Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Maine and New Hampshire holiday


tonkichi
 Share

Recommended Posts

Hello from Singapore. I occasionally post in the China/ AP forum.

My husband and I will be in US early October, he to attend a seminar in Washington DC, and I will be attending a course in Philadelphia. We have been strongly urged to visit New England during that time as it is foliage season.

Tentatively we are looking at 3 days Portland/ Kennebunkport/ Portsmouth and 3-4 days White Mountain New Hampshire. Will drive and explore the area ourselves (both of us have never driven on the left side of the car before!!).

We will appreciate any tips and advice on good places to stay and eat. Thanks in advance

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hey Tonkichi! I just came back from three days in the White Mountains. Beautiful area, bring lots of film. I stayed at the Loon Mountain Resort in Lincoln NH 1(800) 229 -LOON, see loonmtn.com. Great place. The resort is right at the mountain; there's climbing, horseback riding, skiing, gondola rides to the top of the mountain, glacier caves at the top. Good restaurant in hotel. Other recommended restaurant in town was the Common Man. I didn't go to that myself; but friends who had been there many times recommended it.

Hotel has spa, two pools, massages, game room etc, tennis courts, indoor basketball court, the works.

Lots of places to eat in town;tried a place that advertised lobster rolls in its window-was pretty good although it rather resembled McDonalds with pick up service at the counter and the style of the design of the restaurant. Supposedly lots of moose in the area; went out one night driving around looking for moose. No moose but saw two black bears.

Went to Kennebunkport two years ago. Stayed at the Kennebunkport Inn, which was nice. Inn is in town on a main street close to everything. Has a pool and a nice restaurant. Took a lobster boat excursion that was advertised in the hotel and that was very cool we got to help haul in lobsters and crabs and measure them. Also had plenty of Lobster at the Cape Porpoise lobster pound. Good place, and I love lobster.

Hope that helps. Good luck and have fun.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am partial to York Harbor, just north on Portsmouth in Maine. The York Harbor Inn is a nice place to stay and eat, with a great location.

In Portland, I would suggest eating at Fore Street.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks, your comments are very helpful. We have reservations for Kennebunkport Inn for the first weekend in October, then we'll explore White Mountains for 4 days, staying at Tamworth and Bethlehem. Then a day of shopping and eating in San Francisco ( we've done SF before) before flying home. Will try as much food as our stomachs and wallet can accommodate.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Early October is a wonderful time in New England, with crisp, cool nights and occasionally warm days.

Mount Washington, the tallest mountain in NH, will be on your route. Access is via your own automobile, a tour bus, hiking (recommended only for skilled hikers) or an 1880s narrow gauge cog railway, powered by tiny steam locomotives. Nearby is the Bretton Woods Hotel, site of the international agreement which established post-war monetary policy. It's a grand old hotel with superb vistas.

From the Conway NH gateway, either the Kancamagus Highway (NH 112) or US 302 will thread through the towering mountains, offering waterfalls and surprise views.

If you get up as far as St Johnsbury VT, the Sterns have recommended the Blue Ribbon Diner there. Huge breakfasts. There are several artisanal cheese makers in the area. One of the best, Vermont Shepherd, is in Putney VT. They are participating in a town-wide crafts fair in November, perhaps too late for your trip.

Vermont Shepherd

Vermont and New Hampshire are known for their covered bridges (bridges which are fully enclosed with roofs and sides against the rain and snow). Towns are proud of their bridges, and have maintained them in fine form.

Apparently it's easier still to dictate the conversation and in effect, kill the conversation.

rancho gordo

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks, your comments are very helpful.  We have reservations for Kennebunkport Inn for the first weekend in October, then we'll explore White Mountains for 4 days, staying at Tamworth and Bethlehem. Then a day of shopping and eating in San Francisco ( we've done SF before) before flying home. Will try as much food as our stomachs and wallet can accommodate.

Make sure you eat at the barbecue at the corner of Rt 25 and Rt 16 in Tamworth.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Tonkichi--I've been getting up to the Mt. Washington Valley/North Conway NH area about twice a year for the past 5 years or so. In fact, I was there for a week last week and we eat out a lot. It is not a food town, the local audience is too tolerant of mediocrity, too unaware or too small to support much more than that. The biggest problem with this area is it is not in any way like Portland, Maine.

