Tuesday, May 10, 2011

JOHN CHUCKMAN RESTAURANT REVIEW: UNION BLUFF HOTEL IN YORK BEACH 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 Menu, prices, and possibly other information are now out of date.


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.

NUGGETS:

Union Bluff Hotel Dining Room
Beach Street, York Beach
363-1333 (and) www.unionbluff.com

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

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