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  1. Well, why not. Guess who is the very first person shown in the television series, "The Time Tunnel?" And I'm talking about the first 5 seconds of SE1 EP1?
  2. Melissa Kelly is the Executive Chef and proprietor of Primo, a 7-year-old restaurant in Rockland, Maine--about 75 miles or two hours northeast of Portland. Kelly is the 1999 James Beard Foundation Awards winner of the American Express Best Chef, Northeast Award. Her husband, Price Kushner, serves as bakery/pastry chef. She is profiled in Michael Ruhlman's new book, The Reach of A Chef. She also owns Primo Restaurants in Orlando, Florida and Tucson, Arizona. My wife and I had dinner at Primo last Tuesday night while on vacation in Maine. It was superb--one of the best meals we've had all year. The restaurant is located in an old farmhouse, on a small bluff overlooking the southern end of Rockland Harbor (about a mile south of downtown). There are number of small dining rooms, located on both and first and second floors. We sat at a two-top in the front room on the first floor. On the property are a number of gardens, providing a number of fresh ingredients used in Primo's cooking. While the restaurant was chock full of customers by Tuesday evening, it never became too noisy or uncomfortable. For appetizers, I had the oysters two ways and Sara had the salad. The oysters reminded me of the oysters three ways at Restaurant August in New Orleans--I found them to be even better. Both served in their shells, the Pemaquids were roasted in the wood oven with red pepper basil butter; the Sudsbury oysters were fried with green coriander and corn relish. The corn in the latter preparation was by itself incredibly tender and flavorful. My wife had the salad of red lettuces with black mission figs, rosemary almonds, and a Gorgonzola dolce crostini with balsamic fig vinagrette. Our amuse was a shot of gazpacho (which was also used in other dishes on the menu). For entrees, I had the wood grilled Cayuga duck breast served with a hazelnut farrotto, lemon thyme and scallions, roast beets, and a wild blueberry gastrique. Sara had a special, blackfish (called toehog locally) with yellow tomato gazpacho, carolina rice with coriander oil, and peekytoe crab fritters. The duck, served medium rare, was among the moistest I've been served. Desserts. Wow! I had the affogato with zeppole, my wife had an evening special, the profiteroles with peanut butter gelato, peanut brittle sauce and chocolate. The zeppoles rivaled beignets I've had in New Orleans. And the affogato was rich and giant, completely unfinishable after such a large meal. Our server had worked at Primo for four years, certainly someone personally invested in the restaurant. She took care of us terrifically, ready with helpful recommendations about the menu to lead us inpleasing directions. The restaurant also has a well-designed cocktail and wine list. I'd say that the wine list is about 75-80% Old World, with a nice choice by the glass as well as some half bottles. I had the Question Mark to begin the evening, made with Maker's Mark. I managed to find a small producer California pinot noir by the glass with dinner. And enjoyed a glass of house-made limoncello with dessert. They fixed up my pregnant wife with a lovely 'maternity cocktail' to start the evening and she had an enormous chai with dessert. Overall, the food struck me as tremendously sophisticated. Not sophisticated in an arrogant sort of way or in the use of lots of foams and new-fangeled cooking methods and presentations, but in its emphasis on fresh ingredients that speak to the palate in harmony with one another. One thing I did notice is that those with late reservations or late walk-ins were left waiting in the entry foyer for tables to clear. Pacing at Primo is rather relaxed, which is wonderful for those dining, but may potentially lead to waits later in the evening. Our reservation was at 6:30 pm and we were seated promptly. A final observation: Both my wife and I were struck by the enormity of choices at a small restaurant. Inclusing specials, there were no less than 12 appetizers, 2 pastas, 9 entrees, and 15 dessert choices. Other appetizer choices included foie gras, soup, 2 additional salads, and wood fired pizza with duck confit. Other entree choices included lamb 2 ways, pork saltimbocca (the house specialty), wood roasted bronzino, and pan-seared scallops. Primo is a restaurant around which we'd build another visit to the Maine coast!
