Monday, July 5, 2010

Fore Street: Return to an old Favorite

Having just sailed a boat up to Maine, I took the opportunity to visit my old friend Malinda (who was nice enough to pick me up in Camden and drive me to Portland). I was happy to repay her kindness by treating her to dinner at Fore Street, one of my favorite restaurants in the whole country. I always have a wonderful meal there. It is not always the most sophisticated cooking, and not everything I have eaten there is innovative or even interesting, but the overall welcome and feeling I get there, and the anticipation with which I walk through the door, is one I have hardly felt elsewhere...certainly not anyplace I have eaten comparably often (this last visit was probably about my 12th at Fore Street).

For a slender, attractive young woman, Malinda is an eater, and an excellent dining companion. After a round of drinks while waiting for our table (it was July 5 and the place was, predictably, packed) we took our seats in the dark, brick-walled dining space with its warm copper-topped tables. Malinda, being a somewhat frugal girl of Yankee origins, suggested splitting an appetizer but I was, of course, having none of that. Especially after I spotted the sampler platter of pates and terrines at the bottom of the appetizer list. Malinda and I agreed on the pork terrine, rabbit rillettes, and sweetbread sausage. All of these were sublime, especially the latter which was served in 4 small coins. We could have also had chicken liver mousse or smoked pork, which I will have to try another time. As a companion first course, Malinda ordered a lettuce and pea salad, which was OK, but I found it rather dull, somewhat underdressed, and completely unremarkable (an example of the occasional miss at this restaurant).

There were no misses with the main courses, however. We agreed to share the sauteed scallops (as good as scallops should be, and generously portion) and an absolutely wonderful halibut, which was a dense block of perfectly cooked, flaky yet meaty white fish served in a small iron skillet and with a complementary acidic sauce (some kind of vinaigrette, I am guessing, livened up with mustard and possibly lemon juice). We also had, as an adventurous note, a side dish of chard with bacon, which was wonderful, and most welcome as the halibut came completely unadorned and ungarnished except for the sauce.

For dessert, Malinda, bless her heart, is a fellow chocolate lover and we had both of the chocolate desserts on the menu...a chocolate torte (good....kind of mousse-like) and chocolate cake (wonderful...intensely chocolate). The cake came with a kind of nectarine sorbet and the mousse with vanilla ice cream, but we decided that they worked better with the other desserts and ended up switching them.

With dinner we drank a bottle of Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir from Oregon, which was clean and elegant. I might have wished for something a little richer and fuller-bodied, but I should have known better, having had many bottles from this producer.

With all of that the bill before tax was slightly under $200....not cheap by any means, but a meal that I can still savor two weeks later, and how do you put a price on that?

Camden, Maine: Avoid Cappy's

After a 4 day nonstop sail from Annapolis to Camden, my crew and I disembarked (conveniently, right around lunchtime) and headed into downtown Camden for a well-deserved relaxing lunch. I was joined by my friend and co-skipper Steve and owners Hemant and Sonal, with whom I had made this trip two years ago with a great deal more difficulty. On that earlier trip, the three of us had dined at Cappy's Chowder House, a local institution in Camden in which I had had quite a few acceptable meals over the years. The dinner in 2008 was unremarkable but not actually offensive; after the ordeal we had been through, we could all barely keep our heads out of the soup anyhow.

July 5 was a very hot day in Camden as it was on much of the East Coast, and Cappy's is not air conditioned, although I think it is hard to fault a place on the Maine Coast for not having air conditioning, which is only needed a few times a year. Too bad Monday was one of those days. We were quickly shown to a table in the drab upstairs dining area, where a fan provided welcome air movement.

OK, the bottom line. I had a lobster roll and it was lousy. While it may not have been the worst lobster roll I have ever eaten (that honor most likely goes to a mercifully forgotten storefront somewhere down in the Kennebunk area) it certainly is in the bottom two or three. Finely chopped lobster meat (always a warning sign) with no taste, excessive and runny mayonnaise, untoasted and unbuttered bun. Not actively offensive, but so far from the concept of what a lobster roll ought to be that the people at Cappy's ought to be ashamed. They certainly know better. However, the curly fries that came with it were good. They ought to be, because they weren't included but carried a supplemental charge.

I regret that Steve followed my example and had the same disappointing lobster roll. Sonal had some kind of haddock chowder, which she seemed to enjoy (I thought it was way too hot for soup myself, but she'd just come from 4 months in Delhi, India). Hemant had a Reuben sandwich which looked much better than the lobster roll.

The price for all of this pleasure, with 6 beers and a cocktail among the four of us, was about $100. At that price, and for that food, what Cappy's says to me is...tourist trap. Stay away.