Wednesday, May 11, 2011

JOHN CHUCKMAN RESTAURANT REVIEW: THE BRADLEY INN IN NEW HARBOR 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 Menu, prices, and possibly other information are now out of date.


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
677-2105
www.bradleyinn.com

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

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