderloin was delicious. The mashed potatoes were genuine ones and fairly creamy. The vegetables were all tasty, but the crispy fried leeks stood out as being sensational.

The dessert menu consists of mostly heavy-duty items such as a toll house sundae, a Bourbon-candied nut pie, and chocolate-brownie chunk cheesecake plus some ice cream and yogurt.

Strawberry almond strudel sounded delightful (all desserts $4.75) and a bit on the lighter side than most listings. But before the plate was set down, I could see that the fruit layer was painfully thin in a very thick crust. Despite an attractive drizzle of thin frosting with almonds slices, the first push of the fork revealed a crust with the texture of pine bark - thick, hard stuff, nothing like the delicacy of proper strudel. The thin layer of filling was tasty, made from fresh strawberries and contained almond slivers. I peeled back the layers of bark and enjoyed about two teaspoons of filling.

Our other dessert was baklava. This was far more promising in appearance, and it tastes pretty good, but lovers of traditional baklava will be disappointed. There is honey sauce here, but the unique taste of honey-saturated phyllo is not here, and there is simply too much walnut filling. This sounds perverse - too much of one filling but too little of another - yet such are the standards for these classic desserts. A gifted pastry chef could always come up with innovative versions that are as good as the classics, but you won't find them at The Cannery.

A word on service: Our waitress just could not have been any more pleasant, but her actions clearly indicated staff are not trained well in their duties. We never did receive bread plates for the quite tasty whole wheat bread that was served. And our knives were whisked off at one point without new ones being brought to replace them. On the folding service stand not far from our table, a spray bottle of cleaning liquid and a rag hung from one side - not the kind of sight that brightens up a dining room.

Our bill came to $98.97.

The Cannery Restaurant
Lower Falls Landing

Food: 3
Atmosphere: 3 1/2
Service: 2 1/2
Dinner hours: 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday to Sunday
Lunch hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Sunday
Credit cards: all major
Price range: entrees $10.95 to $17.95
Vegetarian dishes: yes
Reservations: yes
Bar: full
Wheelchair access: yes
The bottom line: very mixed quality cooking, pleasant location, service needs


Review of an enjoyable 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.

It would be hard to imagine a more evocative, romantic name than China By The Sea, rich as it is with suggestions of the silk trade and great canvas-topped ships plying the oceans. With the restaurant located in one of Maine's prettiest seaside towns, Boothbay Harbor, and considering my great love of Chinese food, a review was inevitable.

The dining room is pleasant, although rather smaller than the impression one gets from outside. There are hints of things oriental, such as rattan light fixtures, but this could be a nice little restaurant of any kind. The pale green walls have cozy booths, the balance of the room has handsome black chairs and tables, all with white tablecloths. Two bay windows display a magnificent wooden ship model and a handsome plant. Unfortunately, there are also some plastic flowers, tablecloths are covered with glass, and there are paper place mats. Despite these kitschy touches, the room remains comfortable and inviting.

China By The Sea features those exotic rum drinks and punches whose only connection with China is in the manufacture of the little paper umbrellas, but I remain quite fond of them, and my Mai Tai ($4.95) had to be the most generous I've ever been served, and it was quite delicious.

Looking over the appetizers while sipping the great mother of all Mai Tais, it was soon apparent that China By The Sea is an extremely Americanized Chinese restaurant, for the list included chicken fingers, Buffalo wings, and French fries. However, scallion pancake ($2.95) is an authentic Northern dish, and the generous pancake served, full of fresh bits of scallion and cut into wedges, was delicious. The dipping sauce was an Americanized version of a hot and sweet sauce (somewhat reminiscent of bottled gummy sauces), serviceable enough, but then the pancake was good enough to eat without it.

With the arrival of our soups, another characteristic of China By The Sea became apparent - that is, very substantial servings at reasonable prices. Our bowl of hot and sour soup ($2.75) was large and thick with vegetables, including bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. This was a tasty bowl of soup, although the flavoring added to the chicken stock was reminiscent of the pancake dipping sauce - not truly the flavoring of traditional hot and sour soup. Frozen peas and carrots featured in the vegetable mix.

Our bowl of egg drop soup ($2.45) also was large and thick with swirls of cooked egg. The broth had a good chicken flavor without too much salt, but frozen peas and carrots again featured.

Hamburgers, hot dogs, and steaks are available although most of the menu consists of Chinese-style dishes. I asked our friendly waitress about the lemon chicken, but when she advised that it is made with chicken fingers, I looked for something a little less innovative.

Chicken with Almonds ($9.25) is an old standard in North American Chinese restaurants, and this was a very good version. The chicken, which was plentiful, was properly velvetized (a Chinese cooking method in which pieces of meat are soaked in a mixture of egg white and corn starch - when quickly cooked, this gives flesh a pleasant velvety outer texture). The vegetables included pea pods, bok choy, carrot, bamboo shoot, water chestnuts, and (a bit too much) celery. There were lots of whole almonds. The properly light coating of sauce was essentially thickened chicken stock.

Szechuan beef ($9.95) had a generous quantity of beef plus mushrooms, celery, scallions, peas, carrots, and peanuts. Everything was cooked as it should be in a stir-fry dish, but the sauce here was really too much on the sweet, gummy side to call Szechuan, tasting again very much like the flavoring of the hot and sour soup. Still, all in all, here was a large and hearty plate of food with nothing overcooked and plenty of variety.

With no descriptions attached to many dishes, we also ordered what the menu calls "moo shi" vegetables ($7.75) to be sure of having enough greens. This consisted of a large plate of attractive-looking, cooked shredded cabbage, onions, and carrots with half a dozen mandarin pancakes and hoisin sauce. Cabbage is traditionally the main ingredient in mu chu vegetables, but after being marinated and briefly simmered, its texture softens and reaches a point somewhere between sauerkraut and cole slaw, generally closer to slaw. Indeed, mu chu vegetables could be described as a hot, savory slaw eaten rolled in thin pancakes. The cabbage in China By The Sea's version is quite fresh and crunchy, and those used to a more traditional preparation may find it somewhat unsatisfactory.

Our bill, with enough leftovers carried home for a big lunch, came to $46.06. China By The Sea is not a place to go for Chinese food that is at all close to authentic, but for good, solid, fresh food cooked in Chinese styles, at reasonable prices, this restaurant would be hard to beat. And don't forget about the Mai Tais.

China By The Sea
73 Commercial Street
Boothbay Harbor

Food: 3
Atmosphere: 3 1/2
Service: 3 1/2
Dinner hours: 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday to Sunday
Dinner menu available all day
Credit cards: all major
Price range: entrees $7.95 to $16.95
Vegetarian dishes: yes
Reservations: yes
Bar: full
Wheelchair access: yes
The bottom line: Very Americanized but solid, fresh food at reasonable prices in a
family-restaurant environment


Review of an enjoyable 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.

The snow swirled up the length of Fore Street and into our faces, and Siam City's cheery little bubble of light was welcome indeed as Portland's large snowstorm began.

We were enthusiastically greeted. Of course, the staff was glad to see anyone in such a storm, but friendly, helpful service was maintained through the evening as a number of others braved the weather.

Siam City is a charming place with a small entrance counter displaying fresh flowers, raw brick walls, black wood tables and chairs, pink linen napkins, and little cobalt blue glass light shades suspended over each table.

A huge bay window offers one of the most spectacular views in the city, a remarkable row of buildings on the other side of Fore Street, running from early to late 19th century. The swirling snow turned them into a scene from "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg."

Only a few items such as framed pictures hint at the restaurant's theme of "Thai country cuisine." I couldn't help wondering whether little Thailand had more than one cuisine, but checking later, I learned that "little" Thailand has a population about the size of France or Italy with more than sixty million people. So the equivalent of a Provence or Tuscan regional cuisine is a good possibility, though one I'd never hit upon.

Siam City has a small wine list, and while I generally regard wine as not a good match for the alternating fieriness and sweetness of Thai food, on a cold, blowy night, wine was most suitable to start. Bulletin Place Australian Shiraz ($5) went down nicely while watching the gusts outside and studying the menu.

There is a fairly small list of five appetizers. Our special of mussels steamed in a sauce of garlic, butter, and sake ($8) was tasty and generous, although I'm not aware that Japan has had any influence on Thai food, country or otherwise, but fusion dishes are found everywhere these days and need not reflect any historical influence.

Hot and sour shrimp soup ($6) is listed on the menu as "classic," but this version was a little different than any I have had. The familiar elements were mostly there, including four very large shrimp, although it did not have the vegetables often found in this soup, but the small Thai bird chilies had been roasted until they resembled very well cooked bits of bacon. This produced a sensation of savory sweetness along with the fieriness for which they are well known. This combination plus the fresh mint leaves sprinkled on top, rather than the more commonly used cilantro, made an extraordinary taste. The first spoonful perked up every bud on my tongue. This is a wonderful bowl of soup and is highly recommended.

We also sampled Thailand's spring rolls ($6.50), the tiny fried ones rather than the large, uncooked ones. The dish consists of four crab-meat-and-vegetable rolls plus a somewhat sweet dipping sauce with cucumber slices in it. They were good, but I have to say that they were disappointing after the wonderful soup. They just didn't have the texture or magical flavor I associate with them, the outside being an ordinary, smooth, well-fried wonton skin and the inside lacking a truly distinctive flavor of marinated crab. I also missed my favorite Southeast Asian method of eating fried spring rolls - that is, with fresh lettuce and mint or cilantro to wrap around each crisp roll before dipping.

