Saturday, July 28, 2007

Bunker's Wharf, in Bunker's Harbor, Maine

This newly reopened restaurant is located in Bunker's Harbor, Maine, just a few short miles from Winter Harbor, which is on the eastern side of Frenchman's Bay from Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.

Upside: this place has a spectacular view of Bunker's Harbor and the Gulf of Maine beyond. The handful of colorful lobster boats bobbing in the water just a few short meters away is also a bonus to be sure. Service is attentive without being overly so and there is a genuine effort to be a bit upscale, that is to provide a level of service commensurate with what the management assumes are the expectations of their client base.

Downside: Menu very limited. Only three seafood dishes on the entree (plat) side: lobster dinner, haddock and scallops; two beef dishes, no pork and just one chicken/sausage pasta dish and no veggie entree. I had the lobster app, which was really just a lobster chowder, that is pieces of lobster meat in a cream base. It was tasty but one would have expected nothing less since they market it as fresh picked locally. The other two at the table ordered the Caesar salad, which was basically romaine lettuce with what was thought to be a homemade dressing. The bread brought to the table was a generic foccacia, quite doughy and devoid of much flavor, probably baked off premises far, far away and then finished off in the oven at the restaurant (fairly typical today).

The food was in general mediocre. Three of us had the haddock, which was unfortunately overcooked and tasteless. (It shouldn't have been brought to the table.) We had to ask for something, anything to put on it but which frankly didn't help much at that stage. There was little effort made to rectify this situation -- in fact in such a small dining establishment we were surprised that the manager did not come to the table to express her concern about the food. Not good.

The accompanying foccacia stuffing was pretty good but basic while the green beans were a bit on the al dente side. (Just for the record I prefer my vegetables that way but these could have used a couple more minutes of blanching.)

The wine list is pedestrian, although as noted below the pricing we thought quite good. There was no effort made to assist the novice in matching wine with dinner. We noticed only one sparkling wine on the list, a prosecco for $19, a good value and a wise choice for most folks just wanting a little bubbly. However, it would have been nice to offer a champagne as well, or even a high-end sparkler from California. Anyway, we ordered a Sancerre, which was just right for our dinner, and I thought another good value at $34. curiously the glasses for the white wine were brought out chilled like beer mugs, and the wine was way too cold.

The following incident is, I think, indicative of how so many restaurants operate here in the US, even up-market ones: a group of five at a nearby table had ordered a red wine follow-up to their sparkling wine, and soon afterwards we saw the maitre d' walk over with fresh glasses and a decanter. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but unless I missed something there was nothing on the wine list that called for decanting. In any event the fellow proceeded to simply open the bottle and dump, literally, dump the contents into the decanter. It was of course all for "show" and made very little enological sense. It was not only an indicator of the fact that these folks know less about wine apparently than they should, but ultimately it was an insult to the intelligence of the customer.

After the meal we discovered that only the typical brown boiled water was available for coffee; and no digestifs and no dessert wines. Speaking of desserts there was no ice cream apparently, and the few desserts offered were fairly typical ("flourless gateau" for example). We were informed that the desserts were made “in-house,” except for the lemon meringue pie. Our waitress informed us that they got the pie from Sysco! Whoa!

I want to emphasize that the restaurant has only been open for barely ten days so one should bear that in mind when reading my review. Still, there are some serious concerns that need to be addressed, particularly in the area of food/wine integration, food preparation and general customer service.

I'd like to hear what you think.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Gerrish's cafe in Winter Harbor, ME

Well we finally did it. Ate at our own cafe. Sort of.

After we got off of work at the cafe Wednesday the plan was to head out to Schoodic Point for a late afternoon walk and then meet up with Rosemary later that evening and go to a new restaurant that just opened recently near here in Birch Harbor.

Well to cut to the chase Rosemary got hung up late kayaking, the new restaurant was packed -- we made reservations for this Friday so I'll have a review this weekend -- so Susie and I headed back to Gerrish's and bought several salads out of the deli case to take home: Potato, chicken, orzo, and mozzarella-tomato, all delicious and paired nicely with the Spanish tempranillo we had waiting for us back at the apartment.

We now see what all the fuss is about! Take out food from Gerrish's is indeed one way to have a great dinner at home without the muss and fuss and for a reasonably cost.



Friday, July 20, 2007

Tidal Falls in Hancock, ME

If you're in the vicinity of Ellsworth, ME, and looking for a great Downeast Maine dinner in a spectacular location, try the lobster pound at Tidal Falls. Yesterday I struck up a conservation with Cindy and Jeff at Gerrish's cafe. We got to talking about places to get good seafood nearby -- Jeff has been coming to this part of Maine for nearly fifty years -- and at one point they suggested we try a funky little place just this side of Ellsworth, the Tidal Falls restaurant.

