Tuesday, May 10, 2011

JOHN CHUCKMAN RESTAURANT REVIEW: LE GARAGE IN WISCASSET 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 Menu, prices, and possibly other information are now out of date.


Wiscasset may or may not be "the prettiest village in Maine," but there can be little doubt it is a very pretty place. A drive along Route One to this tree-lined village of elegant, nineteenth-century homes in the mellow sun of a summer evening is a pleasant experience.

Le Garage is wonderfully located on a bank running down towards the Sheepscot River at the end of the charming shops of Water Street. The old building - indeed, the graceful façade of a garage from early this century, much altered and expanded upon - stands against the background of the glowing river with lobster boats and pleasure craft gently bobbing. There are few restaurant approaches in Maine as delightful as this one.

We were seated on "the porch," a verandah with windows wrapping around three sides that almost makes you feel part of the river. The windows open so the effect is enhanced by the flow of delicious evening air.

There are some odd contrasts at Le Garage. The restaurant's interior, as opposed to its charming frontage, is not particularly interesting, but the view through the verandah windows is perfectly idyllic.

The wine list is a sixteen-page portfolio with selections from most established regions of viniculture - the kind of document you'd expect in a very polished restaurant, perhaps in New York or Paris as the name Le Garage suggests. Yet you are seated at a plastic-top table with paper place mats - unless you are not on "the porch," in which case, tables are set with linen, presumably as compensation for a diminished view. The floors have tired-looking, indoor-outdoor carpet.

Service is very informal, having the character of a team of cheerful students working for the summer. The atmosphere is very much that of an old summer lodge, a bit frowsy and threadbare, but located on a beautiful site and still doing a good business.

Most of the large wine list is not available by the glass, although several selections are. I am happy to report that Le Garage offers carafes and half-carafes for those wishing more than a glass but less than a bottle. This is a practice it would be pleasant to see more widely adopted in Maine. We had a carafe of the house red ($13.95).The wine selected for this proved an undistinguished but quite decent Chilean red.

Le Garage's menu is large - covering culinary geography from Polish sausage and chicken pie to lobster Newburg and ratatouille. For some, wide choice is a welcome thing, but more generally it is a harbinger of unexciting cooking, coming at the cost of focus and depth. A very nice feature of the menu is a section of light suppers - again, a practice that might be more widely adopted.

Our appetizers were smoked Maine mussels ($4.95) and French onion soup gratinee ($4.95). The mussels are served with thin slices of hard-cooked egg on wheat crackers. Horseradish cream to spread and some ripe red grapes on the side make this a happy plate.

Classic soupe a l'oignon gratinee is one of my favorites - rich beef stock simmered with red wine, a touch of Cognac, sage, and lots of sautéed onions, then baked under croutes (toasted buttered bread rounds) and grated cheese. But that is not what we have here. While the other ingredients are adequate to the task, the soup-base is a bland mix of beef and chicken broths without the rich flavoring, and it is quite heavily salted.

Entrees are offered with the choice of a cup of soup or a small salad for an additional $2.85. We had the salad and fish chowder, a house standard. The chowder had generous chunks of white-fleshed fish, filling about half the cup, but its soup-base lacked distinctive flavoring, despite menu-billing as "a savory blend of herbs and spices." The small dinner salad had a satisfying variety of vegetables and a so-so blue-cheese dressing.

Our entrees were rib-eye steak, crusted with blue cheese ($16.95), a special that night, and Maine crabmeat casserole ($15.25) from the menu. The steak came perfectly cooked, medium rare, succulent inside and well crusted outside. The casserole was a layering of spinach, mushrooms and crabmeat in a wine and cheese sauce with bread-crumb topping. There was too much salt in this dish (perhaps using the same salty chicken broth that is in the onion soup?), detracting from the delicate crab meat, but otherwise it was a tasty combination, representing what I would call good home-cooking.

Both entrees came with baked potatoes that were nicely done to moist fluffiness inside. Vegetables included coleslaw and glazed carrots - both good but just a little too reminiscent of dowager-lodge fare.

Our desserts were blueberry pie with ice cream ($4.25) and Indian pudding ($3.50). Both were very good, although I can promise no expertise in the subtleties of Indian pudding. The blueberry pie was made with wild berries and a minimum of sugar with the thin crust that so well suits it. A touch too much pasty filler made it fall short of truly excellent.

Our bill was $74.37.


NUGGETS:

Le Garage Restaurant & Lounge
15 Water Street, Wiscasset
882-5409

Food: 3 Stars
Atmosphere: Restaurant: 2 1/2 Stars (View: 4 Stars)
Service: 2 1/2 Stars

Dinner Hours: Monday through Thursday: 5:00 PM - 8:30 PM
Friday and Saturday: 5:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Sunday: 11:00AM - 8:30 PM
Lunch Hours: Monday through Saturday: 11:30 AM - 2:30 PM
Sunday: 11:00 AM through 2:30 PM

(Note: Le Bar is open 2 hours past close of dining room;
Le Garage is closed for January.)

Credit Cards: Visa and Mastercard
Price Range: Entrees: $7.65 to $ 18.95 with several items at "market"
Vegetarian Dishes: Several
Reservations: Accepted

Bar: Full
Wheelchair Access: Throughout main floor
A varied menu in a casual atmosphere with a beautiful view

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