A special Chef’s Table Dinner was our excuse to return to our favorite Bar Harbor Inn — the Bluenose — and the dinner at the inn’s Looking Glass Restaurant was exceptional. But so is everything else at this resort with its stunning ocean views, gorgeous rooms, fabulous customer service and amenities and one of the state’s top chefs, Arturo Montes.
Jim Ash, the inn’s manager and co-owner (with Bangor’s Lafayette family), takes hospitality seriously. He tries to meet all the guests and help them make the most of their Bar Harbor experience.
Jim told us a delightful story about recently encountering a group of 10 guests from Beijing, China. After discovering they had no plans, he directed them to the Lulu Lobster Boat Ride, partly because the Lulu’s Captain John speaks Mandarin. Now that’s customer service!
We love small inns where the owners live on site, able to interact with guests. Jim does that too, even though his inn is much larger — but of course, he does live on the inn’s fourth floor!
From the bottles of our favorite Fiori oils given to each guest at check-in, to the evening performances in the lounge by pianist Bill Trowell (who has been playing here for 16 years), to the astonishing attention from the staff to every detail of your visit, after one stay here, you’ll put the Bluenose at the top of your list of Maine’s best places.
But this column is about the elegant feast put together by Chef Montes for a table of eight guests. These Chef’s Table Dinners are offered once a month and are limited to no more than 12 diners. You’ve still got time to experience this on Aug. 17, Sept. 21 or Oct. 19.
We began what turned out to be a four-hour dining adventure by gathering for drinks on the restaurant’s new deck, looking out over the harbor. While admiring the Deer Isle granite surrounding the fire pit, I was astonished to hear Jim say that the building permit for the new deck cost more than the construction!
Dinner guests included a local food writer, a couple from nearby Somesville and a young Portland couple celebrating their 10th anniversary. Jim Ash joined us for the evening of lively conversation with lots of laughs.
Moving inside to a long beautifully set table for the dinner, I encounter more utensils than I’ve ever seen at a place setting. I ended up using about half of them. And that’s good for me!
Nancy, our server, introduced each course and accompanying wine with a brief explanation. Jim is a wine connoisseur, and had chosen amazing wines for us — including one extremely expensive Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon that was in the restaurant’s wine cellar when the Lafayettes purchased, renovated and renamed it four years ago. It was probably the best (and certainly the most expensive) wine I’ve ever enjoyed.
The appetizer, a chilled strawberry soup, was gorgeously presented in the hollowed-out peel of an orange, and came with a Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine. After our wine dinner last month at the Tavern at Brunswick Station, featuring Napa Valley’s Schramsberg winery, we’ve become big fans.
After a very tasty salad from the restaurant’s vegetable garden, out came a blueberry-basil sorbet, made right there. I agreed with one guest’s assessment: “I don’t know that I’ve ever had a better sorbet!”
Conversation was brisk, covering everything from childbirth to the Red Sox (after all, we were a cosmopolitan crowd), topped by Jim’s story of hosting Ted Williams at the Samoset Resort when he owned it.
It was especially fun to eat with other foodies, people who know and enjoy great food and wine. I’m learning a lot!
Our two entrees were extraordinary and caused one guest to express his surprise: “I thought we’d have to choose one entrée!” And the tray of mini desserts was a wondrous sight. My chocolate mousse was to-die-for.
Linda and I sauntered (she forbids me to say staggered) down the hill to our room on the top floor of the inn, knowing we’d just experienced one of the greatest meals of our lives.
I am ashamed to admit that I returned 11 hours later for the Looking Glass’s amazing Eggs Benedict served on a pair of very tasty crabcakes. And I ate every bit of it!
The Bluenose Inn and its restaurant, The Looking Glass, define forward thinking. When Jim Ash told us that they were working on an organic vegetable garden for the restaurant, I certainly couldn’t envision what actually happened.
When George and I checked out the new garden just outside the restaurant, my mouth dropped open. Nine new raised beds were chock-a-block full with the healthiest plants I’ve seen all summer.
It certainly makes sense to me that a high-end restaurant would have its own organic garden just outside the door for the freshest of the fresh ingredients. Perhaps this is a trend that is beginning to take hold.
The restaurant’s gardener, Arika, is one of the breakfast servers. Jim not only gets to know his guests, he also knows a great deal about his staff. He hired Arika, a recent graduate of the College of the Atlantic with a major in organic gardening, to take charge of this new garden.
In just three short weeks since planting, spinach, basil, lettuce and huge tomato plants are bursting forth. Arika must be a miracle worker! She claimed her secret was compost tea. (I want some of that compost!)
When I saw that many tomato plants and a couple rows of basil, I figured the chef must be planning a lot of caprese salads. At this rate they might need ladders to harvest the tomatoes in September.
I took advantage of that fresh spinach by ordering Eggs Benedict Florentine for breakfast. It was amazing. In my opinion, this should have been the original Eggs Benedict instead of the one with Canadian bacon.
We were treated to the garden’s first salad during our Chef’s Table Dinner. It really was a celebration salad, with its variety of crunchy fresh lettuce.
All of the food served that evening was extraordinary. Between courses we were served a blueberry-basil sorbet that was so incredible everyone at the table was talking about it. Its deep color and intense flavor was off the charts.
My favorite dish of the night was the Roasted Stuffed Duck Breast. Once it was placed in front of us, we all made a point to inhale the aroma of the marsala sauce. Whoa. The stuffing included the flavors of summer mozzarella, sun-dried tomato and basil.
The next course was beef tenderloin served with portabella thyme sauce — also unbelievable. The wines for each course were perfectly paired for similar aromas and flavors.
If you love great food and wine, and long for a leisurely meal you will remember for a very long time, this is your place!
IF YOU GO . . .
WHERE: The Looking Glass Restaurant and Bluenose Inn
ON THE WEB: www.barharborhotel.com
PHONE: 288-5663 (restaurant), 800-445-4077 (inn)
Chef’s Table Dinners are Aug. 17, Sept. 21 and Oct. 19.
Visit George’s website: www.georgesmithmaine.com for travel tips, book reviews, outdoor news and more.