I don't have any recommendations for the "crummy but good/roadfood" type of places for you, since most of the low end food up there is pretty non-descript and not worth seeking out. The chef of the Lobster Trap in North Conway steamed me a very good lobster and steamers--but that was at a private event off-site and not in his restaurant. (This might be the place mentioned previously in the thread.) I have no idea how his lobsters or lobster rolls are priced in the restaurant but there always seem to be cars parked outside.

I also have not yet eaten in Tamworth or Bethlehem but this time we drove right through Bethlehem--coming up 91 instead of 93. Coming up 91 was great, much less frustrating than 93. Bethlehem is very cute very small--calling it a "town" is a stretch even by NH standards--and it seemed to have but one restaurant and a coffee shop--I think it was called Lloyd Hill's or something like that. I have no idea if it is any good but I mentally filed it away to try on a future visit. There was also a place called Flamingo Rose set off uphill from the road which seemed like it might be a kind of fun American beer-Tex-Mex type of place, which I also don't know anything about.

That area is very quiet, charming even, and very removed from what's going on in the Conway, North Conway, Fryeburg, Bartlett, Jackson area where there are many more hotels, motels, restaurants, bars, density, etc.

The general problem I have up there is that most of the higher end fine dining experiences are conventional, over-priced and pretty non-descript as well. Too much is either over-salted, over-processed Sysco stuff or undersalted Sysco stuff--rarely do you not have to add salt or pepper to something. Poor service, poor attention to detail, poor value, very little interest on the plate. Too much pandering to conservative locals and conservative tourists. Too many of the places have this kind of stuck in time old world inn cooking feel to them. It's the kind of stale Escoffier/German/Italian/Continental cooking you see on all those Great Chefs of Europe shows.

If you have to try one place in the valley give Thompson House Eatery in Jackson a shot--I've eaten there maybe 5 times and it is good cooking-wise for the area. It's a small-town version of fine dining--friendly "casual" fine dining in a cute, rustic charming setting--and not to be confused with more cosmopolitan casual fine dining even though at the same price point. Try not to eat there when they ALSO have a large party in the outdoor private dining area about to be served. We made that mistake on Sunday night this week--and it seemed the chef and kitchen couldn't handle anything in the dining room while he was plating up and serving the private party, which took like 25 minutes. (A bunch of nice NEA principals as it turned out.) I ordered two apps--the crabcake and the sauteed squid, my wife ordered a roasted corn/tomato soup as an app. Our server brought out the soup and left me high and dry. Didn't think to say a thing to me. I watched my wife really enjoy her soup--watched the procession of a few entrees at a time get carried out to the private party room--I enjoyed a few sips of my wife's soup--finally I asked our server (Stephanie--very young, very nice, just inexperienced) if she thought it was appropriate for me not to have gotten at least one app yet and for her not to have said anything when she just brought out my wife's soup?

That made her sad. We tried to cheer her up, ordering a second bottle of wine after letting her know we felt a little unappreciated. Turns out the chef had not allowed her to submit any app orders while the kitchen was dealing with the entrees for the 30 or so person party. Which was just my bad luck--and the bad luck of everyone else in the dining room--but that's what you get with small town staffing, dining and food awareness. My two apps then arrived at the same time after my wife was done. When we finally got everything, the squid better than the crab, and both our entrees--two different sirloin preparations--were very good also. If you go, ask to be seated in Tam's section--she's a very experienced, very worldly server who knows her wines. And their list is one of the most interesting, most fairly priced in the valley. We had a super Finger Lakes, NY Konstantin Frank riesling and a bargain Cotes du Rhone. I'd skip dessert here and everywhere in the valley--boring, conventional or just plain bad. My espresso had no crema whatsoever. (I know, what was I thinking.)

On the low to moderate priced end--we've had very good experiences in North Conway at two places--at the Flatbread place on 16 and at Maestro's around the corner. Go to Maestro's for lunch only--at dinner it morphs into a predictable and over-priced Italian restaurant for what it is. At lunch it is a surprsingly nice little cafe for salads, Italian cold cuts and grilled salmon. And the flatbread place is very good pizza especially if you value a crisp crust as I do. They have an excellent roster of artisinal or microbrewed beers on tap--Magic Hat #9, Fat Angel, Allagash, Tuckermans. Flatbread is the only place in the Valley we eat at every single time we visit. It's the only place in the valley I recommend without reservation. We've been meaning to go to Coyote Rose across the street--which we've heard good things about--but keep getting turned off by the brusque cold shoulder and impersonal greeting we get from the older woman who stands behind the bar, who barks "do you have a reservation" after we've stood around for a few minutes, that we usually walk out and go elsewhere.