Our som tum salad ($7) had the interesting combination of shredded papaya, carrot, garlic, chilies, cherry tomatoes, lime juice, and dried shrimp. This a good salad, a Thai "slaw" combining both astringent and hot flavors. The chewiness of the tiny dried shrimp resembles somewhat that of soft nuts.

Entrée selections on Siam City's menu are divided into several categories of four or so choices, each choice defined by a differing mix of vegetables or fruit, sauce, and noodles or rice - many of them available with either pork, chicken, beef, shrimp, or tofu.

Our gai teriyaki ($12) was listed as one of the chef's specials, but this dish was a disappointment. It consisted of some grilled boneless chicken coated with a thick teriyaki-flavored sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds, some very nice steamed broccoli, a few blanched carrot sticks, and a bowl-mold of rice. This was pedestrian both in presentation and taste. Teriyaki traditionally refers to the soy-stained, sugar-glaze produced on grilled meats after having been soaked in marinade, not to a thick brown sauce. This dish made a sort of Eastern blue-plate special - decent but unexciting food.

Our other entrée was called pad cashew nuts (with beef, $9.50). This dish was a colorful stir-fry of red peppers, scallions, snow peas, onion, cashew nuts, and beef, and it was served with a bowl-mold of rice. Again, while obviously more colorful than our other entrée, this plate didn't shine for appearance. Part of the reason was its being excessively soaked in sauce, giving it a bit of a vegetables-swimming look.

Its appearance was an accurate harbinger of its taste - good but unexciting food. Truly great stir frying accounts for the optimum heat exposure of each ingredient and adds them in descending order of required cooking time. Sauce should always be just enough to coat each piece, almost like a salad dressing. This clever, and deceptively simple, cooking method not only can produce everything just right in one pot, but served originally to conserve precious fuel resources. The cashew nuts, for example, in this dish were too soft - they should be tossed in only at the very end.

There are no desserts on the menu, and our waiter advised that the dish of fried bananas in a coconut sauce generally offered was not available that night.

Our bill came to $68.21. I am always disappointed to have to say that a new little restaurant, and particularly one with the charming looks and location of Siam City, is less than excellent, but that is the case here. The soup was astoundingly good, and perhaps other items on the menu may match it, still the overall impression of what we sampled was decent but unexciting.

Siam City Café
339 Fore Street

Food: 3
Atmosphere: 4
Service: 4
Dinner hours: 5:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday
4:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Lunch hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday
Credit cards: all major
Price range: entrees $8.75 to $16.
Vegetarian dishes: yes
Reservations: accepted
Bar: wine and beer
Wheelchair access: 2 steps at front with assistance
The bottom line: good but unexciting cooking in a cozy place with a beautiful view


Review of an enjoyable 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.

Almost like the characters of a 19th century gothic novel, we arrived at The Bradley Inn in windy darkness after an exhausting coastal tour undertaken for the benefit of our visitors.

We were early, and a note at the desk advised that the hostess would return shortly. The place was very inviting, so we ventured to explore. The lobby gives on to a short hall where an open door reveals a marvelous closet stairway to rooms upstairs - the very thing you might find in a Brontë novel, or at least a Nancy Drew mystery. The hall ends in a spacious living room, an eclectic collection of Victorian and rustic Maine with plush couches, a blazing fireplace, deep red walls, and an oriental-style carpet.

We sat with our guests, thinking a drink here would be pleasant indeed. A man from the bar down the next hall, apparently aware of our wanderings, suddenly appeared and asked the right question. But his manner of asking was that of the novel's mysterious servant who makes the hero a bit uneasy. Our guests remarked on a somewhat terse manner.

We did quickly receive drinks and enjoyed pleasant conversation until we noted it was past 6 o'clock. I was surprised no one came to ask about dinner, but finding the hostess back on duty, I advised her of our reservation. Our gothic tale ended with her smile and the lovely table to which we were shown.

The cheerful coziness of the dining room includes thick, floral-pattern carpet and windows and French doors trimmed in heavy toile de Jouy drapery, and each table's white linen and heavy silver glow under tall candles in hurricane glass.

The wine list is six pages with about 150 listings. There are a good many bottles for under $25 and about fifteen selections by the glass. We had glasses of Cooper Mountain Select Pinot Noir, Williamette Valley, Oregon, 1997 ($9), and I can't imagine anything in its price range providing a more pleasing start to a meal.

Fried green tomatoes as an appetizer at a fine country inn? Wayne Brown's Fried Green Tomatoes ($5), with a light golden batter and a tartar sauce with fresh chives on top, do look finer than their rustic cousins. But while I adore ripe tomatoes - whether fried, roasted, stewed, or fresh - I never have yearned for green ones, and even this treatment failed to convince me of their merit. My remarkable research assistant, who does enjoy green tomatoes, did not care for the batter, the very thing I found appealing.

Bradley Inn's "Fritto Misto" ($9) is a mixed fry of calimari and Maine peekytoe crab cakes (Traditional Fritto Misto is roughly the Italian equivalent of Japanese tempura - fried, battered fish or meat and vegetables). Crab is one of my favorite shellfish and peekytoe crab is considered something of a delicacy, but the two small drum-shaped crab cakes on this plate were not particularly interesting, with the exquisite flavor of the flesh having been lost in coating, filling, and spicing. The calimari were good. The flavor of the "mustard dressing" somewhat resembled a relishy thousand-island dressing.

When our cream of asparagus soup ($6) arrived, I first used my spoon to locate some asparagus, but there was only the pretty parmesan and herb crouton in a light, creamy soup base. The soup however had been thoroughly infused with the flavor of asparagus. It was very good, though I much prefer a treatment that includes generous bits of the tender blanched stalks.

The menu had six entrees, thoughtfully including fish, beef, venison, pork, and duck.

Grilled Atlantic swordfish and Tuscan stew ($25) sounded delicious from the menu's description, looked beautiful when served, and proved the outstanding dish of the evening. The stew included chard, wild mushrooms, leeks, and beans in a fish stock with roasted cherry tomatoes scattered on top - a strikingly attractive dish. The fish was nicely grilled, and the stew made a superb match for it.

Less successful was pan-seared Scottish salmon ($22). The salmon was served over what the menu called "sweet potato polenta with Julienne of winter vegetables." The salmon was clearly done beyond what I had described when asked by our waiter - that is, flesh that is still moist and pink inside. The very finely Julienned vegetables beneath the salmon were mostly carrots which made an odd combination with sweet potatoes. I did very much like the texture of the thin, barely steamed vegetables against the mashed sweet potato.

Chocolate pot de crème ($6) is a chocolate-flavored custard with cream on top. This version tasted intensely of cocoa, and it had the somewhat dry-in-the-mouth quality that is characteristic of raw cocoa. A whiff of cocoa can add depth to many chocolate desserts, but this went beyond what is pleasant.

Cranberry gritz ($6) is a kind of fruity pudding, rather like tapioca in texture and consistency. The sweetness of this one rendered it a little too close to jam, however the Grand Marnier-flavored creamy sauce on top would be a happy match for a less sweet version of the pudding.

Our bill came to $135.36.

The Bradley Inn is charming, located near some of Maine's most beautiful coastal places. There are points of excellence in the Inn's cooking, but excellence is not consistent. This lack of consistency does not derive from quality of ingredients, which are all fine. Several of our dishes were what I call culinary-institute cooking, cooking that has the techniques and formal knowledge down well but lacks the seasoned, food-loving judgment that puts magic into food. The overdone salmon was, of course, not in this category, but our desserts and part of one entree very much were.

The meals eaten by our guests were not considered in this review since fairness and consistent treatment require that judgments be based only on dishes ordered for two.

The Bradley Inn
3063 Bristol Road
New Harbor

Food: 3 1/2
Atmosphere: 4 1/2
Service: 3 1/2
Dinner hours: 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday to Sunday
Monday to Sunday in season
Credit cards: all major
Price range: entrees $22 to $25
Vegetarian dishes: yes
Reservations: recommended
Bar: full
Wheelchair access: staff help on front stair
The bottom line: A charming place, wonderful location - stylish but inconsistent
cooking, some excellence


Review of an enjoyable 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.

The lobby to the Inn by the Sea is not large, but it is very pleasant with its inviting plush couches and fireplace. After inquiring at the desk about our reservation, we were asked to sit while the restaurant was advised that guests had arrived. Very shortly, a waiter appeared and offered drinks. Well, what could be more delightful just in from the cold than a perfectly made Manhattan ($7), especially under the spell of an artfully frosted Christmas tree and quiet gas fireplace?

The waiter returned in a few minutes to show us to our table. What an elegant, intimate room, as softly shadowed and warmly highlighted as a Rembrandt interior with candles flickering under shades on tables of white linen and fresh flowers. There are windows on three sides, many looking towards the sea, although, without moonlight on the water, you would not be aware of this. Recorded music of the Johnny Mathis-Bing Crosby type may not be to all tastes, but it was played as softly as the candles flickered.

