Tuesday, May 10, 2011

JOHN CHUCKMAN RESTAURANT REVIEW: JONATHAN'S IN OGUNQUIT MAINE

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 Menu, prices, and possibly other information are now out of date.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.



Jonathan's
2 Bourne Lane, Ogunquit
646-4777
www.jonathansrestaurant.com

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

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