On the higher end--after being disappointed with most the restaurants in the Valley--I now recommend you drive the 1.5 hours to Portland to try Hugo's, Michaela's, Fore Street, etc. The valley never rises above "pretty good." There's nothing even remotely comparable in the valley food-wise. In fact, Hugo's could (possibly) be the best restaurant in New England right now on a price-to-value-to quality ratio--even better than Clio and Radius in Boston, where I've dined several times each. I really don't understand why it hasn't garnered more attention from the food media and restaurant critics in Boston. Guess Corby is too busy with other projects, because Hugo's is definitely worth building a trip around.

It's a small personal stylish place with equally stylish, interesting food, elegantly presented, caring polished service, very good bread selection (from Standard Baking down the street) and a very eclectic affordable wine list. It's the closest thing to NYC's gem Blue Hill that I have found and at an even better price point. Last week we had the duck, pork belly, crispy sea bass and mackerel tartar apps off the prix fixe menu followed by the poached beef tenderloin and a "surf and turf" of peekytoe crab and veal cheeks. All fantastic and a bargain for $44 prix fixe, especially when you consider the wines are so affordable and so well-matched to the food--we had 3 bottles of roughly $20 wines that drank like $40 wines, a Navarra (Bodegas Guelbenzu) from Spain, an old vine Chenin blanc from Chappellet and a Montsarra cava. What we didn't finish we corked up and took home. They also do an 8 or 9 course chef's tasting menu for like $74 bucks or you can sit at little tables near the bar and order many of these dishes individually off a Bar menu--so you have a lot of options as far as creating your experience there. (Desserts are just average in flavor, composition and presentation, it seemed the chef was making the desserts himself, or didn't want to hire and pay a pastry chef comparable to the chef's abilities with the food. Too bad, for they don't stand up to the savory side though the dessert menu "reads" very nicely. That's the only negative of the place. But then it is the rare chef anywhere who has desserts which stand up to his "cuisine.")

Here's a link to Hugo's, it should be your first choice:

http://www.hugos.net/

And here's a link to Michaela's:

http://www.michaelas.com/index.html

There's also a grocery store down on Commercial Street in "Old Port" Portland that is unrivalled in the Valley--Portland Greengrocer has fantastic locally farmed produce, with a great selection of dairy, deli and wines. We picked up several pints of tiny delicious locally grown organic blueberries and used them in a dessert later that week. When you're there, you might want to stop in. Otherwise, your only other option is the surprisingly good Shaw's supermarket in North Conway.

Oh--one off-topic thing--driving is pretty bad up there--lots of one lane roads, very slow locals and flatlanders and logging trucks and campers and, well, prepare to be frustrated.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello tonkichi,

Steve has some really good recommendations in the Portland area and perhaps you'll want to take some time while staying in Kennebunk and drive to Portland for a couple of meals. Actually, I'd suggest staying in Portland to begin with and making Kennebunk a day trip.

But on to the food in Portland!

I haven't dined at Hugo's since the ownership change so I can't tell you anything about it. Steve, I'd be interested in hearing more.....

Personally, my wife and I prefer Michaela's in Monument Square. They seem to do a particularly good job with the seafood here, and I've been known to forego an entree and simply eat my way through all their seafood appetizers. Their Crab Timbale and Salmon Three Ways are both stellar. It's a funky little space and the staff are extra friendly.

Fore Street is probably on everyone's list and for that reason, you'll either need to make reservations as soon as you arrive in the States or be prepared to show up early and wait for a table (they keep roughly 1/3 of their tables open for walk-ins). Still, if your luck is bad the walk-in couple ahead of you might have a wait of 30 minutes for their table and you could wait up to 2 hours. Food here is roasted in wood-fired ovens and ranges from delicious spit-roasted chicken, pork, beef and lamb, to a wide variety of seafood dishes. Nice room, though somewhat loud and the view of the waterfront is now mostly obsucred by a hideous new hotel. Still, after dark, it's a very nice atmosphere and good, good food.