The wine list has about sixty selections with about half a dozen available by the glass. A modest number of bottles are priced under $35, but many are well above this. There are, pleasantly, half a dozen excellent half bottles. Only something a little special seemed right for the atmosphere - the complex, smooth, but slightly peppery taste of Mont Redon Chateauneuf Du Pape (1997 - half bottle $25) matched the glow of the room.

In such a room and with a menu printed on fine moiré-patterned paper, one naturally expects understatement in all things, so an announcement that the lobster bisque ($10.95) had been voted "Maine's best" naturally aroused my interest. While the soup was thoroughly enjoyable, I found it short of top marks. It was a little on the thin side, and while delicately flavored with sherry and basil, the broth in the soup base was less flavorful than others in my memory. Still, this was a fine, enjoyable bowl of soup, even if a little over-hyped on the menu.

The Audubon winter salad ($7.95) with mixed greens, chevre cheese, and dried cherries in a mild balsamic vinaigrette was good. But the salad also included what the menu called "caramelized walnuts," and these proved to be small chunks of a walnut brittle, just too candy-like for such a salad. Simple roasted walnuts would have been far more suitable.

Considering an appetizer list that included half-shell oysters, crab cakes, and mixed grill - all fine things but none of them appearing to offer the promise of fresh treatment - wild mushroom turnovers ($7.95) stood out. I began fantasizing about delicate slices of wild mushrooms, a savory mushroom-infused sauce, and a perfect pastry.

But my fantasy was brought up short by two little triangles of folded phyllo pastry, clearly, even in soft light, not cooked to ideal delicate crispness. The fantasy faded altogether with the first bite of a filling something closer to a chopped and rather pasty mushroom stuffing, no more distinguished than streams of canapés served at countless cocktail parties. The marinated tomato slices with fresh basil served along side were excellent.

The broth of our cultivated Maine mussels ($8.95), steamed in "local ale," onions, garlic, and herbs, was tasty with very little salt, and the mussels would have been excellent except that they contained enough sandy grit to make your next appointment for a cleaning at the dentist unnecessary. This marked the only time I have been served mussels in this condition. Clearly, the kitchen had not sampled before putting them on the evening's menu, always the appropriate procedure for foods prone to such uncorrectable faults.

My indispensable research assistant does not put complaints quite so bluntly, so our waiter was artfully advised that the mussels were gritty. He whisked them away and very smoothly offered the chef's apologies and said they would of course not be reflected in the bill - another mark for excellent service, but definitely one down for the kitchen's attention to detail.

The entrée menu was not large and struck me as a little dull, including as it does mostly standards such as steamed lobster, rib-eye steak, sautéed sea food, and rack of lamb. Again, there was little indication on the menu of anything new or exciting being done with them.

I actually was a bit stuck making a choice, being mindful of my journalistic obligation to highlight anything special about a restaurant's offerings. There was one item that in all my travels and decades of cooking I had somehow managed never to try, pheasant. Perhaps this lapse is because the name is so thoroughly associated with the strictly posh, a bit like the fine swans eaten on the best tables in Elizabethan times. Pheasant also has some reputation for being dry. But when our excellent waiter advised that these birds were fresh from a local farm and very flavorful, it did seem the right time to try it.

The pheasant ($26.95) made a handsome plate with a generous serving of golden-skinned, slices of breast, a small fruit compote, some mixed wild rice, and beautifully steamed slices of zucchini, carrot, and thin asparagus spears. One could see the flesh of the slices was moist and not overcooked even before tasting. It had a substantial, meaty texture, and a refined, rather than gamy, flavor (but, of course, its being farm-raised may account for this). The compote with its dried fruit ingredient was a less successful accompaniment than had it been based solely on juicy fruit. The steamed vegetables were perfect with a touch of butter, wine, salt and pepper. The rice was very good.

Our other choice was pan-seared tournedos of beef ($26.95). The tournedos (a French designation for a tenderloin cut of less-than-filet quality) plate was handsome, with three beautifully rare pieces of meat topped with some boursin cheese flavored with artichoke hearts. But it had exactly the same rice and the same vegetables as the pheasant. While these were excellent, I do like to see more variety on the plates of fine restaurants. No matter how well done, this repetition communicates some sense of assembly line, rather than each plate being an individual creation.

There were four choices for dessert, all of them in the cake category - carrot cake, a flavored cheese cake, a torte-style tiramisu, and a chocolate cake. The choice again struck me as rather unimaginative for a fine restaurant, all clearly qualifying, no matter how well made, under the category of "dessert war-horses." The choice also reflected poor menu planning. Some pleasantly light or fruity offerings were clearly called for in view of the substantial and meaty entrees.

The carrot cake ($6.95) was tall, thickly coated with cream cheese-based frosting, and had a batter rich with walnuts. The chocolate cake ($6.95) was layered, served with some fresh (very woody) strawberries and the plate was laced with chocolate and strawberry syrups. Both cakes were very good, but we had to have doggy bags for most of them.

Our bill came to $141.94. The Audubon Room is a beautiful place with some very fine service - indeed, on that night at that table, I have to call the service exceptional. While cooking is sometimes excellent, quality is surprisingly inconsistent, and the menu lacks innovative or exciting choices. Attention to detail seems at times absent from the kitchen, as with the gritty mussels and the poorly suited selection of desserts.

The Audubon Room
Inn by the Sea
40 Bowery Beach Road (Route 77)
Cape Elizabeth

Food: 3 1/2
Atmosphere: 4 1/2
Service: 5
Dinner hours: 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday to Sunday
Lunch hours: 12:00 noon to 2:00 p.m. Monday to Sunday
Credit cards: all major
Price range: entrees $21.95 to $27.95 plus three "priced daily"
Vegetarian dishes: yes
Reservations: yes
Bar: full
Wheelchair access: full
The bottom line: Beautiful room, fine service - some excellence and
inconsistency with less-than-imaginative menu


Review of an enjoyable 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.

How do you experience the entertaining, noisy hubbub characteristic of a large eatery in New York on an evening in sleepy, suburban Falmouth? Until a few months ago, this question might have seemed silly.

But Ricetta's new location brings to the quiet of Falmouth some of the atmosphere you find eating in places like the New York Oyster Bar. While this result does not appear to have been entirely intentional, I find the buzz and hubbub entertaining, and I hope efforts under consideration to dampen sound do not go so far as to entirely change things.

A tall, exposed wooden roof and trusses, resembling what you might expect in a ski chalet, appears to act like a big dish, gathering and reflecting sounds from all over the busy restaurant. You can hear orders called, the buzz from dozens of conversations, and the clatter of plates - all quite entertaining.

The restaurant appears to be a great success. They don't take reservations on Fridays and Saturdays, and we waited about twenty minutes after being listed. Conveniently, just behind the front desk, there is a handsome bar where you may wait with a drink.

Apart from the bar, which has some glitter, the general appearance of the restaurant is subdued, almost austere, with light oxblood walls, and this helps explain the appeal of its lively sound. But for the blond dividers creating areas of regular tables and upholstered banquettes, the room would be something of a large barn interior. There are shelves, oddly like homemade bookcases, suspended above dividers by bolts or cables between end posts, but these appear to have no use. Some of the cables hold hanging plants to soften the austerity.

A friendly hostess came to get us just about right on time. There was some awkwardness here for you cannot have your bar bill transferred to your table, so you must settle up twice. All the staff we encountered were well-trained and pleasant; our waitress was especially so.

The wine list has about a dozen listings, all but one under $25, and all available by the glass as well as bottle. Two house wines, red and white, are available by the glass, liter carafe, or half-carafe. We enjoyed glasses of Foppiano California Cabernet Sauvignon ($6.50) and Ecco Domani Italian Merlot ($5.75).

I was advised the menu is the same one used at Ricetta's original location in South Portland, a place where I have only enjoyed the popular buffet of various wood-fired pizzas. It is a substantial and serious menu and includes the pizza.

Despite the new restaurant's somewhat austere appearance, there is nothing of the kind in its food philosophy. Ricetta's is dedicated to the happy proposition that no hearty eater shall leave the restaurant unsatisfied.

We took the word Antipasti quite literally, for out of a dozen appetizers - most of which are traditional, mercifully including only one chicken-finger offering - we selected both classic antipasto and antipasto verdura (each $7.25). The antipasto plate had slices of fontina and provolone, thick-cut Genoa salami, a bit of prosciutto, pesto chicken salad, marinaded mushrooms and artichoke hearts, and pepperoncini. The verdura version had the same cheeses, a fusilli pasta salad, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, Kalamata olives, pepperoncini, and slices of fried eggplant with a savory tomato sauce on top.

These were both attractive and tasty, and heaped with enough food to provide lunch for most people and two lunches for some. A complete (premium) antipasto combining elements of both plates might be an offering worth considering because there are parts of each appetizer that go well with those of the other, and we really ended up with more cheeese and pepperoncini than we wanted.

The menu has a choice of salads, but entrees come with a house offering of iceberg, romaine, green pepper, white mushrooms, broccoli florets, pepperoncini, red cabbage, and red onion. Few will be disappointed by its size, and the taste was good if not notable. The blue cheese dressing, however, was notable, nicely balanced and creamy, and I very much enjoyed the traditional service of oil and red-wine vinegar in flasks.

