Inn by the Sea

I didn’t just have the pleasure of dining at Sea Glass Restaurant, I also had the privilege of staying at the hotel. Though this is primarily a food blog, this hotel was really a little slice of awesome, and deserves to be written about.

Inn by the Sea is a beautiful full service hotel located about 15 minutes from Portland, Maine, one of the best dining cities in America. It is located in Cape Elizabeth on Crescent Beach.

This isn’t the hard, pebbly beach that is so often found on the East Coast. The sand is powder fine and the beach itself is pristine. It’s worth checking into the hotel just to be guaranteed the chance to walk down this undisturbed strip of beach.

The hotel went though a multi million dollar renovation in 2008, and since became Maine’s first Carbon Neutral Hotel. It is also LEED certified and works with the Gulf of Maine research Institute to serve only sustainable seafood at its restaurant. All of its toilets are dual flush (so you use less water when you only urinate), all the cleaning products are OASIS Green Seal Certified, and even the cooking oil is recycled to fuel cars. This is not your usual hotel, pumping out tons of waste and giving nothing back. Uneaten food is donated to a local pig farm, and there is an ongoing project in conjunction with the Maine Department of Conservation to restore a habitat for the endangered New England Cottontail Rabbit.

By summer 2012, there should be a 2 acres on Crescent beach planted with indigenous flora like raspberry and blueberry bushes to encourage the propagation of the New England Cottontail Rabbit. When you come here, you aren’t just spending money to take a relaxing vacation. You are spending money on a place that believes in preserving the environment, supporting local farms, and ensuring that native animals stay alive and well.

That’s all fine and dandy, but if the hotel is like staying in a tent, you might as well just camp out.

If this is a tent, it’s like one in Troop Beverly Hills.

The hotel is an oasis of calm and elegance, truly a 5 star property. The public spaces are bright and large, with sunlight pouring in through the huge glass windows that look onto the sea. There is a small lounge (shown here with the ample morning coffee/tea setup) where you can eat or indulge in one of the incredible S’mores martinis – absolutely a grown up Yoo-Hoo if I ever had one! Animals are welcome to dine with you there or al fresco – in fact, the whole hotel is incredibly pet friendly. On the last day of the summer season, before the pool closes, all the dogs in town are invited to come have a romp in the pool before it is drained. The hotel rooms, however, are cleaned with a fine tooth comb – this allergy ridden Jewess had no problem with any pet dander in my room.

And the rooms there are incredible. There are new beach front suites that are being constructed, and I will let the pictures of the duplex spa suite speak for itself:

The breathtaking view from the balcony.

The linens are crisp and luxurious,

and all the bath products are L’Occitaine.

The incredible shower.

Turn down comes with chocolate chip cookies, and check in comes with these delightful chocolate dipped marshmallows.

They really want you to be fatties here.

I already wrote about the delicious dinner at Sea Glass, but the restaurant also serves a phenomenal breakfast…

including omelette with seasonal vegetables, fantastic corned beef hash with organic eggs, and some of the best English muffins on the planet, home-baked and tender crumbed.

The hotel extends the first rate experience with its day spa,

offering luxurious treatments in its jewel box of a spa, small but exquisitely appointed. There are separate men’s and women’s areas with showers, locker rooms, steam rooms, and a fabulous Kohler shower with many different heads to give a shower experience like none other.

Even if you don’t have a treatment booked here, come relax in the sanctuary. This quite room is appointed with magazines, plush chairs, and refreshments, perfect for grabbing a quiet moment to yourself.

The treatments here are excellent, with enough personal attention to ensure that your masseuse is not giving you some standard treatment, but really listening to what you want and making sure you end your treatment relaxed and rejuvenated.

The whole hotel is about grabbing a moment to yourself. It is truly so luxurious that it’s hard to believe how at home you feel, thanks in large part to the staff. Not at all pretentious or hoity-toity, every person we ment, from bellman to server, was not only kind and helpful, but genuinely interested in making our stay interesting. Everyone wanted to take pictures for us to commemorate our trip, suggested restaurants where we should dine, and had something to say about the rest of our itinerary. No request was too small, no detail was overlooked. This isn’t a place for someone who wants to feel lost in the shuffle, it’s the place for someone who wants to feel valued and part of they Inn by the Sea family.

This hotel is as luxe as any Park Hyatt, as personal as staying at an old friend’s house, and as romantic as you could possibly imagine. From the sumptuous bedrooms to the outstanding service to the fact that the Inn really cares about protecting the environment, this is a hotel that I plan to stay at again and again.

Like I said…a litte slice of awesome.