One that doesn't make Steve's list and that has had it's ups and downs over it's 15 years is Back Bay Grill. Somewhat off the beaten path, this New American has been reinvigorated since an owneership change about a year ago. It's a solid New American, here's their website:

Back Bay Grill

If you dine at Back Bay Grill and don't finish the evening with the Creme Brulee, you've made an egregious error.

Finally, I don't necessarily agree with Steve's contention that the Portland Green Grocer is the ONLY place for good fruits and veggies in town until you get to Conway. Also in town is the Portland Public Market and there a numerous regular produce purveyors here as well as seasonal booths where in October you'll probably find some incredible apples and cider, also new to town is Wild Oats, a natural food supermarket where produce is king.

If you want a quick taste of an ethnic grocer, head over to Micucci's on India St. (not far from Hugo's). This old-style Italian grocery is a hidden gem in Portland. Even if you don't have a kitchen at your disposal to take all the goodies home to, you can at least get them to bag you a chunk of Reggiano to nibble while you stroll through the Old Port.

Finally, if you are traveling Route 302 from Portland to get to New Hampshire, there is one place I can recommend along the way. Venezia Ristorante is a small (obviously) Italian place about a mile outside of Bridgton on the way to Fryeburg at the Junction of Route 93.

Don't blink or you'll miss it. Did I mention it is small? So small in fact, that if you order veal, your table might shake a little when they pound it thin in the kitchen. The decor isn't much, but it is good solid food and worth the effort.

One last thought: If you are heading into New Hampshire any time from Sept 28 to October 5, you may want to avoid Route 302 all together as it is the week of the Fryeburg Fair, the state's largest argricultural fair. Traffic can get backed up for miles, leading into Fryeburg during Fair week, especially on the weekend.

But if it interests you, you may want to check it out. Horse, steer and oxen pulling. Sheep shearing, baking contests, livestock barns, harness racing (horses) and of course a midway with "fair food". Usually a great place to find hand-cut french fries, if you like such things.

Anyway, that's all. I hope you have a wonderful time on your visit.

"Democracy is that system of government under which the people…pick out a Coolidge to be head of the State. It is as if a hungry man, set before a banquet prepared by master cooks and covering a table an acre in area, should turn his back upon the feast and stay his stomach by catching and eating flies." H. L. Mencken

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've heard a lot of humdrum, mediocre reports on Fore Street lately..

Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

blog

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've heard a lot of humdrum, mediocre reports on Fore Street lately..

So had we. But the last time we went (about a month agao), it was as good as ever, so not sure what was going on, but nothing missed the night we went.

"Democracy is that system of government under which the people…pick out a Coolidge to be head of the State. It is as if a hungry man, set before a banquet prepared by master cooks and covering a table an acre in area, should turn his back upon the feast and stay his stomach by catching and eating flies." H. L. Mencken

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Oh, I mostly meant there wasn't anything like Portland Greengrocer anywhere in the Mt. Washington Valley--sorry for my poor phrasing--that's where I thought Tonkichi was going to be for most of the time--it wouldn't surprise me one bit that Portland itself has many alternatives as you mentioned and I've been reading about the Public Market development for two years and meaning to go myself. I will next time--it's just driving over from North Conway, dining and walking around and then driving back doesn't leave as much time to explore as I would like. I'd love to hear more about the scene and can't wait to go back again around Christmas. I am going to be spending much more time in Portland and much less of my time in NH. But all those markets and farmers serve up an interesting point--this place, though it has a tourist base, is larger, has supply chains and the support from locals allowing chefs to do what they do well--and there's incentive and competition. I don't get that sense back in NH and that's perhaps why my experiences there have never risen above the merely adequate.

Like in Portland there was this very cool looking cafe on Commercial Street right near the Greengrocer--with an outdoor patio that looked like it might be fun and might serve tapas or caribbean food--do you know this place and whether it is any good?

And as far as Hugo's--let me just say their elegant understated website does them justice. It presents them and what they do accurately--the menus and dishes change around often, their commitment to local producers, the fact that they list those farmers on their menus, that the chef had cooked at the French Laundry, etc. I didn't want to overplay that or even mention it because his food stands on its own. I really like the fact that they offer diners so many options: the Bar menu a la carte, 2 course, 3 course or chef tasting menu fix prixe options. If you want to add another course, say, to the $44 menu they'll do that and charge you $50 or so. I called to make my reservation on a day the restaurant was closed. I got one of the owners. Charming as can be answering the phone. Working, naturally, on her day off. No attitude, no call back tomorrow or leave a message tape. Just see you Wednesday at 5:30 with an offer that the chef would do a special menu for us if we requested it. The minute we walked in I was taken by the ambience, subdued, austere even, but still very warm. We got there right when it opened at 5:30, the setting sun crept through the shades and filtered through some very artistic black iron railings, which separate the bar dining area from the main dining area. Plating and presentations are modern in an elite food city way, portions are not large but neither are they pretentious nor too small. Wine glasses are very good--Spiegelau.