Linguini Bolognese ($9.25) with meatballs ($1.60) was a small pasta hill covered with a dense and textured layer of sauce. The sauce was good, but it did lack the piquancy and complexity that simmering green pepper and other vegetable bits bring to great Bolognese. It was exceptionally thick with clumps of ground meat, although these seemed to have the drier texture of meat previously cooked, contrasting noticeably with the meatballs which were plump and juicy. The pasta was cooked agreeably for all but extreme pasta fanciers, it being an almost impossible chore to deliver al dente pasta consistently in large, busy establishments.

Linguini with mussels marinara ($11.25) looked quite striking with the blue, black and silver of opened mussels, each releasing wisps of steam, scattered in red sauce. There was a generous helping of mussels in the marinara sauce - a simple tomato sauce flavored with oregano, sauteed onion and garlic - served over the same hill-sized helping of linguini. The mussels were delicious, nicely simmered in a sauce whose garlic flavor well suits them.

Our dolce were plain cannoli ($2.95) and tiramisu ($4.25). The cannoli were plain only in the sense of having no chocolate chips or fruit in the filling. The shell was delightfully crisp, the filling as creamy smooth as you could wish.

Tiramisu is one of those dishes whose appearance is almost unpredictable, sometimes resembling a many-layered Viennese torte and sometimes resembling scoops of pudding. Ricetta's is of the latter type, what sometimes is called the Italian version of English trifle. It is extremely rich and creamy, and if there were one thing we sampled I would strongly recommend, this would be it. But it should come safely labeled as utterly fatal to willpower and even the most scrupulously followed diet.

Our total bill was $68.

240 U.S. Route 1

Food: 3 1/2
Atmosphere: 3
Service: 4
Dinner hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday to Thursday
11:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday
with the same menu for lunch and dinner
Credit cards: all major
Price range: entrees $8.25 to $11.95
Vegetarian dishes: yes
Reservations: not on Fridays and Saturdays
Bar: full
Wheelchair access: throughout
The bottom line: Hearty food with some excellence - lively sounds and subdued looks


Review of an enjoyable 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.

Dinner at Shogun was a slightly odd experience. The cooking style is what is generally covered by the Japanese word teppanyaki. In the late 1970s or early 1980s, teppanyaki became very stylish, and restaurants opened in cities all over North America, many of them owned and operated by Japanese firms. In my experience, these were always expensive, rather posh establishments aimed at executives on expense accounts.

But at Shogun, surroundings certainly aren't fancy and patrons dress as casually as they would at a small neighborhood bar. My first reaction at finding this style of cooking in such a modest place was a little like finding filet mignon served at a church supper.

There is a hint of authentic Japan in Shogun's interior with small sections of rice-paper screen on the upper part of area dividers. But overall, it is a pretty nondescript place with rough rec-room paneling, uninteresting wallpaper, and well-worn carpet - effectively a great long barn of a room, broken into areas by dividers, with an atmosphere resembling a small-town lodge hall. Dim lighting helps to soften and obscure details.

Shogun's combined eating-cooking areas have large overhead vent hoods with lights above the griddles and look a little like a series of pool tables under suspended lights in a dimly lit room. Chairs around the griddles are the black-vinyl, squared-tube standards found in the waiting rooms of innumerable government offices. The distance between chairs and walls is minimal, so, with each griddle area accommodating eight people, getting in or out can be awkward.

The menu is unusual for such a place. There are only the basic teppanyaki dinners of beef, chicken, seafood, and combinations of the same items. There are no kitchen alternatives such as tempura, and, other than a small order of shrimp done in the same style as shrimp on the dinner menu, there are no appetizers. There are also no desserts. All dinners come with the same small bowl of soup, salad, and brown rice.

The young woman taking orders gave the impression of wishing she were somewhere else, seeming uninterested in what she was doing. So it was neither service nor ambiance that drew people to Shogun. Although I must say that once our cook got going - the cook for each area only shows up after patrons have had drinks, soup, and salad - he proved very personable and entertaining.

We had beer ($2.95) - there is a very limited selection - and sake ($3.75). We had the sake warm as is traditional, although the menu also offers it cold. Warm sake is perfect for teppanyaki, and placing the little pottery flask (tokkuri) along the edge of the large griddle allows you to keep it warm.

Japanese soups are simple, and Shogun's was extremely so, being a clear stock with a few scallion slices, a couple of mushroom slices, and - something I've not seen before - a few bits of fried onion.

The salad, which was not Japanese, consisted of chunks of iceberg lettuce with some carrot slices. It looked, and probably sounds, dull. But here was a sparkling little dressing that gave new life to what otherwise would be a lodge-hall salad, a nicely balanced blend of soy sauce, sugar, ginger, and rice-wine vinegar.

When the chef appeared with his meats, vegetables, sauce bottles, and tools, I knew that if he was skilled at his business, the explanation for people coming to Shogun would soon be apparent, for teppanyaki is a very delicious, albeit simple, method of cooking.

Restaurant teppanyaki is a commercial scale-up of cooking traditionally done in Japanese homes with fry pans over extremely modest cooking facilities - small spirit burners or electric hot plates - right near the table. Many authentic Japanese dishes are cooked in small batches with people sharing and eating one batch as the next is prepared.

One of the special pleasures of teppanyaki is the warmth and juiciness of food right from the griddle. Being gathered around the griddle also generates, particularly after some sake and banter from the cook, a very friendly atmosphere.

The chef went to work, oiling his griddle, then starting his vegetables. His large knife is used to chop the vegetables, zucchini and big, sweet onions, into finger-sized pieces which are doused with flavorings, salt and pepper and a soy- and ginger-flavored sauce. Soon the vegetables were ready, and at the last minute bean sprouts were added. Quickly he scooped piles onto a long spatula and slid them steaming and savory onto the waiting plates of each person.

I thought the taste sensational, and my highly paid research assistant agreed.

Part of restaurant teppanyaki is theater. The chefs become extraordinarily adept with knives and flipping food around and using salt and pepper shakers like percussion instruments. At Shogun, the chef briefly turns on a strobe light during his culinary choreography for an amusing stop-motion effect.

The chef started the meats while we had our vegetables, our filet mignon ($18.95) coming first. The beautiful red chunk of beef was quickly chopped and seasoned and set steaming on the griddle. Fresh, sliced mushrooms were added. The chef skillfully flipped a piece of beef over to my plate so I could tell him whether it was at the point I asked for. The meat was perfect. Scoop, scoop, and he's on to the scallops ($17.95).

The cooking method works well for beef, shellfish, or chicken, but there is a natural affinity here for beef. It produces juicy, savory flesh that virtually melts in your mouth, and I simply do not know a tastier way to have a fine piece of beef.

Our bill was $58.24. Despite Shogun's worn and uninteresting appearance and less-than- enthusiastic service, the teppanyaki portion of our dinner was excellent, as good as I've had at a much more expensive place.

A note to avoid confusion: Shogun refers to its cooking as hibachi style rather than teppanyaki, but I think there is some Americanization at work here, for hibachis are small charcoal barbecue grills.

Shogun Japanese Steak House
238 Gorham Road (Route 114)

Food: 4
Atmosphere: 2
Service: 2 1/2
Dinner hours: 4:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Sunday to Thursday
4:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday to Saturday
Credit cards: all major
Price range: entrees $13.75 to $27.95
Vegetarian dishes: no
Reservations: accepted
Bar: full
Wheelchair access: yes
The bottom line: Delicious teppanyaki in a no-frills environment


Review of an enjoyable 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.

Seaside Park is new restaurant on Portland's quaint and narrow Exchange Street, as fine a location as you could wish for an intimate, cozy place.

Inside, there are dark wooden tables and chairs, brick walls, soft blue-sponged plaster walls, some interesting pictures and sculptures, dried flower arrangements, an aquarium, and recorded soft classical music - in short, it is a relaxed place with a feeling somewhere between a slightly artsy coffee house and a pleasant neighborhood restaurant.

Arriving early, we were fortunate to be seated at one of the tall windows that provide nearly floor-to-ceiling views of the street. The windows are outlined with strings of Italian lights covered with twiggy material resembling small nests or baskets. At twilight, these provided a frame of warm, diffused light around a streetscape of autumn-yellowed trees and century-old façades - quite beautiful.

Service at Seaside Park is friendly, informed, and helpful.

There is a very small wine list with seven selections available by the glass and another four by the bottle. We enjoyed glasses of Melini Borghi Chianti ($4.50) and R. H. Phillips' California Chardonnay ($3.95).

The small list of appetizers includes several that are fairly standard pub-grub selections such as chicken strips and sauce, steamers, and quesadillas. But two stood out as seeming beyond the ordinary - a spicy shrimp, artichoke, and spinach dip ($7.99) and lobster corn cakes ($6.99).

The dip comes in a generous bowl surrounded by thick, warm slices of a foccacia-like bread. It is deliciously rich, and you can taste the shrimp, the artichoke, and the spinach plus loads of fresh garlic. They probably could get by with serving about half as much dip, but until they realize that, this is a garlic-lover's delight that could provide a small lunch.

The lobster cakes were coated with crumbled corn flakes - hence, the corn in the name - which have the appealingly rough texture of Japanese panko breadcrumbs when nicely sauteed, as these were. Although the flavor of lobster was apparent, they were not made entirely of lobster, but they were delicate and tasty with the texture of whole pieces of seafood. The sauce drizzled over them resembled the kind of Russian dressing used in Reuben sandwiches, and I felt this detracted from their excellence.

