Boston Restaurant Blog -- December, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Each December, I head up to the Christmas Prelude in Kennebunkport, Maine, which is always a great time. And this year, I also got to check out the smaller (but equally fun) Christmas by the Sea celebration in nearby Ogunquit. We also made our way to several restaurants on our recent trip up to the area, including four that we had never been to, with mostly good results.
On our way up to the Perkins Cove section of Ogunquit Saturday morning (where we were staying), we had a leisurely lunch at an upscale but casual spot in the heart of York Beach called Blue Sky. Located on the second floor of the beautifully-restored Atlantic House Hotel, Blue Sky had a cozy and romantic feel, with a wood-burning fireplace, a rambling old outdoor porch, an attractive bar area, and several sections for dining, including a small space toward the back that had a particularly elegant feel. Being that this was a Lydia Shire restaurant, we were pretty excited to try the food, and it certainly did not disappoint. We started with an outstanding Caesar salad that had ground pepper placed all along the side of the dish and a dressing that had a ton of flavor. Our entrees were similarly impressive, with a pink meatball, scamorza cheese, fennel root, and fennel pollen pizza being a bit unusual, but the ingredients worked perfectly together, as the texture of the pork and veal meatballs, the saltiness of the cheese, and the mild licorice taste of the fennel made for an array of flavors I won't soon forget. The blue label burger with North Country bacon was juicy on the inside and nicely charred on the outside, and it came with excellent homemade fries and onion rings that were almost tender enough to cut with the edge of piece of paper. The overall bill was a bit high but well worth it, as the combination of the food, atmosphere, and service (which was great throughout) made for one of the best dining experiences I've had in a long, long time.
After a meal like the one we had at Blue Sky, we knew it would be tough to top, but a visit to Angelina's in Ogunquit (after spending some time at the festival) made me remember why I liked this place so much on our first visit to the place last year. The Caesar salad didn't quite match up with the one we had at Blue Sky earlier in the day, but it was still very good, while the penne pesto had a nicely rich pesto mixed with a tender and slightly chewy pasta. The chicken Angelina was probably a tad better than the pesto, with a sweet basil and olive oil marinade adding a lot of flavor to the chicken breast. Because we had to sit in the bar area, the noise level was rather high, but not particularly surprising given how crowded the restaurant was. Service was excellent, and the gracious owner came over and chatted with us for a little bit. Overall, it was another nice meal at this underrated spot just north of the center of Ogunquit.
On Sunday morning, we had breakfast at the place in which we were staying, then drove up to Kennebunkport for the Christmas Prelude, which was just starting to wind down. Because there were relatively few people in town, we were able to try a restaurant that had always been of interest to me, but had constantly been packed during the festivals. But this time, Alisson's was a bit busy but not too bad, with the homey, cozy little neighborhood spot (that has been around for more than 35 years, by the way) having a few tables available. We sat in the room to the right that shared part of its space with a bar (which was good, because the area had several TVs with the Patriots game on) and soaked in the pleasant atmosphere of the place while sipping on a couple of beers before ordering. I started with an order of slightly spicy pumpkin soup, which was perfect for the rather raw, chilly day--and so hearty that it almost could have been a meal unto itself. We went with sandwiches at Alisson's, including a reuben that was stuffed with lots of lean corned beef and smothered in rich-tasting Russian dressing and sauerkraut. The prime rib sandwich (called the Ribert DeNiro, by the way) included nearly a half pound of tender prime rib on a torpedo roll and had a sharp-tasting garlic and herb mayo. Service was generally efficient (though we did have to wait a bit for the check) and prices were slightly high, with the sandwiches being $9 and $13, respectively, but not bad considering the prices of other restaurants in this very wealthy town.
After spending a little more time in Kennebunkport, we headed right back to where we were staying at Perkins Cove, as a major storm was heading up the coast. Fortunately, our dinner plans were at a place pretty close by near the Ogunquit/Wells border, so we didn't have to make any last-minute changes due to the storm. Our destination was an Asian restaurant on Route 1 that has gotten some high praise from food critics, including one magazine that put among in the top 100 Chinese restaurants in the entire country. With this in mind, we drove up to East Restaurant anticipating another truly memorable experience like the one we had at Blue Sky in York Beach the day before. And while our dinner at this cavernous yet elegant restaurant didn't quite make us forget about some of the better restaurants in the Chinatown section of Boston, the meal was pretty decent for the most part. We began with hot and sour soup, which had a deeply rich taste, yet little in the way of heat. Our entrees went down the same path, as both the sweet-tasting basil chicken and the spicy Singapore chow mei fun were full of flavor, but neither had much heat at all. And the house fried rice had a nice mix of ham, pork, shrimp, and chicken mixed in, but the rice itself was on the mushy side, as if it had been simmering too long. All in all, the food we had at East was adequate, and definitely better than most of the Americanized takeout food that I have had at various Boston-area restaurants, but I didn't feel like the food was quite up to the standards of, say, Qingdao Gardenin Cambridge, East Ocean City in Chinatown, or Shanghai Gate in Allston.
Monday morning came around and we decided to head out a little early so we could spend some time in Kittery and Newburyport on the way back. So we went to a family-style diner in the center of Ogunquit called Bessie's for a quick breakfast. The place felt a little dark and gloomy (especially since nearly every table was empty) and other than the music in the background, there was almost an eerie silence. The food was just ok, with the chocolate chip pancakes having some flavor to them, the eggs being a little on the overcooked side, and the home fries being dry. On the plus side, our server was incredibly nice with a constant smile on her face, and the prices were dirt cheap.
We ended our trip with a stop at one of my personal favorites, namely The Grog in Newburyport. I have said it before and I'll say it again--the chili at this comfortable old watering hole is probably the best I have ever had, and the rest of the food (including the burger, monte cristo, BLT, and turkey club) isn't so bad, either. As was the case on our trip to Maine two years earlier, hitting The Grog was the perfect way to end a great weekend, dawdling in a creaky, well-worn tavern while eating great food and drinking craft beers. Hopefully I'll be able to make another trip up to The Grog before next December, and I also really hope that I can get up to Blue Sky in York Beach again soon, as that was undoubtedly the culinary highlight of the entire trip.
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