But then this reflects my bias: I'm partial to very small chef-owned places doing very personal yet serious cooking. This place, Blue Hill, Django in Philly, etc. You should give it a try Sphinx. Everyone within driving distance should go to Hugo's--you locals should realize how lucky you are to have a restaurant this good within your grasp. We eGulleteers have to support places like this.

And I so agree about 302 up there and during foliage, oh my. Our backroad route into Portland is from Fryeburg to 113S to 25E to 114S to 22E. Link to fair:

http://www.fryeburgfair.com/Homepage/Homepage.html

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Steve,

Can't remember the name of the place you mention near the Greengrocer, but it definitely has a Carribean sounding name. The space is that of The Port Bakehouse and I've lunched there a number of times (though not since early spring) and their food was always inventive with a definite jerk seasoning, mango-y flair. Don't know if they've changed with the "new" name. I'd give them a try for lunch first. At any rate, it was always a good deal, even for Portland.

I think we'll need to visit Hugo's our next time out....that is after our upcoming weekend in NYC (you answered a post of mine I placed today, suggesting L'Impero). You are also the second person who has high praise for Blue Hill, might need to see if we can cancel our Union Square reservation and go there instead.

If you don't mind, what other small, chef-owned places can you suggest in Manhattan? We always feel like we are going to the usual suspects: Gramercy Tavern, Union Square, etc.....Heard anything good about Verbena? If the food is good, I just love the idea of lounging in their garden for hours.

Finally, what are you doing in North Conway? I grew up about 15 miles east of Fryeburg in Waterford....home to The Lake House (passable, not anything I'd drive from Portland for -- though they've nailed Bananas Foster). At any rate, I'm very familiar with the lay of the land there and those roads you mentioned on the "backside" of Sebago Lake.

"Democracy is that system of government under which the people…pick out a Coolidge to be head of the State. It is as if a hungry man, set before a banquet prepared by master cooks and covering a table an acre in area, should turn his back upon the feast and stay his stomach by catching and eating flies." H. L. Mencken

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, as you can tell I'm certainly not going to North Conway for the food and I don't ski, because I'd kill myself, nor do I particularly like to hike and get bitten by mosquitoes. Fall leaves--see them once, no need to see them again. My wife is from New Hampshire, grew up there, went to undergrad there, her father still lives in North Conway. He used to own the airport there which is now the monstrous Settler's Green outlet shopping mall (with a fantastic April Cornell outlet!) I return for weddings, holidays, family get togethers.

The thing about the "usual suspects" in NYC is it depends on your frame of reference. For out-of-towners I'm a big fan of going to the usual suspects first so you can frame others around them. So do consider going to the highly regarded usual suspects on the higher end--and decide for yourself what you feel about them. I personally wouldn't go to Union Square not because it isn't good but because it isn't interesting and creative enough for me--based on my level of awareness and my interests. If you are a big entree kind of guy go there. I tend not to like safe touristy conservative restaurants no matter how impeccable they may execute things--and from all acounts, Union Square is impeccable at what it aims to provide to its audience. See Shaw's recent reviews and comments.

Since you've already been to Gramercy Tavern I see no need for you to go to Union Square. Maybe Craft or Craftbar or Verbena or Fleur de Sel but none of those ahead of Blue Hill--a lot of we eGulleteers love BH--I think BH's $65 tasting menu is tops in the city for fine dining value and unlike other places they also have a top pastry chef, Pierre Reboul, who can match the food. If you can go somewhere else in addition to BH, I've been sending friends to Alias on Clinton Street of late--though that neighborhood might be too edgy/too off the beaten path for some though it is as safe as anywhere else. I've had some excellent very personal cooking there in the past month or two--and while WD 50 has gotten all the attention--this small place is doing a great job and never crosses over the line from delicious to weird. Its "weird" dishes are delicious--like that fluke ceviche in watermelon-scotch bonnet pepper consomme--killer good. I've written about BH and Alias elsewhere on the NY boards and thank Lissome for turning me on to Alias. But the thing is, there are lots of little chef-driven places just like this in other genres all over the city.