*Disclaimer: I received a press rate to stay at this hotel. I was not required to post about it, received no compensation, and the opinions are my own and, I feel, unbiased.*

Sea Glass Restaurant

A dinner in Portland Maine has many options. This bustling coastal city has everything from nationally recognized sushi restaurants to tiny lobster shacks, with dining choices that span every flavor of the globe at many different price points. With so many choices, it seems counter intuitive to dine at a hotel. Hotel food brings to mind overcooked prime rib and iceberg salads drowning in salty balsamic dressing.

This is the restaurant that breaks the mold.

Sea Glass restaurant in Cape Elizabeth’s Inn by the Sea is a seasonally focused restaurant that works with both nearby farmers and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute to serve food that is not only delicious but also sustainable and indigenous to the region. The restaurant is an oasis of calm from the moment you enter. The small dining room is quintessentially Maine – casual, slightly rustic, exceedingly comfortable. Nonetheless, the restaurant’s excellent waitstaff and attention to detail lends the restaurant an air of calm elegance.

Watermelon, feta and balsamic glaze

This amuse bouche, while not exactly innovative, does just what a first bite should do – it whets the appetite, sparks the tastebuds, and makes the diner excited for the impending meal. Sweet, salty, and tangy, this is a combination that really works well as a first taste.

Maine lobster bisque with sherry cream and herb oil

One of the best soups I have had in recent memory. The broth is creamy without being gloppy or stiff – there are minimal thickeners here, which allows the flavor of the lobster to truly shine. This is even more lobster-y than eating a lobster whole, because the boiled shells release all of the deep flavor in the long cooked stock. The soup is incredibly deep, with both the taste of the sea and the sweet, nutty taste of sherry. The herb oil, fragrant with the licorice-y scent of tarragon, adds to the aromatics of the soup.

Gulf of Maine seafood and lobster paella with chorizo

Less of a paella and more of a paella-influenced rice, this is a standout dish. Though it lacks the soccarat of a true paella, the rice is creamy and heady with saffron. Juicy peas and spicy chorizo play off the floral scent of the saffron, enriching the rice and layering the flavor. Sweet mussels, tender calamari, tiny shrimp, and buttery lobster are prevalent and well cooked. Tje only item that is overcooked were the clams, which are a bit rubbery. Regardless, this is an excellent dish, and one that I would order again.

Hand rolled ricotta gnocchi with truffle oil, parmesan, spinach, and roasted mushrooms

These gnocchi are different than the usual fluffy potato dumplings, because they are made with – you guessed it – ricotta as the main ingredient. As such, these are incredibly creamy and pleasantly dense. These dumplings, each a slightly different shape, come bathed in a creamy sauce that is accented by wilted spinach, nutty parmesan cheese, and a variety of roasted mushrooms. The mushrooms are really a standout – woodear, shiitake, and other mushrooms all collide in the dish, bringing earthy and woodsy flavors to the gnocchi. This really speaks to the restaurant’s dedication to using seasonal and indigenous produce – the taste is incredible and the fact that it is sustainable makes this a guilt free indulgence.

Peanut buster parfait with caramelized bananas, peanut butter and vanilla gelato, hot fudge, and honey roasted peanuts

A nostalgic and delicious dessert. How could anyone not love this? It’s a classy peanut butter cup  with creamy gelato, fudgy sauce, crunchy peanuts, and bananas covered in a crunchy sheath of caramelized sugar. Anyone who doesn’t like this really doesn’t know how to enjoy life.

And one thing that Sea Glass can help a diner do is enjoy life. The food here is not just good for hotel food, it is fantastic for any food. The seafood is of particular note, incredibly fresh with unique seasonings and preparations. The food tastes like fine dining, but the sweet service and casual atmosphere helps you feel as if you are a guest in someones fabulous summer home. The prices are on the pricier side, but are a bargain for the food, the portions, and the gorgeous atmosphere.

Count Sea Glass among your best options for Portland dining.

*Disclaimer: My meal was paid for by the restaurant. I was not required to write about the experience, and my opinions are my own, and, I feel, unbiased.*

Sea Glass Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Bob’s Clam Hut – Fantastic Fried Food in Kittery

Driving from NYC to Maine, there are 3 things anyone in a car with me can count on:

1. Showtunes will be sung

2. Speed limits will serve as a gentle guideline, not a hard and fast rule

3. We will stop at Bob’s Clam Hut for fried whole belly clams.

via

Bob’s, around since 1956, is literally on the side of the highway – if you can call route 1 in Maine a highway. Really, it’s more of a slow-paced thoroughfare connecting the many outlet malls for which Kittery is known. Bob’s is well known in Maine, and has even been featured on Diners, Drive ins, and Dives on the Food Network.  Bob’s serves all sorts of roadstop food – soft serve, chicken nuggets, french fries – but you come here for the fried fish, served with Bob’s insanely delicious tartar sauce. The seafood here is so fresh that if they don’t like what they see that day from their vendors, they simply don’t serve it.

