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 Menu, prices, and possibly other information are now out of date.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