I suggested L'Impero for a few reasons, because it won the Beard Best New Restaurant award, you said Murray Hill, you had bad Italian/Little Italy experiences and I know and admire the pastry chef at L'Impero, Heather Carlucci. She's worth seeking out.

As Bux said, it's really hard to go wrong in the city. But in a way, don't you want to have tried Daniel or Cafe Boulud or Jean-Georges or Babbo at least once?

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We've been having a very heavy Babbo discussion over the past week here. One of our problems is my wife is just now getting adventurous with her palate and she has a hard time finding a bunch of things she'd like at Babbo.

Kinda funny when you only need to really like a few dishes....Anyway. I've been trying to talk her into going for the pasta tasting, which I've noticed has gotten raves in other message threads. I'll try again tomroow.

I hear you on Union Square and we also talked tonight about trying to get in (any time) to Blue Hill instead. I checked out their sample menu online tonight and I think that would be a real treat.

Part of the problem, as always, is we only have three nights and there are simply too many choices. Trying to coordinate lunches and a show and some music Sunday in Central Park then fit in three great dinners, it's daunting.

I'm thinking we will abondon our plans to hit Arthur Ave, since it will take up too much time. It's still on the to do list, though.

As for Jean Georges and Daniel, even though we are prepared to spend a bundle on food, we might not quite be comfortable dropping THAT much on one meal, at least not this year.

Cafe Boulud and Babbo on the other hand are very tempting.

Thanks, by the way, for taking the time. It's all helpful. Whatever we do, I'll report back on our expereince.

Oh and one last thing. Of the places you suggest where are we likely to have the best service sans attitude? We Mainers like good food and good, relaxed service and atmosphere. But just because you work in a restaurant with great food, doesn't give you a right to be snotty....

"Democracy is that system of government under which the people…pick out a Coolidge to be head of the State. It is as if a hungry man, set before a banquet prepared by master cooks and covering a table an acre in area, should turn his back upon the feast and stay his stomach by catching and eating flies." H. L. Mencken

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think your best bet is to do your homework on the NY board, where service has always been given a lot of attention and all of these restaurants have been discussed in depth. That your wife perceives Babbo to be "adventurous" might be somewhat more problematic--Babbo's pretty conservative and very accessible. Plus, you can't really tell much from reading about dishes anyway, she really has to taste them. I mean, would she be put off by things like the following: hyssop, verjus, pea shoot and mint emulsion, wild lily buds, celery root? If so, then she'd have a problem with Hugo's--that's right off my menu the other night--but I have to tell you these ingredients just work seamlessly there in the hands of a good chef, often mere accents. And that's the thing, you really just have to give yourself over or you end up eating just at places like Union Square Cafe because it is safe. And you really shouldn't go into any of the big city dining opportunities worrying about service--it ruins the experience--as long as you know how to ask for the kind of service you want and know what is appropriate to ask for, to expect, etc. There's a lot of talk about that on the site as well--Shaw (among many other good voices) has talked well about this since the site started.

Again, "good relaxed service and atmosphere" can mean many different things--and frankly, when I'm in Maine/NH I have big problems with service--it's slow, inattentive, indifferent, water glasses are never refilled properly, servers are not as wine attentive as they should be, etc. Service is so relaxed/poor/unprofessional I want to take a nap and say wake me up when it's my turn again. Portland is different and Hugo's was consummate--the definition of good service which is relaxed yet attentive.

You also have to make sure you're talking about the same thing--because face it, there's a frisson and excitement and hussle and energy in NYC, especially at some of the better dining destinations, which comes merely FROM BEING IN NYC. They have to turn tables appropriately to keep prices what they are for you--and as long as that is done with the right seamless pacing that shouldn't cause a problem service-wise. That's fair and good business because you are essentially renting a piece of prime real estate for 1.5 or 2 hours. You are not paying enough to have the table all night and at the relaxed pace you might receive in Maine. So as long as you have an awareness of this and are reasonable, there shouldn't be a problem. And my sense is you aren't choosing any of the most formal formal places anyway--and if you read through the NY board you'll figure out which places have not had the best track records service-wise according to eGulleteers--a la Babbo. (Though my meals there have been perfect.)