Well, in fact it's a typical Maine lobster shack -- one window to place the order and another window for pickup -- serving up lobster dinners with corn on the cob, fried clams, various sandwiches -- they've even added a huge smoker so there's plenty of pulled pork and chicken sandwiches as well. If the cole slaw was so-so the French fries were scrumptious, and the baked beans were baked almost black with molasses. Just like you might find at a huge family reunion held at some local park in mid-July when all the aunts (and some of the uncles) bring their best home-cooked foods, giving rise to the idea in some minds that some people just shouldn't be cooking. . . .

It is indeed just that sort of down home, Downeast experience that I think drives so many folks here in the first place.

You can sit inside the mosquito-proof little outbuilding or there are plenty of picnic tables dotted along the edge of the river. We opted to be indoors -- the fog was in and the mosquitos were out. It was wonderful sitting there eating our sandwiches (two pulled pork and one pulled chicken) watching the falls slip by, watching the harbor seals playing nearby.

Located abouot eight miles east of Ellsworth and about a mile off Route 1 -- just follow the signs for Tidal Falls -- the lobster poind is today owned and operated by the Frenchman Bay Conservancy so all the profits benefit land conservation. Cool, eh?

Prices are good too. Our sandwiches were eight bucks each, thirteen is you spring for the dinner, which includes corn bread, beans, cole slaw.

Oh and BYOB!

Thanks Cindy and Jeff!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Gerrish America

I'm sitting in Gerrish's cafe here in Winter Harbor and there seems to be a lunch rush on right now -- it's almost 2 in the afternoon. The place is packed and I can't help but think how lucky all these folks are to have this small funky cafe with pastries made by a French-trained pastry chef and food to go made by a chef from one of Boston's better restaurants.

Pretty cool I'd say.

Fisherman's Inn in Winter Harbor, ME

There are few options for dining out in Winter Harbor, Maine. Chase's is a down home Downeast restaurant with a reputation for good fried clams and lots of local gossip.

Gerrish's is good, naturalamente, with the best pastries (French no less) around and outstanding food to go. But there's the rub: it's all food to go, at least right now. The new owners plan on turning it into a table service operation either sometime late this season but certainly by next year. Meanwhile it's take out only and fresh sandwiches.

So for sit-down service the only other place in Winter Harbor is Fisherman's Inn. Run by Carl Johnson who also operates the Grindstone Neck smokehouse just up the road on Route 186, the Inn specialises in seafood of course. And his smokehouse is most certainly worth a stop (try the salmon candy): great smoked trout and, I'm told, delicious smoked salmon.

Anyway, we've eaten at the Inn twice now and can recommend it but have qualifications.

First off the service is variable: the first time we went it was appalling but the second visit we had a wonderful server (Melissa) who, like all the other wait staff, was harried and working at a frantic pace.

Second the food. The fresh fish is quite tasty and the mussels very good. The foccacia is not terribly good and definitely steer clear of the casseroles.The second time I was there I ordered the "Native Maine Shrimp with crabmeat" and got a small oval baking dish filled with popcorn shrimp (which is native it is true) and a few bits of shredded stuff which might as well have been breading for all I could tell. Funny but a couple at the next table, the local rector of one of the churches here, had the same dish I did and his wife told me the next day he thought it not very good. And the restaurant is selling it for $18 bucks a pop!

The wine list is good, quite accessible and reasonably priced with some pretty good values , both by the bottle and the glass.

So if you go to Fisherman's Inn go for the fresh fish and have a bottle of the Alsatian white!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Cleonice in Ellsworth, ME

Located on Main street in Ellsworth the food was good -- all three of us had the monkfish which came with roasted potatoes; rice would have worked better I thought. Generally not worth a return visit we felt.

Service was interesting but our waitress had a significant amount of dirt under her fingernails which I thought odd.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Via in Worcester, MA

Big, loud, lots of space and plenty of bodies to fill it. Food was pretty good -- but really, Italian baked beans? I don't think so. And so many dishes using the word Tuscan in such a meaningless fashion.

Another downside was the constant attention. The three of us had not one but two servers and between the two of them popped up at our table every three minutes -- they might as well have been sitting with us. Very annoying.

As I said though the food was good -- pizzas huge and my lasagna bolognese equally gargantuan. But it's the American way, eh?

Free valet parking and located just off of I-295 so access is good if you want to get out of Worcester fast.