The soup of the day ($3.99) was cream of mushroom, and it was a fine bowl of soup. Lots of mushroom slices flavored a thick, creamy base, made fragrant with rosemary, an excellent herb to accompany mushrooms.

There is no choice of salad at Seaside Park. All entrees come with a house salad. This is a quality, home-style salad of tomato wedges, mesclun mix, zucchini slices, a few Kalamata olives, and a couple of pepperoncini, all tossed with a mild vinaigrette and served handsomely in a wooden bowl with salad spoon and fork.

The menu is not large, and seafood is featured, varying from deep-fried items and standards like lobster pie or stuffed haddock to a few more unusual items such as "pecan salmon." There is a selection of beef, pork, and chicken.

Our "porterhouse" pork chop ($13.95) was a remarkable piece of meat - quite massively thick, grilled and braised in apple jack (American apple brandy) and onions. It was served with a raisin-laced, bread-cube stuffing, making a tasty combination, and came with very creamy mashed potatoes. Actually, they were the "smashed" variety (with bits of skin) that are becoming increasingly and annoyingly common, but in this case they were so richly mashed with cream that they were just fine.

Seaside Park's plate of scallop and shrimp kabobs ($12.95) consists of two generous skewers of large shrimp and scallops interspersed with onion and green pepper chunks, grilled with a bourbon-flavored, tomato-based barbecue sauce and served over rice. These were very attractive in appearance, and I enjoyed them, though I thought them cooked a touch beyond the ideal of still-moist shellfish and still-crunchy green pepper, but this is always a risk with grilling such delicate items. Included on the plates of both entrees was a serving of a kind of Mexican corn which might just as well have been left off since it much resembled something from a can.

Our desserts were custard pie ($3.49) and strawberry shortcake ($4.99). The custard pie was good, with a decent crust, but the custard was too firmly jellied for my taste. However, my tireless research assistant thought it quite good. I should probably not have ordered strawberry shortcake out of season. What I received was an attractive home-made biscuit with strawberries and juice that had the texture and sweetness of frozen. Instead of whipped cream, there were several dollops of the same marshmallow-flavored topping that was on the pie.

Our bill came to $78.57. One senses a bit of culinary confusion at Seaside Park with its location, appearance, and some menu items giving an impression of some sophistication and innovation while much of the menu consists of fairly prosaic items. Cooking is good home-style, but quality is inconsistent as with a handsomely prepared piece of meat and the Mexican corn on the same plate or an excellent appetizer and a not-very-good strawberry shortcake.

Seaside Park Restaurant
82 Exchange

Food: 3
Atmosphere: 3 1/2
Service: 4
Dinner hours: 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday to Thursday
4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Friday to Sunday
Lunch hours: 11:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday to Sunday
Credit cards: all major
Price range: entrees $9.99 to $15.99 plus one at "market"
Vegetarian dishes: yes
Reservations: yes
Bar: full
Wheelchair access: step only with assistance
The bottom line: home-cooking with a touch of sophistication in a relaxed atmosphere


Review of an enjoyable 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.

The Great Impasta is a pleasant little neighborhood restaurant located at one end of Brunswick's handsome Maine Street, near Route One. Its ambiance recalls the kind of cozy places once often found in the neighborhoods of our very large cities.

The restaurant has a row of appealing wooden booths along each wall and a single row of tables between. One wall is mirrored to increase the sense of space and the other features a mural on themes of Venice bearing some resemblance to the colorful, printed boxes used by some pizza places. The back of the restaurant, with painted bricks and a striped awning, has the kitchen partly visible through windows under the awning. It's the kind of place where you expect to find red-and-white checked tablecloths and Chianti bottles with candles, but I don't think anyone still does this. These tables are set with blue-and-white checked napkins, a small oil lamp, and some fresh flowers.

They do a very good business with a crowd that included a number of families with children and what appeared to be students from Bowdoin. And it is no wonder since generous portions are offered at reasonable prices. Although no reservations are accepted, if you call before you come, they will put you on the waiting list. Service is informal and adequate.

The Great Impasta has a small wine list, eight items, with every selection available by the glass. Four additional house wines are available by the glass, half carafe, or carafe. Most selections are less than $20 per bottle. Well, what could be more fitting than Chianti? A glass of the house Inglenook ($3.50) was pleasant enough and made a good accompaniment to our basket of warm, short rolls, dripping with garlic butter.

Pizza carciofi ($4.95) is an appetizer consisting of a fat chunk of focaccia covered with artichoke hearts, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, and grated Fontinella cheese. It was very good, but after the deliciously oily bread and with the prospect of pasta ahead, I knew my carbohydrate intake would be off the scale, but thoughts like this seem inappropriate to the mood of such a place and are quickly banished by another bite of bread.

Our special appetizer of polenta ($5.95) had four sticks (fagottini) of polenta, each wrapped with prosciutto and drizzled with rosemary-garlic olive oil. The polenta was admirably smooth and moist. But, despite my love of rosemary, there was too much of it in the oil. We found ourselves picking off bits. Still, this was a tasty, substantial appetizer.

There is no selection of salads offered, but all entrees come with what the menu calls an "antipasto-style salad." This consisted of Romaine, tomato chunks, red onion, garbonzo beans, croutons, a few strips of salami and some black olive slices in a pleasant vinaigrette. It was a good salad, my only criticism being the olives. These were bland, ripe California-canned. How much more exciting and suitable would be the savory taste of Italian oil-cured or Sicilian green olives.

Entrees do indeed focus on pasta, ranging from dishes with cheese and vegetables to seafood, and there is a small selection of chicken and veal plus one risotto. There are a few classics like lasagna and spaghetti Bolognese, but many such as ravioli, cacciatore, or parmigiana dishes are not found. The overall "feel" of the menu is a mix between the traditions of small American-Italian restaurants and the more contemporary world of young-urban concepts of pasta, perhaps with the latter dominant. The menu, somewhat in the fashion of a fast-food operation, offers a choice of combining any of its pastas with any of its sauces.

Our gamberi e pollo ($10.95) had slices of chicken breast over a large plate of fettuccine flavored with black pepper and a sauce of sour cream, wine, walnuts, and small shrimp. This was a flavorful dish, and the serving was large enough to take some home for next day's lunch.

Being a lover of the very comforting pasta classics associated with checked tablecloths and Chianti bottles with candles, I couldn't resist spaghetti Bolognese ($8.95) with meat balls ($2.75). The plate was generous and appealing. The sauce is chunky, as it should be, made with diced tomatoes with a fair amount of ground meat in it, but it was somewhat flat-tasting, lacking the bits of vegetables such as green pepper that characterize a good Bolognese sauce, which, after all, is sometimes called a stew (ragu). The pasta, the thin spaghetti fedelini, was cooked a little beyond al dente. Still, this was a decent and substantial plate of meat-sauced spaghetti for a reasonable price.

The extra meat balls, however, were disappointing, having a very high content of bread and no interesting seasoning, not even the flavor of sauce since they are not simmered in any.

The dessert menu has five items on it, but we didn't need to look beyond the first two, tiramisu ($3.50) and cannoli ($2.95). And this is where The Great Impasta most excelled. Its house-made version of tiramisu is a rich, layered concoction of espresso-flavored lady fingers, chocolate cake, pound cake, mascarpone-custard, whipped cream and coffee brandy. It is moist - rich with the tastes of brandy, coffee, and chocolate - and delicious.

Great Impasta also makes its own cannoli. The fried, rolled pastry, somewhat resembling a good waffle cone, is stuffed with sweet Ricotta-cheese filling, flavored this particular day with pineapple bits and coconut. There was no skimping on the pineapple bits - the filling was loaded with them.

These two desserts, considering both their quality and their reasonable prices, must rank among the great restaurant values you'll find anywhere.

Our bill came to $57.25. And I almost felt like imitating a character in an old Vittorio De Sica movie who, during a huge family meal, unbuttons his pants under the table to ease his bulging stomach.

The Great Impasta
42 Maine Street

Food: 3 1/2
Atmosphere: 3 1/2
Service: 3
Dinner hours: 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday to Thursday
4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Lunch hours: 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday
Credit cards: all major
Price range: entrees $8.95 to $12.95
Vegetarian dishes: yes
Reservations: no
Bar: full
Wheelchair access: yes
The Bottom Line: A cozy, busy little place with some good values


Review of an enjoyable 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.

Located on Portland's waterfront Commercial Street, Bakehouse Café sits comfortably with the area's 19th-century, carriage-trade facades, despite its more contemporary structure and painted bricks. Shaped like a large slice of cake tucked into a back corner of the small, rectangular property, the building allows for a piazza containing a handsome tree, tables, chairs and umbrellas, separated from the sidewalk by a low wall. Tables, chairs, umbrellas, and planters behind another low wall on the roof's perimeter provide a second alfresco dining area visible from the sidewalk. One has the pleasant sensation of a small building spilling over top and bottom with diners enjoying the urban waterfront.

The building's interior dining room is actually quite small, with a good deal of space taken up by the bakery, kitchen, and sales counter (on weekday mornings, people stop to buy baked goods and coffee to take away or eat there). A short, curved stairway takes you to the roof. The view is splendid with the water, a well-known restaurant ship, and some handsome condominiums. But this is no mere waterfront view. You are perched right above Commercial Street with all its tourists and others bustling about in the evening. This is a great place for people-watching.

