Jules eats world.

Monday, August 28, 2006

New England Tour

I love me some lobstah

Well, kids, I am waayyy behind on catching you up on my eating adventures. It may take me a few days to relate all of my lobster tales, not to mention a couple of meals at home in the Big Apple. Bear with me...

We set off from NYC in a rented car on a Friday afternoon, winding through hours of traffic -- the FDR, the Merritt Parkway, the wilds of Massachussetts. Finally we arrived at our first stop, Keene, NH, chez our friend the rabbi, his wife, and their two tots. Of food note -- Rachel's homemade challah (and challah French toast the following morning, appropriately heavenly) and their beautiful garden. The latter was stocked with horseradish and tomatoes and dill, oh my! And made me remember wistfully the gardens of my childhood in the suburbs. Three-and-a-half-year-old Reuben presided, telling me authoritatively, "it's not ready yet," when I checked on the ripeness of a tomatillo.

After a stop at a picnic-style bat mitzvah reception alongside a lake (mmm cupcakes), we headed eastward to Portland, ME. Our friends had made reservations at Street & Co. in the quaint downtown area, all cobblestone streets and people spilling out of bars. The place is so popular we couldn't get a seating until 9:45. The room is rustic, with exposed beams, but with an ambiance problem in the form of glaring spotlights, which they turned down on request. The meal started out promisingly: I had a "taste:" a slice of seared tuna with a mint rub in harissa sauce. And Mr. H chose the seasonal salad, a tasty and somewhat unusual composition including fennel. But the menu has multiple personalities: while the tastes, first courses and salads provide a more adventurous Mediterranean mix, the right side of the menu, with grilled courses and pastas, cleaves closely to the traditional New England formula. All of the main seafood dishes came with unexciting sides -- sauteed zucchini and summer squash and rice. My grilled sea scallops were well-prepared, but I was hoping for a little more zing after the tease of the first course.

That was about all we saw of Portland. The next morning we set out for Lebanon, ME, down winding country roads that led us to a charming little house alongside a lake -- the summer home of Mr. H's cousins. Our food experience there deserves mention because it's a great idea for any group summer lunch: a platter of veggies like cucumber, steamed asparagus, green beans, and potatoes; boiled shrimp; and hard-boiled eggs. Cousin Elaine made a delicious noodle kugel, a dish that always brings back great memories, and an eggplant caponata. Good conversation and company, a beautiful view of the lake, delicious food -- this was shaping up to be a great trip.

And finally, our last stop: York Harbor, ME, on the southern coast. The rocky coastline and grand homes overlooking the ocean were wild and charming all at the same time. And here, my friends, comes the lobster. Here are the spots we hit, in summary:

Fox's Seafood next to the Nubble Lighthouse: fresh, fresh lobster and friendly service. It was here that we were introduced to new shell lobster (which has just molted), which I found to be very sweet and tender. Mr. H and I devoured our lobsters and still felt compelled to try dessert. In my case, the homemade blueberry pie, with homemade ice cream was decadent, but Mr. H's brownie sundae beat my dessert in that department. (There are many homemade ice cream shops in the area, and Fox's owns Brown's ice cream close by.)

Chauncey Creek lobster pier: the best location of the trip, on a pier overlooking a river. We watched a fishing boat unload, and then watched one of the fishermen catch not one, but two striped bass that must have been 3 feet long. We ordered lunch in a shack on the pier, and the guy helping us plucked Mr. H's live lobster from a tank and put it in a bucket. We said goodbye before he headed to the pot. This hard shell lobster wasn't quite as good as at Fox's, but we loved the setting and I enjoyed my lobster roll.

The Oar House: just across the line in Portsmouth, NH, and about a 20-minute drive away from York. Portsmouth is an interesting little city, with what looks to be a recently-redone downtown with lots of pedestrians. It's also a working port, and the restaurant had both an indoor area and an outdoor patio overlooking the water. The view -- of bridges over the river, of moored ships -- was great. The food wasn't not quite as great, though the service was very friendly. Mr. H's grouper was pretty tasty; the seafood in my scampi was either not as fresh as it should have been, or more likely, a bit overcooked.

Food & Co.: a gourmet food shop and cafe in York, we had a very pleasant brunch outside here. Quite a tranquil spot.

Barnicle Billy's etc.: a popular spot in the Perkins Cove area of Ogunquit, this is the offshoot of the original Barnicle Billy's next door. The former is a more casual lobster shack; the latter, a sit-down place. Once again, I opted for the boiled lobster, and it was again a sweet new-shell. Most of the restaurants we'd been to had haddock on the menu, so Mr. H finally ordered it, and liked it -- a firm and meaty white fish. Afterwards we stopped at a soft-service ice cream place along Long Beach so I could satisfy my sweet tooth.

Stonewall Kitchen: the headquarters of the jams and sauces maker is headquarted in York, so deserves a mention as well. You've probably seen their products in gourmet grocery stores, and if you've been to the company stores, you know it's a taster's paradise. Pretzels and crackers are set out to sample the merchandise. The HQ store was large, and also housed a cafe, though we didn't eat there.

Norma's: a decent diner on Rt. 1 on the way back to 95, the principle merit for our purposes was that this place served an all-day breakfast.

Whew, a lot of eating over a relatively brief period of time (4 1/2 days). More on recent NYC restos soon....


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