The message was tempting: “Celebrate all things summer and local overlooking the beautiful wildlife sanctuary and Crescent Beach. Chef Mitch will present a weekly fixed menu that features Maine fare from gardens and sea.”
Having visited Cape Elizabeth’s elegant Inn by the Sea last January and dined at its amazing Sea Glass Restaurant, we thought the advertisement sounded really good. But the Summer Garden Dinner was better than good. It was spectacular!
I didn’t quite know what would be involved in a Summer Garden Dinner, but as it turned out, it was quite literally a dinner set in the garden. Now granted, it was not just any garden. The grounds at the Inn By The Sea are astounding.
When we visited in January we met Derek Daly, the inn’s gardener. He’d cultivated specific plants to attract birds in the winter and we were both excited to see a large flock of bluebirds feasting on the bush’s berries. Even the waitresses told us we must come back in the summer because the gardens were so incredibly beautiful.
Now that it’s July, the yard is full of color. Patches close to the buildings are blooming, adding splashes of color to the gray façade of the inn. Small gardens accent walkways, and sitting areas are tucked near the riot of color. And this is where we found our table — complete with a white tablecloth, potted herbs and candles — set for two.
When there are more people for this dinner, they sit at a long farmer’s-style table right on the lawn, still affording a view of the gardens. But tonight it turns out to be just George and I, and we sit down to enjoy the surreal experience of being doted on by our fantastic server, Chris Reiling. Chris actually picked the cherry tomatoes and basil that was incorporated into our meal.
A Summer Garden Dinner includes frequent visits from the chef. Chef Mitchell Kaldrovich, a native of Argentina, came out between courses to tell us about our food. With his charming accent, he carefully explained how he has prepared each course. For someone who enjoys watching cooking shows on the Food Network, this was an extremely cool experience.
I’ll tell you about the first and last course, and let George fill you in on the two middle courses. I doubt anyone enjoys fresh tomatoes more than me, so Chef Kaldrovich had me at the start — a duo of local tomatoes. A mini caprese salad of red and yellow tomatoes layered with fresh mozzarella and basil was paired with a most amazing gazpacho served in a glass. That first course was exactly what garden season is all about.
We finished our meal with a Chocolate Mousse Cake. Now I don’t really enjoy cake, but with a mousse layer atop a small slice of cake, served with raspberry sauce and a small scoop of strawberry sorbet, this was simply incredible.
The creativity of this kitchen, along with a topnotch knowledgeable staff, makes dining at the Sea Glass restaurant a memorable experience. The Summer Garden Dinner celebrates food at its freshest, and is a dinner you will remember for a very long time.
“Now that’s a nice idea.” That comment, from a guest of the inn who walked past our table as Lin and I were dining among the flower gardens, summed up our experience — well, very nicely.
We started out with a blueberry martini — shared — and enjoyed a glass of Sangria each during dinner — nice, cool and full of fresh fruit. We gazed at the sea, indulged in long discussions with the chef and our server about the food, and felt pampered and special — just what you’d want and expect when you reserve a place at one of these wine, garden and chef’s dinners. This is an experience far beyond simple dining at a fine restaurant.
Given that the Sea Glass is one of the top restaurants in the state, and Chef Kaldrovich is recognized nationally, we knew the meal would be special. But the experience of eating outside — with a menu focused on fresh local foods plus our own dedicated server — and the chance to talk with Chef Kaldrovich about each course, was amazing. As was the food.
Our second course, pan-roasted local Pollock, came with a story. Chef Kaldrovich joined three other Portland chefs to collaborate with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and local fishermen to identify five underutilized species for their menus, one of which is Pollock. According to Rauni Kew, the inn’s marketing director, the project has now attracted 29 restaurants and Hannaford Supermarkets as participants.
This was not the small bony Pollock I remember catching and eating as a kid. Chef tells us the Pollock was big, and he used his arms — angler style — to show how big. I sure never caught a Pollock that big! Nor did I ever eat Pollock that tasted that good.
The accompanying lobster mango salsa, ladled on top of the fish, really made the dish special. Instead of potatoes, rice or grains, Chef always uses corn for his starch with fish, in this case a delicious corn succotash.
The entrée course was spice-roasted duck breast with blueberry sauce, grilled polenta and bok choy from the nearby Green Spark Farm. The duck was amazing, rare on the inside, with the fat left on and crusted black on the outside. Chef said he fried it on only one side for 7 minutes, then flipped it over and popped it in a super hot oven for five minutes.
He said his grandmother was Italian, so he loved to cook polenta. Linda informed me that polenta is corn meal mush — a chilled pudding. It was very good. Who knew I liked polenta?
We’ve noticed that one sign of a confident chef is a table with no salt and pepper shakers. We didn’t need them.
And Linda forgot to tell you about the grilled strawberries that came with the dessert — unique and wonderful. She also didn’t tell you that she forbade me from licking the plate. Sad, but true.
We arrived early for a tour with Rauni of the inn’s 10 jaw-dropping beautiful new one- and two-bedroom Beach Suites, enjoyed a dining experience we’ll never forget and lingered until a gorgeous sunset indicated it was time to head home. Finest kind.
IF YOU GO . . .
Sea Glass Restaurant
WHERE: Inn by the Sea
ON THE WEB: www.InnbytheSea.com
WHEN: Chef’s $70-per-person Summer Garden Dinners are offered every Wednesday night through August 29.
Reservations are required.
Visit George’s website: www.georgesmithmaine.com for travel tips, book reviews, outdoor news and more.