Bob’s is kitschy and super casual – the kind of place where you order at the front counter, take a few paper napkins, then dine underneath fish mobiles in a large, extremely casual dining room. Be prepared to dine with lots of kids, a few senior citizens, college kids on lunch breaks from working at the outlet malls…kinda the whole kit and caboodle here. Though the place can get busy around peak times in the summer, the food comes quickly and the order is never wrong.

Lobster stew

My fist time trying this, and I take full responsibility for not liking it. This is a roadside fried food stand, why the heck would I get lobster stew? This was just lacking in flavor – not enough salt, enough lobster flavor, or enough flavor in general. The texture is good, but texture does not a soup make.  No matter, I know why I come here.

Fried whole belly clams with tartar sauce

Whatever you do, get these. Do not get the Lillian style fried clams, which come with a fluffy, bready batter. You want these suckers, the original way. A crunchy coating snapping between your teeth to give way to clams so fresh and creamy that they may make you weep. The clams are sweet and tender, never rubbery. The best thing is that this has just the right amount of grease – you don’t want your fingers sopping in oil, but come on…it’s a road trip…you want to know you are eating indulgently, right?! The only thing it needs is a generous swipe of tartar sauce, the best tartar sauce on the planet. Very thick and rich, with just the right amount of tanginess to cut through the grease of the fried food. You will need at least 2 containers for an order of fried clams, and if you are smart, you will get a pint to go. Order the zesty waffle  fries for a minimal upcharge  that bring this meal to the next level. You can also get fried scallops, oysters, or haddock, which are all delicious, but he clams are really not to be beat.

Bob’s is just the best. It hasn’t changed in over 50 years, nor should it. It’s the perfect mixture of fair prices, great atmosphere, and totally phenomenal food. Best of all, it’s open year round, so you can always get your fix.

On your way out, it’s nice to grab a soft serve for the rest of the drive. If for no other reason, then to apologize in advance for singing the entire score of Les Miserables until you get back home.

What, that’s just me?

Bob's Clam Hut on Urbanspoon

Duckfat – Caramel Milkshakes and More

The first rule of traveling is that if you run across a restaurant that specializes in French fries, you must patronize it.

The second rule is, don’t pack matches in your carry-on unless you want to be extensively strip searched.

Duckfat is well known for its gastropub fare centered around its namesake – duck fat. Almost everything here has duck in some form, from gourmet charcuterie to seasonal salads to even dessert. What they are especially famous for are their duck fat fries.

Duckfat is a tiny restaurant with 2 communal tables and some counter seating, so try to go there just before or just after lunch to avoid any waits. Though it’s small, it feels comfortable and exciting, with staff bustling around serving duck fat infused snacks all over the place.

Duck fat caramel milkshake

You read that right. Caramel made with duck fat. In a milkshake. A thick but not icy vanilla milkshake, light and fragrant, shot through with gooey ribbons of duck fat caramel. Teh texture of the caramel is gooey and stretchy, like a Caramello candy bar. It stays suspended in the shake, coming up in unexpected spurts in the straw. The taste of the caramel is shockingly complex – at first it has the incredibly sweet taste of burnt sugar, then it quickly mellows out to a buttery, smooth taste. The final taste is somewhat salty and almost earthy from the duck fat. This is one indulgent milkshake, and one that is best split between two people.

Poutine with duck gravy

If french fries are the king of all foods, poutine is the pope. Of course I had to order it here. Unfortunately, I was a bit let down. The curds aren’t melted enough and though the gravy is delicious – smooth, peppery, pleasantly gamey, and incredibly savory – it was not distributed well. We had to dig to the bottom of the bowl to really get any gravy. The fries, however, are sensational. Medium thickness, hand cut, crunchy without and fluffy within. Salted with restraint so the pure potato taste comes through, and with the lingering savory taste of duck fat. Duck fat fries really are the best  - so rich, so satisfying, so totally delicious. Next time, I would get them with a side of the zesty Thai chile aioli.

Duck Fat is a great stop in Portland for an afternoon pick-me-up. I only wish I had been hungry enough to try one of the delicious-sounding paninis. The service is relaxed, but not frustratingly slow – just in keeping with the laid back atmosphere of the eatery. The prices are fair, the portions are huge, and the food is really fantastic.

Now you remember how to follow the first rule of traveling.

Duck Fat on Urbanspoon