liam Posted August 29, 2006 Share Posted August 29, 2006 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! Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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