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks again,

I just got my wife to cede me the decision making and we're definitely goin gto Babbo. As for service and pace, I agree with you. What we really don't want are two things: courses brought too quickly and a waiter who's obnoxious. Also, don't like service that is TOO attentive. You know the drill: multiple watiers swooping in to try to clear the crumb that fell off your plate BEFORE it hits the table cloth.

As for the hustle and bustle that's one of the things we enjoy about NY. There is no other city that practically quivers continually with energy the way NY does.

But now off to get it all straightened out. Just reserved Babbo for pre-theater Sat., Blue Hill Sunday or Monday and a third night up for grabs.

I've been reading and reading. I'll figure it out. I'm hoping to entice my wife to perhaps go to Cafe Boulud or Jean Georges for lunch Monday.

By the way, Daniel Boulud does a commercial for his seafood purveyor here in Portland, Browne Trading Company, which opened a specialty store on the far end of Commerical Street about 2 years ago. Next time you're in town check it out...take a right out of the door from the Greengrocer and it's a few hundred yards down the street on the other side.

Thanks again. I'll let you know how we make out.

"Democracy is that system of government under which the people…pick out a Coolidge to be head of the State. It is as if a hungry man, set before a banquet prepared by master cooks and covering a table an acre in area, should turn his back upon the feast and stay his stomach by catching and eating flies." H. L. Mencken

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello tonkichi,

Steve has some really good recommendations in the Portland area and perhaps you'll want to take some time while staying in Kennebunk and drive to Portland for a couple of meals. Actually, I'd suggest staying in Portland to begin with and making Kennebunk a day trip.

But on to the food in Portland!

I haven't dined at Hugo's since the ownership change so I can't tell you anything about it. Steve, I'd be interested in hearing more.....

Personally, my wife and I prefer Michaela's in Monument Square. They seem to do a particularly good job with the seafood here, and I've been known to forego an entree and simply eat my way through all their seafood appetizers. Their Crab Timbale and Salmon Three Ways are both stellar. It's a funky little space and the staff are extra friendly.

Fore Street is probably on everyone's list and for that reason, you'll either need to make reservations as soon as you arrive in the States or be prepared to show up early and wait for a table (they keep roughly 1/3 of their tables open for walk-ins). Still, if your luck is bad the walk-in couple ahead of you might have a wait of 30 minutes for their table and you could wait up to 2 hours. Food here is roasted in wood-fired ovens and ranges from delicious spit-roasted chicken, pork, beef and lamb, to a wide variety of seafood dishes. Nice room, though somewhat loud and the view of the waterfront is now mostly obsucred by a hideous new hotel. Still, after dark, it's a very nice atmosphere and good, good food.

One that doesn't make Steve's list and that has had it's ups and downs over it's 15 years is Back Bay Grill. Somewhat off the beaten path, this New American has been reinvigorated since an owneership change about a year ago. It's a solid New American, here's their website:

Back Bay Grill

If you dine at Back Bay Grill and don't finish the evening with the Creme Brulee, you've made an egregious error.

Finally, I don't necessarily agree with Steve's contention that the Portland Green Grocer is the ONLY place for good fruits and veggies in town until you get to Conway. Also in town is the Portland Public Market and there a numerous regular produce purveyors here as well as seasonal booths where in October you'll probably find some incredible apples and cider, also new to town is Wild Oats, a natural food supermarket where produce is king.

If you want a quick taste of an ethnic grocer, head over to Micucci's on India St. (not far from Hugo's). This old-style Italian grocery is a hidden gem in Portland. Even if you don't have a kitchen at your disposal to take all the goodies home to, you can at least get them to bag you a chunk of Reggiano to nibble while you stroll through the Old Port.

Finally, if you are traveling Route 302 from Portland to get to New Hampshire, there is one place I can recommend along the way. Venezia Ristorante is a small (obviously) Italian place about a mile outside of Bridgton on the way to Fryeburg at the Junction of Route 93.

Don't blink or you'll miss it. Did I mention it is small? So small in fact, that if you order veal, your table might shake a little when they pound it thin in the kitchen. The decor isn't much, but it is good solid food and worth the effort.

One last thought: If you are heading into New Hampshire any time from Sept 28 to October 5, you may want to avoid Route 302 all together as it is the week of the Fryeburg Fair, the state's largest argricultural fair. Traffic can get backed up for miles, leading into Fryeburg during Fair week, especially on the weekend.