Bakehouse Café has a one-page wine list with the majority of selections at under $20, making it reasonable to spend an extended time sipping, talking, and observing. About half of them are available by the glass. We settled in with a Campo de Borja, Borsao, 1998 ($5.50) and a Sauvignon Blanc, Domaine Cherrier, 1999 ($5.50).

Our waitress was pleasant and helpful. Service is casual and seems a bit slow at times, but the unusual set-up requires staff to go up and down stairs very often, and, besides, this is more a café with an extended menu than a true restaurant. Service that does need improving is the attention paid those waiting downstairs to be seated. While we waited, a staff member was playfully talking in the kitchen area for several minutes, the same person who finally did seat us. This person also did not understand my mentioning our reservation so that she might check it off, making an initial impression of things being disorganized.

We had the soup of the day, a leek and mushroom soup (cup $3), and a seafood chowder (bowl $7). The special was a clear broth thick with bits of leek and slices of mushroom - a very tasty soup. The chowder had chunks of salmon, and large pieces of potato in a stock thickened a bit with white sauce and bits of leek - a nice variation of a classic.

There are several quite delicious-sounding salads on the menu - including lobster and asparagus with lemon vinaigrette or crab, avocado, and roasted corn with raspberry vinaigrette. The special of arugula, prosciutto, and fresh figs ($10) intrigued us enough to try it. Our other choice was fresh greens with olives and parmesan ($7).

The arugula was covered with thinly sliced red onions and dressed by a vinaigrette and cracked pepper and was served over a substantial layer of sliced prosciutto - all ringed by sections of fresh figs. This made an unexpected and interesting combination of flavors - perhaps, one I would not choose a second time, but well worth trying.

The greens consisted of standard mesclun mix, some small grape-tomatoes, a few olives, the same very thin red onions, and a balsamic vinaigrette - nothing out of the ordinary, but a very good salad.

The menu at Bakehouse Café is small and largely focused on seafood. The bouillabaisse ($18) caught my eye immediately. Our waitress assured me that while she couldn't judge, a lot of people returned for it. We also found citrus-glazed chicken with a cantaloupe- asparagus salsa ($12) appealing.

The bouillabaisse is a truly impressive plate - a large, shallow bowl with half a lobster, a number of mussels, and chunks of haddock beautifully arranged in a thick, traditional-looking orange broth . Two pieces of garlic bread, made from baguette and buttered thickly, rested on the lip of the plate. Now, this particular combination of seafood is not classic bouillabaisse, but who cares about classic when you have a combination like this? It was a delicious plate, although I have two reservations. The broth had more salt than it should have, and shellfish in broth is a bit tricky to eat at a plastic, outdoor table which doesn't have a lot of tolerance for jerky or forceful actions like tearing off claws. Another, minor point: The garlic bread was so hard that it was difficult to bite without soaking in the broth, which of course is a nice thing to do anyway.

The chicken breast was grilled and prettily covered with the colorful little chunks of cantaloupe, asparagus, and prosciutto plus shredded bits of basil. The chicken's glaze was a successful flavor match, but the flesh itself was grilled too long, quite drying out its juiciness - easy to do with skinless breast, lacking its protective layer of fat. It was accompanied by some excellent roasted red potato chunks and grilled green beans.

Our desserts were fruit tart and blueberry cheesecake. The cheesecake resembled the dry, cakey types from Eastern Europe with its browned exterior, rather than New York style. But I was pleasantly surprised to find under its brown skin a silky, moist cheesecake - truly excellent. The blueberries were baked in the batter rather than serving as sauce or accompaniment, and I would have favored being more generous with them.

The tart was quite a disappointment. Resembling fruit-covered European tarts, this one differed in two respects, both of which detracted from its flavor and texture. The fruit slices, strawberries and kiwi, were not glazed, and with strawberries at this time of year being on the woody side and less than naturally sweet and juicy, it very much needed the traditional apricot glaze. Under the fruit, Bakehouse's version had a layer of saturated, crushed nuts instead of pastry cream. This was not a successful substitution, adding unpleasant dryness to woody strawberries.

Our bill came to $83.46. As we left, evening had fully descended, and the various lights of the Bakehouse Café cast an enchanting urban spell over bricks, umbrellas, and tables of people.

Bakehouse Café
205 Commercial Street

Food: 3 1/2
Atmosphere: 4
Service: 3 1/2

Dinner hours: 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday only
Lunch hours: 11:00 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday
Brunch: 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Credit cards: all major cards
Price range: entrees $10 to $18 plus two "priced daily"
Vegetarian dishes: yes
Reservations: accepted for dinner
Bar: full
Wheelchair access: ground floor
The bottom line: some imaginative food on the urban waterfront

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Review of an enjoyable 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.

Jonathan's is a large establishment, in some ways resembling a mansion with many different rooms. Each room is decorated individually, and each varies in size from one suitable for an intimate party to one suitable for a very large group. The restaurant specializes in banquets and catering, and the variety of rooms reflects this fact, although it appears to do a substantial business as a restaurant.

The room into which we were shown is handsome with forest-green walls, walnut and glass French doors, and a whole wall of windows looking out onto a wildflower garden. It somewhat resembles a long, closed-in porch area with the ceiling sloping down towards the windows, although with carpeting, white tablecloths, and a handsome set of framed prints of flowers displayed on the walls, it is nothing like an actual porch.

One window, covered with a lace curtain, looks into the next room, a smaller one whose walls are buttery yellow. In the passageway, just outside the door where we entered, is a beautifully mounted display of china on the wall. All in all, it is a very pleasant place.

Service is very informal and friendly.

Jonathan's has a wine list available by the bottle plus a small selection of wines by the glass, mainly from California. We had a Dunnewood white Zinfandel ($5.95) and a Rabbit Ridge Merlot ($7.95). The Zinfandel was very nice of its type - crisp, fruity, and slightly sweet. The Merlot was a disappointment, especially coming from the "Premium" list. It has a good deal of bite in the first part of the taste, although the after-taste has the characteristic berries-in-dusky-wine quality of good Merlot.

Jonathan's serves two good breads, slices of a Tuscan and a dark grainy loaf, the latter being especially good (available from a local bakery according to our waitress).

To accompany the bread we had clam chowder ($4.75) and a special of "rustic" white bean soup ($5). The chowder was full of clams and bits of onion and potato in a creamy base, a little thinner than my preference, but very tasty. The white bean soup was thick and much darker in appearance than our notion of rustic led us to expect. The flavor of vinegar was distinct, as were the flavors of tomato and sugar - a little off-putting when what we expected was a more traditional soup base of stock flavored mainly by ham and thickened by beans.

Our spinach, endive, and blue cheese salad ($6.95) had a nice mound of only the tender, baby leaves, a substantial amount of crumbled blue cheese, a couple of pieces of endive, and was dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette - a very good salad, except that the endive pieces were a little tired. The mixed greens ($4.75) were fresh and crisp, dressed in a piquant Dijon vinaigrette.

The first thing we noted about our entrees - chicken "Francaise" ($17.50) and broiled Maine scallops ($19) - was that the plates each had the same setup. There was a scoop of ratatouille, a few whole green beans, a serving of mashed squash, and a serving of mashed potatoes. I glanced around the room and noticed the same thing at some other tables. Here clearly was the influence of banquets and catering - production-line plates with only the meat varying.

Still, as a devotee of good vegetables, I'll never complain about such variety on my plate. And these were mostly quite good - the squash especially. The mashed potatoes successfully used an old trick for enhancing flavor - some seasoned chicken broth stirred in (reduced works best). The ratatouille was okay but resembled more zucchini chunks in a tomato sauce thickened with other elements rather than the classic, balanced stew of zucchini, eggplant, tomato, and onion. The green beans were crisp.

Our chicken had a sauce of beurre blanc (white wine and shallot reduction with butter thickening). The sauce was quite good, but the chicken was cooked too long, suffering a loss of juiciness and texture. This may in part have been due to the fact that it was very hot when served, and residual heat continues cooking things, especially delicate things. Thin slices of chicken sauté very quickly and anything more is destructive. This may very well reflect the needs and habits of banquet fare where the kitchen must turn out several hundred meals at one time, all of them at least warm (perhaps the result of heat lamps?).

We received a nice serving of large scallops, but their presentation in a little metal tray with clear liquid on the bottom and heavily coated with bits of cilantro wilted in the broiling was pedestrian and unattractive. Again, in appearance one was reminded of banquet fare where large quantities served quickly leave little room for fine touches. Herbs like cilantro are best added either after cooking or at the last moment of cooking to hold their fresh color and full aromatic quality. Still, the scallops were not overcooked and retained their natural goodness, the other elements neither adding nor greatly subtracting from them.

There is an interesting range of desserts at Jonathan's from tiramisu and chocolate mousse to baked figs. We selected warm bread pudding ($5) - recommended by our waitress - and a Kahlua parfait ($7.50).

The bread pudding was very appealing - a large, moist square of dense pudding with warm caramel sauce dripped over it. The caramel sauce was an especially attractive idea, but proved not so happy in the eating. The sauce was solidifying as the plate sat there, and the caramel became the almost hard, glassy stuff made from sugar and water that hasn't been properly tempered. Bits turned brittle on the fork and in the teeth - not altogether pleasant.