  3. We spent a week in Portland ME this summer and had some very good meals. One night we ate at 555. It was very nice, but the Grilled salad (greens with roasted peaches, bing cherrys, and pecans) was a little over sauced and the scallops were a little salty. However, the rest of the meal, mussels and a hanger steak, was excellent, the service very good, and the price not unreasonable. The restaurant itself is a pretty place and they were very friendly. The wine list was fun and fairly extensive. I was a little concerned when they brought the 2002 vintage of the Fess Parker PN I ordered when the 2001 was listed on the menu, but they were quick to point it out before I read the bottle and explained that they were out of the 2001. The last time I was in Portland, Abeurgene was in this space, but 555 is a pretty good replacement. However, we had two better meals while there. My first choice would be Cinque Terre (right across from Street and Co)on Wharf Street. We had the 6 course tasting menu for $55. It started with oysters two ways (a Darmisgrotta raw and a Prince Edward Island fried) then crab and fresh peas risotto with white truffel oil. Next was the lobster tail with bread crumbs and basil oil. It was followed by a perfectly cooked hanger steak with chantrelle mushrooms. The next course was cheese, pecorina and toma with peanut jelly and an italian baggette. Last was the dessert, lemon grappa panna cotta and maple gelato with biscotta. Service was exceptional and the wine list, while all and only Italian wine, was very reasonably priced, very extensive and long, and very representative of Italy. They also had a nice selection by the glass. I had a 2000 Antinori Toscana Tignanello which was exceptionally well priced at $100. Our other great meal was at Hugo's. A four course meal for $60. The food was excellent, very well presented (maybe a little over the top, but really pretty), and the service very good. I ordered two half bottles (a 2002 Daniel Dampt Cablis and a 1996 Chateau Meyney St. Estephe) since it was only the two of us. For our first courses I had Maine raised rabbit chartiterie with grainy mustand mousse, pistaschio, and celtic vinegar. My wife had the smoked shitake mushrooms and asparagus with capri pasta, milk foam and lily buds. The second course for her was the crispy skin loup de mer (rockfish this time) with artichoke en croute, basil seeks and warm olive oil panna cota. I had the honey mead glazed pork belly with sweet potato tot, tomatillo relish and ginger red pepper coulis. Third was the pan roasted tasmanian sea trout with fried fennel, pineapple salad and smoked trout roe. I had the Sous Vide duck breast and leg with golden beet, kola nut pudding and pickled plum. For dessert I had a superb Mita Cana Spanish sheeps milk cheese cake while my wife had the Maine rhubarb and pineapple with Greek yogert panna cotta and Thai basil. The plates may have looked skimpy, but we left stuffed. Very pretty place, but unless you want to sit in high bar type chairs, don't take a table in the window. Another excellent meal was at the Roma Cafe on Congress Street. Excellent Italian food. We just walked in late (at about 9:30 and they stop serving at 10) but we were treated extremely well and the food was delish. Nice place, white linens and soft music, excellent service. I started with the fresh mozzarella and plum tomatoes with roasted peppers, pesto and garlic crostini. It was out of this world. The pesto was some of the best I've had in a long time. My wife had the calamari and it was perfect. For entrees we had the pasta de mer, perfectly prepared and full of lots and lots of seafood (I got to eat the mussels since she doesn't like them) and a wonderful duck breast rubbed in jerk spices and served in pan juices. Very enjoyable but we felt guilty about keeping the staff there just for us as everyone else had finished and gone by the time we started our entrees. I was at Fore Street a couple of years ago when I was in Portland on business. I had a great meal and the bread was wonderful. I liked the wine list too. I was eating by myself, but I got a nice table, the service was very good, and I was impressed by how well I was treated as a single diner. One funny, just before I finished my meal, a group of young women came in, a bridal party the day before the big event. They were looking at he wine list trying to figure out what they could afford. I had a bottle of a nice Panther Creek PN, and since there was about a glass left in the bottle and I didn't particularly want to carry it to the hotel, I offered the rest to the table saying I wasn't going to finish it and I didn't want it to go to waste. As I was leaving I heard on of the bridesmaids exclaim, "Do you see how much that bottle cost?!?" I thought it was reasonably priced but I guess they aren't into wine as much as I was. I hope they enjoyed it.
  4. Another good breakfast spot in Bar Harbor is Two Cats, located at the beginning of cottage street as you enter Bar Harbor from Seal or Northeast Harbor. May not be open this time of year, though. Some other places we make sure to visit when lured from our summer place off of NE Harbor are: Miguels for tex-mex, Galyn's on main street, and both Cafe Mache (on Cottage) and Michelle's (on main). None are great in the sense that they would blow your mind in DC (or Portland for that matter), but offer solid food, nice atmosphere and a minmum of tourists, even throughout the summer.
  5. Kennebunkport; Portland There is a Federal Jack's brewpub in Kennebunkport, and their Fuggles IPA is pretty tasty (it's part of the Shipyard chain). Kennebunkport is a pretty cool little town, but I only had street food there (some decent clam cakes from the Clam Shack on the main drag). In Portland, I had a good Reuben and some great fries at the Sebago Bay Brewpub downtown. Didn't eat elsewhere. The Great Lost Bear is a cool beer bar if you want to sample some of the state's finest ales: they have a bunch of taps, and it's not too far from downtown Portland.
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