But if it interests you, you may want to check it out. Horse, steer and oxen pulling. Sheep shearing, baking contests, livestock barns, harness racing (horses) and of course a midway with "fair food". Usually a great place to find hand-cut french fries, if you like such things.

Anyway, that's all. I hope you have a wonderful time on your visit.

Thanks CSASphinx and Steve Klc, I really appreciate your input.

We will be lodging at what appear (on the internet) to be charming inns set in beautiful countryside. Am aware that this charm may not apply to their restaurants too, having similar experiences in Devon and Lake District holidays in the UK. So your comments have given me hope that we will not be confined to eating mediocre food in overly decorated dining rooms. We are planning to hire a car (with GPS hopefully) and will definitely explore the areas you mention- Jackson, North Conway, Portland etc. We arrive and leave via the airport in Portland so we will definitely take in quite a bit of the city. And everything looks pretty accessible on the map,or so my husband says!!

And thanks for the tip on the Fair, we will be heading to New Hampshire on the 6th so we will miss it.

Edited by tonkichi (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ron's Landing, Fore Street, Arrows.........all provocative choices, and well worth the visit, right up and down the coast.....NH/ME............and another in a quiet town in Beverly Farms, MA called Yanks........however, the town is quiet and probably best a local upscale intention coupled with Bostonians and their geographic offspring.

If you're driving, and taking the somewhat costal MA route north, visit Goodale Apple Orchards for 'work in progress' delicious apple cider doughnuts-they've been around for years, but you can watch the doughnuts and the cider being made. Self pick apple orchard too.

Send word on what you discover!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Portsmouth, NH is also a very cute place to visit since you will be in the basic neighborhood. There are lots of adorable shops and popular restaurants. Keep in mind though that NH and New England is NOT NYC and the people who live there, work there, and eat there don't really see too much of NYC other than what they see on TV. I grew up about 90 minutes away from Boston and really only went there two or three times (excepting airport trips).

Until 10 or 15 years ago the most exotic restaurant in Manchester (the largest city in NH) was The China Dragon. They served drinks with paper umbrellas, french bread, fried rice, poopoo platters, chicken fingers, teriyaki strips... When I first came to DC and went for a job interview over lunch the interviewer asked if I liked Chinese - I enthusiastically replied that I did (like chicken fingers, teriyaki strips, fried rice) we went to the restaurant and none of this stuff was on the menu. "Real" authentic Chinese food was horrifying to me! In NH you grow up eating steak, potatos, iceberg lettuce, meat loaf, spaghetti, chicken, and tuna noodles.

When I have out of town visitors from NH staying with me, I love to take them to enjoy the mysterious and terrifying foods of the world - like eggs benedict, bagels, Thai food, Vietnamese food, actual chinese food...

Anyway, enough on that. There are plenty of nice places to eat but nothing really out there on the fine dining cutting edge (unless you are in Portland). If you are not in Portland think carefully before getting something that sounds really creative since it will probably be slightly less than fully satisfactory.

Plan extra time to get around since during Foliage Season everything is mobbed. Especially the roads and traffic is horribly slow. Consider bicycles or renting a moped for short local hops. The Fryeburg fair is fun - fried dough, sausage and pepper sandwiches, lemonade then the twister ride :biggrin:

Make reservations for restaurants wherever possible since many will be crowded. Have fun!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Boy this enlarged my understanding of dining in the Portland area.

Any similar recommendations for the Mount Desert Island area? Beyond a great lobster pound and the famed popovers in the park we tend to eat in on our visits there, and are going again in 2 weeks.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ron's Landing, Fore Street, Arrows.........all provocative choices, and well worth the visit, right up and down the coast.....NH/ME............

I definitely enjoyed Ron's Landing. I had actually forgotten about it until I saw this post. I have found few even decent restaurants in Hampton Beach, but Ron's is worth a trip. I will confess I haven't been there for about 8 years.

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

~ Fernand Point

Link to comment
Share on other sites

OK, we 've got reservations at Fore Street and Hugo's. Husband has also made dinner reservations for Tim-bir Alley at Adair Inn, somewhere in New Hampshire. The rest of the time we'll lookout for lobsters and Flatbread pizza, yum i do like a good thin-crust pizza.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...