Sunday, October 07, 2007

Fall 2007 visit

Our eating was relatively low key during our one-week visit (Sept. 15-22), since we were staying in a place with full kitchen, so we ate a lot of salads -- from materials purchased at the Sunday farmers' market in Bar Harbor, including a wonderful homemade dry cured salami from Smith's Log Smokehouse. I bought a stick of beef salami, cured Italian style; they also offer pork soppresetta, among other dried meat products.

XYZ in Manset was as good as ever, and I indulged in my regular entree: lengua, as tender as could be, flavorful. For a starter I selected the chile verde. She Who Must Be Obeyed enjoyed, as always, the queso fundido and the chicken mole, with its interesting bitter/spicy sauce. I also had a chance to say hello to Bob, the chef, who recommended two establishments I was unable to try. One is the Claremont, a Southwest Harbor hotel which, in the past, offered routine, unexciting seaside hotel fare. Bob says that under a new chef they are much improved. He also recommended Red Bird Provisions (which was having a Spanish theme wine tasting dinner one night while I was on the island). Maybe next time.

We went to Rupununi's twice, since it was convenient and, based on past experience, reliably good. It still is. The Spiny Creek Oysters were exceptional: small but freshly briny, and professionally shucked so that much of the liquor remained in the halfshell. Alas, served with horseradish and cocktail sauce, and although mignonnette sauce was unavailable, these oysters needed nothing, not even a squirt of lemon. The only problem I observed at the restaurant was with the service on our second visit; perhaps it's because the main season is over and all the kids that had worked through the summer and finally got the hang of it by mid-August are now back in school, and the replacement staff hasn't got it yet.

Speaking of service, at times I felt I was visiting a resort in the Balkans rather than State of Maine USA. At many establishments (including Jordan Pond House and Beal's) the serving staff was frequently composed of young people from Serbia, Croatia, Romania and/or Bulgaria. Apparently it's been very difficult getting summer help (Bob of XYZ says he pays $14/hour for dishwashers and can't keep them); some employment agency struck gold in placing English-speaking students from the Balkans (all of those serving me spoke excellent colloquial U.S. English) in summer jobs in Maine.

When I mentioned to Bob of XYZ that I enjoyed steamer clams at least as much as lobster, he suggested Beal's rather than Thurston's. So I did, and he was right. Although the clams were a tiny bit grittier at Beal's, they were larger and slightly better tasting; besides, the grit easily came off with a swish in the broth. The lobsters were similar at both establishments. Still, I tend to prefer Thurstons for the reason I've given before: the view. All the shoreside lobster pounds I've visited in Hancock and Washington counties do an excellent job with lobsters. What makes the difference is the setting, and here Thurston's is the clear winner.

We also picked up sandwiches at Eat-A-Pita in SWH before heading to Seawall's picnic tables. My turkey BLTA (BLT with smashed avocado [not guacamole 'cause of the lack of seasonings] hit the spot. Eat-A-Pita also serves a nice breakfast, including the obligatory blueberry pancakes (nice and eggy, better than Jordan's and without the latter's long lines).

While this year's all-too-short one-week visit was hardly food-centric (I spent most of my time looking at the tide attacking or retreating at Wonderland), it did have its highlights. Can't wait 'til next time!

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