Friday, July 10, 2009

The Rain in Maine...

...falls mainly on our vacation. Apparently, the Jersey rain followed us north.But even though our vacation was a wash-out, and therefore, cut short, we still managed to get in some must-do eating. So, without further delay, here now, the promised follow-up to my Maine travelogue (apologies up front for the weird spacing -- a Blogspot quirk).

The first stop: a late dinner at Wo's BBQ on Verona Island. This was not on the original food itinerary, but after getting a much later departure out of NJ and 8 hours in the car, all we wanted to do was get something to eat and relax. Wo's popped up on the main thoroughfare from Rt 1 to Verona Island about two years ago. Just a man and his smoker by the side of the road. Of course, we had to investigate. It seems Wo relocated to Maine from Florida with a desire to bring real smoked pit BBQ to Maine. We skidded into their parking lot just as they were closing, but Mrs Wo took pity on us and offered us some dinner to go. Those pulled pork sandwiches, topped with cole slaw, and Wo's homemade, just-spicy-enough, chipotle BBQ sauce hit the spot. I was so delirious from the ride that I wolfed down the sandwich without taking any photos!

The next day we returned to our planned itinerary. Lunch at Crosby's Drive-in in Bucksport was first up. Crosby's is an old-fashio
ned kind of place (no web site): park your car, place your order at the window, wait for your number to be called, pick up your tray-o-food at the counter, and find a spot at a picnic table or eat in your car. Feast your eyes on the glorious
fried seafood in these photos. Fried seafood is a staple up and down the coast of Maine, and we have sampled it in many locales. But we keep coming back to Crosby's. The clam roll is my favorite - huge,
sweet clams with just
a light coating of breading to keep all those little clams together. Another big hit is the scallop roll - moist, delicious scallops, gently fried, not a hint of grease anywhere.

Later that same day, we drove north toward
beautiful Bar Harbor and had dinner at Red Sky in Southwest Harbor (view full menu here). Let me come right out with it: this restaurant and this meal rank in my top 5 dining experiences. They hit every note right. When I first read about Red Sky in the July issue of DownEast Magazine, I thought it sounded good, but I had no idea how good. Run by Elizabeth and James Lindquist (she of the front of the house and he manning the stoves), and a very capable staff, they welcome you into their "home," and make you feel like you never want to leave. The restaurant encompasses a beautiful, warm space - deep burgandy walls behind the bar, lovely muted pastels in the dining room. They have installed a wonderful "comfortable-ness" to this restaurant. The owners and staff exude a zen-like calm that pervades the building.

The night we dined there, James greeted us at the door and sat us. Not dressed in chef's whites, I had a pang of fear that he wasn't cooking that night and our meal might not be what I had hoped for. Not to worry, he apparently has trained his kitchen staff very well. James set about to offer us a cocktail or a sample of the Malbec he was pouring that evening and to tell us about the restaurant. Then he left us to relax, enjoy our wine, and peruse the menu.

A small basket of wonderful, crusty bread with a dish of perfectly softened butter appeared at our table delivered by our very pleasant waitress (you notice, I delightfully have no idea what her name is...) who returned to her home state after living in Austin, Texas for awhile. There was absolutely no rush on her part for us to order even though the restaurant was filling up fast for the evening.

We began our dinner with two outstanding appetizers: House-made Duck and Pork Sausage with a Cranberry Pear Relish and Spicy Whole-grain Beer Mustard, and the Sauteed Maine Shrimp over Sweet Potato Parsnip Latkes with Spiced Peanut Sauce (see photo of shrimp). Both dishes were delicious and we lapped up every morsel, but the stand-out ingredient was the mustard from the first dish. It was, by far, the most delicious, interesting mustard of its type we've ever had. When we raved about it and asked our server where it came from, she said it was house-made (I don't think there is much here not house-made).

With a start like that, I could hardly wait to see our entrees. We were not disappointed. Barry had a hard time deciding between the Baby Back Ribs slowly braised, then finished on the grill with a maple glaze, and the Grilled Round of Lamb marinated in Dijon, EVOO, Roasted Garlic and Rosemary, with a Cider Mint Reduction. Our server, based on her years in Austin, heartily recommended the ribs, but Barry ultimately decided to go with the lamb. Even though my Libra-like tendencies usually kick in at critical decision points, this evening I had no trouble making a choice. From my first pass
at the menu, I knew I'd be ordering the Seared Tuna with a "lively" Lime Ginger Glaze, Sesame Soba noodles and a Cucumber Salad. OMG - pay careful attention here, people: these two dishes were THE BEST of their kind either of us EVER had ANY
WHERE. I don't give in to superlatives easily, but it is so well deserved here.

The lamb was from Colorado where James lived for a time. The tenderness of the lamb combined with the unusual and delicious cider mint reductio
n was just outstanding. Now, about that tuna. I have enjoyed seared tuna many times, and at some of the best seafood houses around, but this was unlike anything else. First of all, the size of the portion was huge. Grilled perfectly rare, butter-soft, and seasoned just right, there was not a bite left when I was done. Not to mention, the soba noodles and cucumber salad. I was a little wary of the soba noodles as I ordered, given previous experiences with them, but these were incredible - delicious flavor and light, light, light.

Room for dessert? What do you think? You people know me so well. There were several good choices on the dessert list, but using my laser-like dessert-scoping abilities, I zeroed in on "James' Gingerbread." With a description like this: "served toasted with our own caramel sauce and cream cheese whipped cream spiked with apple brandy,"
how could I choose anything else? It had me at "hello!" I am not normally a big fan of caramel, but this was so soft and mellow; and when grouped with the other ingredients, I was hooked. I'm sure you've had gingerbread before -- the plebian versions served around the winter holidays. I've had my share of those, too. This just wasn't on a different plane, this was from another galaxy. This was GINGERbread - emphasis on the fabulous, biting ginger taste at the back of your throat. But wait, there's more. The whipped cream cheese? This was ethereal. I've been a baker for many years (and a cheesecake baker at that) but I've never had cream cheese like this. It was like little clouds of sweet air lightly landing on my plate.

There are very few restaurants (most of them are in Italy) where before the meal is over I'm exclaiming, "I can't wait to come back here." Red Sky has been added to the list. Scratch that: I must come back here. I'm already scheming to see if I can wrangle a birthday dinner here in October (ah, Fall in New England...).

When the waitress brought our check, she deftly planted a small to-go container on our table. What did it contain? Some of that terrific mustard...which I am hoarding for a virtual trip back to Red Sky to tide me over until I can return.

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