The parfait was disappointing both in appearance and taste - a small glass of ice cream with a bit of the tasty liqueur poured over and melting the ice cream. A much nicer way to do these is to create several alternating layers of liqueur (the liqueur having been thoroughly chilled first) and ice cream. Such a parfait may be kept in the freezer well ahead of use with no difficulty (and so much for my recipe tip of the week, readers).

Our bill came to $103.59. We had a filling, nutritious meal, with some very good points, but there was no culinary excitement in the things we sampled.

2 Bourne Lane, Ogunquit

Food: 3
Atmosphere: 3 1/2
Service: 3

Dinner hours: 5:00 to 10:00 PM Monday through Sunday

Lunch hours: not served

All major credit cards
Vegetarian dishes: one
Price range: entrees $15.50 to $25 (one special at $37.50)
Reservations: accepted

Bar: full
Wheelchair access: throughout
Solid banquet-style food in a set of very attractive rooms


Review of an enjoyable 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.

The Union Bluff Hotel sits on a rise across one end of York Beach, a beautiful, wide swath of ivory and silver sand that stretches to another distant bluff dotted with homes. There is a powerful image here of small village set against the ocean's vastness.

The hotel has the character of an earlier era, galleries of wooden porches facing the beach from a graceful, tall white clapboard building with touches of New England gingerbread. Nicely maintained while not overly gentrified, the building is authentically Maine.

And it is the same inside. The dining room is fairly small with a cozy, slightly home-spun look to it. There are tablecloths, little shaded candle fixtures on each table, some old framed prints here and there, carpeting, and a set of booths on one wall invitingly upholstered in tapestry-cloth. A large mural of the coast, opposite the booths, has the naïve charm of a painting by Grandma Moses. There are a few tables at the front with windows, but the shape of the old building means much of the dining room does not have an ocean view.

With the salt air still in our lungs and our eyes still adjusting from the glimmering brightness of the beach, what could have been more fitting than a waiter who is a former lobsterman? Our dinner included a couple of stories about catching the beasts plus a few pointers on eating them, and you just don't find service with a friendlier face.

Union Bluff has a full bar with a nice selection of draft beers from different places but a limited choice of wines. We had a glass of black, creamy-topped Guinness Stout - a very happy fit for Union Bluff's fare - and the house Merlot, a decent wine for those who consider a glass of red wine as the gastronomic prerequisite to almost any dinner.

The soup of the day was potato and ham ($3.50), recommended by our waiter with "smells awfully good out in the kitchen." And it was good, a hearty potage of potatoes, carrot, and onion, heavily larded with ham bits - a variation of thick pea soup. The peel-and-eat-shrimp ($7.95) had a generous serving of the critters. The sea-food sauce was standard ketchup-and-horseradish variety - light on horseradish and lemon for my taste.

Entrees at Union Bluff include a chief's salad, and a very decent, fresh salad it is. The blue cheese dressing was fairly ordinary stuff. The house crab-cream dressing, which struck me as a delightful-sounding concoction, was creamy but the flavor of crab was elusive.

Our entrees were haddock in a brown bag ($15.95), a house specialty and again recommended by our sea-faring waiter, and steamed lobster ($16.95 for a pound plus $4.00 per quarter pound additional). The haddock is baked, literally in a paper bag, with a few slices of red onion, green pepper, a dollop of lemon butter, and a splash of Chardonnay. They've got the timing for this dish down well. The haddock flesh almost resembles plump scallops. The flavorings suit it nicely. My only quibble here is the light sprinkling of breadcrumbs. With a steamed dish - which is what brown-bag baking effectively is - breadcrumbs simply do not work, only becoming soggy. The plate came with crisp French fries - skins still on - and a piece of corn on the cob.

The lobster came, gleaming red and cheerfully posed, with a generous container of drawn butter and the same French fries and piece of corn. Now, steamed lobster is not a demanding cooking chore, there being a formula set according to weight and closely followed by all restaurants because of the cost of wasting any of these extremely valuable crustaceans. I've yet to experience a poorly prepared lobster in Maine, and this proved no exception - delicious stuff, my only objection being there is never enough of it. When we thought the lobster was finished, our waiter, truly an expert on the arcane points of lobsters, explained the location of a few morsels we missed. And we promptly followed his advice.

Desserts at Union Bluff stick to the tried-and-true. We had a hot fudge sundae ($3.50) and a slice of cheese cake with strawberries ($4.75). The sundae had mounds of vanilla ice cream, two caps of whipped cream, but needed a more generous serving of fudge sauce, any real sundae-lover requiring every spoonful drizzled in sauce. The cheese cake is a fair version of New York style, less moist and creamy than the artery-clogging stuff I adore, with a nice dollop of sugared, fresh strawberries.

Our bill came to $74.87. Union Bluff has a pleasant tradition of preparing sea-side suppers ($9.95). These are served to take out from 5:00 to 6:00 PM . With one of the most beautiful beaches in Maine just outside, across Beach Street, this sounds like a delightful idea.


Union Bluff Hotel Dining Room
Beach Street, York Beach
363-1333 (and)

Food: 3 Stars
Atmosphere: 3 Stars
Service: 3 Stars

Dinner Hours: Sunday through Thursday: 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM
Friday and Saturday: 5:00 PM to 9:30 PM
(Open all year)
Lunch Hours: None

All Major Credit Cards
Price Range: Entrees: $14.95 to $16.75 with several at "Market"
Vegetarian Dishes: None
Reservations: Only Accepted for Parties of 6 or More

Bar: Full
Wheelchair Access: Throughout
Traditional Seaside Dinners in a Comfortable and Casual Atmosphere


Review of an enjoyable 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.

Stage Neck Inn is on a rocky spit at the mouth of the York River. One side faces a small inlet and the most scenic section of Highway 1A, beautiful old homes nestled along a rocky coast. The other side faces the quiet York, the occasional lobster boat gliding by. Ahead is ocean, clear to the horizon. If you look carefully, it is flecked with tiny floats of lobster traps.

The dining room at the Stage Neck is called Harbor Porches, a suitable name for this handsome, comfortable room. Tables are set with smooth peach-colored linen, fresh flowers, and small, shaded candle stands. There are wicker chairs and dark oriental-style carpet. Creamy white beams and railings divide the space and suggest a charming gazebo. Floor-to-ceiling windows, arched on top with hatch-work, cover three sides of the room and provide its other primary color, the blue sweep of the ocean.

The effect is somewhere between a grand-hotel dining room - complete with piano music from the bar and grill - and the freshness of an ocean resort - an altogether pleasant place.

The staff at Harbor Porches is friendly and helpful. They dress a little more formally than what you generally find today, but service is informal and I noticed some patrons dressed as though they'd come from the golf course.

What better way to appreciate the view than a glass of wine? Harbor Porches has a respectable four-page wine list with a number of by-the-glass selections on the first page. We had two California reds, Rutherford Merlot ($5.50) and a David Bruce Pinot Noir ($6.75), both perfect for ocean-gazing.

The selection of appetizers is appealing, stretching as it does from spring rolls to blackened crab cakes. We had baked onion soup gratinee ($4.25) and smoked salmon with capers, pumpernickel toast points and horseradish cream ($7.95). The soup had beef stock, not a lot of salt, and plenty of sauteed onions, but it lacked the richness that simmering with traditional seasoning and wine bring to it.

The smoked salmon had that just-slightly-tired look of a plate kept refrigerated too long. There were nice slices of salmon, but the lettuce underneath was tired, and the toast points looked and tasted as though they had shared its accommodation.

Our tossed salad ($3.50) came wearing the same expression as the salmon plate, clearly stored too long. Its dill-yogurt-cucumber dressing was good, but the vegetables lacked sprightliness. The Caesar ($3.50) had that look too, although Romaine doesn't suffer as badly. The dressing needed more garlic, more lemon, and the flavor of anchovy was not apparent.

The lobster scampi ($27.95) came poorly presented - a pile of pasta with a few chunks of lobster on top and some peas and baby carrots to the side. The menu entices with, "Sauteed fresh lobster meat, with fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, green onions, garlic, white wine, and butter, served on fresh pasta." But the plate had a pretty small serving of lobster. The vine-ripened tomatoes were pinkish in color, and their skins were left curled back. The peas and carrots were fine, but vegetables don't come more lacking in imagination than this. The pasta sauce was good, but the dish overall was unsatisfying.

The glazed duck breast ($22.00) was to be "pan-seared with star anise, honey, and peppercorns, served with fresh raspberry vinaigrette, grilled asparagus, and four grain medley." This made my mouth water, but I could tell before it was set down that the duck flesh was lifeless. The raspberry vinaigrette, resembling loops of ketchup squirted in the nouvelle-cuisine style, only heightened the unappetizing impression. There was no asparagus, green beans and peas having been substituted without mention.

The duck tasted just as it looked, the slices clearly having been cooked another time (day?) and warmed up. The skin, which must be crisped because of the fat, was rubbery. The flesh, which should be fairly rare to preserve juiciness, had the appearance of yet another helping of grandma's leftover pot roast. There was a generous serving, but I couldn't help the impish thought the cook might be clearing the fridge.

Our desserts were flourless chocolate cake ($5.95) and strawberry shortcake ($4.50). The chocolate cake (from a local gourmet bakery) is served over crème Anglaise and is absolutely delicious. It is has some of the bitter taste of raw cocoa, with which it is dusted, and the texture of dense, rich fudge. The menu-advertised crystallized violets never made it to the plate.

Strawberry shortcake is one of those simple classics impossible to improve, but not so with Stage Neck's version. It comes, looking rather like a butterfly, with two large, dry slices of short biscuit spread over the sides of the bowl from a small squiggle of berries and whipped cream. Now, for lovers of strawberry (or peach) shortcake, the essence of the dessert is the shortcake drenched with the sweetened juice of the fruit. One wonders at a culinary imagination that sees anyone enjoying two dry slices of biscuit.

Our bill came to $110.85. During the course of the evening, the sky went from bright blue to dusky pastels with a nearly full moon rising and casting its reflection on the water - truly memorable. It is too bad our meal did not come near to matching that experience.

Needless to say, we required a return visit.

Our appetizers this time were a cup of clam chowder ($3.95) and the spring rolls ($8.95). The clam chowder was delicious, creamy with plenty of clams and some chunks of potato - entirely satisfying. Not so the spring rolls, which resembled in appearance and taste the ones found in a box at the supermarket freezer. Two skinny rolls were accompanied by a dab of coleslaw and a container of soy-sauce-based dipping sauce.

We again sampled the garden salad ($3.50), this time with a balsamic vinaigrette. It was a fresh salad and a good dressing.

Our approach to ordering entrees this time was to select solid basics that do not involve a lot of elaborate preparation or fancy sauces, thinking that maybe in such cooking was Stage Neck's strength. We had boiled lobster ($22.95) and a filet mignon ($27.95). The lobster came with a generous pot of drawn butter, some pretty spears of grilled fresh asparagus, and a baked potato. I am pleased to report it was all quite excellent. The asparagus was in that blissfully happy region of flecked with brown but retaining its beautiful green and some crunch. The baked potato was buttered and fluffy. The lobster was, well, what lobster is supposed to be, delicious.

The filet plate was handsome - a thick, bacon-wrapped filet, nicely seared and topped with a grilled tomato slice, the same beautiful, fresh asparagus spears, and a piped portion of mashed potatoes, the plate having been first glazed with a brown sauce. The steak came as ordered, medium rare, and was a truly fine piece of meat, lean and fine-textured. The asparagus was again perfect. The mashed potatoes were so-so, not as nicely done as the baked one.

A detracting note was the sauce-glaze with an under-taste resembling a preparation such as Swiss-Knorr. I still enjoyed the beautiful meat and vegetables.

I couldn't help reflecting with what a vastly different impression we would have left the first time had we selected these entrees. Except for the spring rolls, we had a very good and satisfying meal with touches of excellence.


Stage Neck Inn's Harbor Porches
York Harbor
363-3850 (or) 800-222-3238 (or)

Food: 3 Stars
Atmosphere: 4 Stars
Service: 3 Stars

Dinner Hours: Sunday through Thursday: 6:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Friday and Saturday: 6:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Lunch Hours: Sunday through Saturday: 12:00 NOON - 2:00 PM

All Major Credit Cards
Price Range: Entrees: $21.00 to $29.00
Vegetarian Dishes: No
Reservations: Accepted

Bar: Full
Wheelchair Access: Throughout (Elevator next to hotel's front stairs)
Casually Elegant Dining in a Beautiful Room with a View


Review of an enjoyable 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.

A lovely spring evening with crystal sunlight saturating everything under a blue, blue sky, and an almost Mediterranean mood takes hold, especially following the weeks of rain we've had. What better way to indulge this fantasy mood than a Greek dinner?

The approach to Dimitri's is not promising, located as it is in of one of those little strip plazas off a dead-end street in Scarborough. The parking-lot entrance is shared with a small take-out pizzeria so your first inside view is an order-counter, a drink-dispensing machine, a few tables and those ugly molded benches beloved by fast-food outlets.

But the restaurant has a separate door inside, and when you enter, there is a pleasant, light feeling to the place. More than that, there is the smell of a wood-burning oven and the lingering aromas of roasted meats and garlic. My Mediterranean mood is instantly revived.

Dimitri's immediately serves warm bread. This is bread with body - beefy, moist and crusty outside, baked each day in the restaurant. On the table is a dark bottle of seasoned olive oil, with saturated sprigs of rosemary and garlic cloves visible. Also on the table is a shaker of cracked sea salt, a very nice touch. Now, if you discover anything more delicious than fresh, crusty bread sopped in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt, I'd be pleased to hear from you. What a fine start to a meal.

In keeping with the Mediterranean fantasy, we ordered a bottle of Retsina ($16.00), that crisp, refreshing traditional white wine of Greece that is flavored with an extract from pine trees. The wine list is not large, but there is something for most tastes including the essential Greek red and white, a sprinkling of Italy, France, and California, and even some sparkling wine and Champagne.

The bread, the wine, and the aroma of the oven put us in a fine mood to linger over the menu. Dimitri's has a nice, modest-sized menu. The items are Greek or cooked in Greek style.

The selection of appetizers is not large. I only mention this because appetizers in Greek cooking are among the great specialties. There are scores of them, and you can easily make a meal of appetizers. Choice is limited to five on Dimitri's menu, but when we received ours, I thought it might be Dimitri's philosophy to make a single-appetizer meal possible. The caramelized goat cheese with prosciutto, candied onions, and greens ($6.00) and the grilled Greek sausage (loukaniko) with olives ($4.00) were large servings, adequate for a light meal.

These each were a bit disappointing. The caramelized goat cheese was exquisite, but the "prosciutto" proved to be ordinary ham slices roasted a bit. The loukaniko was good, but not exceptional. The olives were the ordinary Greek variety rather than the wonderful Kalamata with their uniquely bitter, salty firmness. The quantity of sausage was more than any non-Olympian, expecting to eat a full meal, could consume.

It proved much the same with our soups. The servings are large bowls of substantial soups. We adhered to the practice of not going to a Greek restaurant without trying the Avgolemono, chicken rice soup whose broth is thickened with egg and flavored with lemon ($4.00). We also tried "today's soup" which was promisingly named Mediterranean vegetable ($4.00).

Dimitri's Avgolemono is full of good ingredients, but it lacks the traditional, extremely rich taste with egg meringue being substituted for yolks, and it is short on the bite of lemon. The "Mediterranean vegetable" turned out to be a fairly pedestrian lentil soup - chicken broth, carrots, bits of onion and celery with lots of green lentils. Both soups are solid, basic food but with no finish or special character.

While we waited for our entrees, we continued to enjoy our wine and observed the dining room more closely. It is a large rectangle with a series of picture windows filling most of two sides. The sense of sunlight-washed Greece is suggested although the view through one side is the plaza parking lot. The other view is a wood patio, fenced in from surroundings, with little white Italian lights against the trellis that tops the fence, providing a nice effect as evening descends.

As the sunlight dimmed, the room's indirect lighting through small white shell-fixtures near the ceiling, was more noticeable. This works nicely, but the effect is somewhat spoiled by a utilitarian white suspended ceiling. The walls are all finished in a trompe l'oeil warm pink marble, a bit sparse with a few prints hung here and there and a few inexpensive knock-off white Greek vases. The floor is hard tile as are the table tops. The cooks work at the brick oven behind a large counter area opposite the patio windows.

Service at Dimitri's is very informal, adding to the impression of a familyish restaurant despite some sophisticated touches in food and décor. I sensed a bit of aesthetic confusion in the particular mix. Service also was slow and lacking in the responsiveness that gives polish, but it was friendly.

The entrees proved remarkable, both for presentation and quality. Stifatho ($13.00) is beef or lamb chunks braised in red wine with onions and other flavorings. Dimitri's plate comes with a flaky puffed pastry, filled with savory-soaked pearls of orzo (rice-shaped pasta), covered with the fragrant, deeply colored stew, sprinkled with crumbled feta cheese, with a variety of other vegetables, including roast zucchini slices, scattered around. It tasted every bit as good as it looked.

Lamb shanks Mytilini ($17.00) again provided a beautiful plate. A generous cut of lamb, stained rich and dark with wine sauce, containing plump garlic cloves, on a bed of rice, with a variety of nice vegetables, including the zucchini and even a piece of roasted parsnip. The lamb was tender and succulent, with a nice crusting and the sweet, liquidy taste of garlic - simply excellent.

When our waitress asked about dessert, you might think only a hero capable of further indulgence. Well, readers, this is the kind of sacrifice your reviewer gladly undertakes in the interest of complete information: We ordered baklava ($5.00), Galaktobouriko ($5.00), and Greek coffee ($1.50 ). The pastries were both of high quality and nicely presented in plates drizzled with patterns of honey - a Greek version of the now popular nouvelle cuisine dessert presentation - and sprinkled with powdered sugar. The baklava - phyllo dough saturated with honey, walnuts, and other flavorings - suffered from too many cloves for my taste. The Galaktobouriko - phyllo crust saturated with custard and lemon and honey - was excellent.

There is no better way to end a meal than with Greek coffee. And Dimitri's pays due respect to this beautiful Greek custom with the demitasse served on a plate covered with a crisp, folded linen napkin, the entire effect being reminiscent of the extra fuss put into various oriental and Middle Eastern tea or coffee services. And the thick, rich brew is no letdown from its presentation. Our entire bill came to $69.28.