Regular readers of this column know that Linda and I are big fans of the Lafayette inns throughout the state. This Bangor family attracts top staff, focuses on customer comfort and service and owns inns that are both conveniently located and remarkable — from their Fireside Inns to our personal favorite, Bar Harbor’s BlueNose Inn.

George

Regular readers of this column know that Linda and I are big fans of the Lafayette inns throughout the state. This Bangor family attracts top staff, focuses on customer comfort and service and owns inns that are both conveniently located and remarkable — from their Fireside Inns to our personal favorite, Bar Harbor’s BlueNose Inn.

And that’s where today’s column begins, because Chef Arturo Montes, who presides over the Looking Glass restaurant at the BlueNose Inn from spring to fall, has served us delicious, creative and memorable meals during our visits there.

So when Brock Bradford (Lafayette’s manager of several properties, including the Black Bear Inn in Orono) told us that Montes was cooking this winter at the Black Bear and invited us to his first Chef’s Table dinner, it was a very easy decision.

The dinner was amazing, as expected, from the decorations in the intimate dining room to the seven-course, three-hour feast. Seated with a local couple, Brent Hartley and Cathy McKay, we enjoyed a delightful evening. Brock was a great host, Montes cooked up a storm and the conversation with Brent and Cathy made the three hours pass very quickly. In fact, when the dinner ended, Linda asked me what time I thought it was, and I guessed 9 p.m. — it was actually 10 p.m.

Linda

George and I tend to have very low-key New Year’s Eve celebrations, usually staying home. But this year Chef Montes drew us out for a truly memorable evening. The small restaurant at Black Bear Inn had been transformed into an elegant space — beautifully prepared with white linens, lots of tableware, lights and greenery.

I thought I would never come to enjoy scallops, but Chef Montes’ first course of sesame crusted scallops won me over (much to George’s disappointment). The combination of perfectly cooked small scallops, bathed in a soy/sesame dressing, balanced well with grapefruit.

The fruity white wine served with this course paired perfectly. It may have been my favorite dish of the evening, but there were many other contenders.

I’d like to know what that savory spice was that made the winter squash soup so tasty. It was the best squash soup I’d ever had. A salad of baby arugula, fresh pears and goat cheese was incredible. Then, a house-made blueberry sorbet won us all over. I hope Brent was listening when Cathy mentioned that this sorbet was what she’d like for Valentine’s Day.

Let me pause here to say that one can eat this much food only due to the timing of the courses. I will also say that, though I finished my first three courses, there was no way I could finish each plate after that. But I enjoyed every mouthful to be sure. A leisurely pace with pleasant conversation had us dining for three hours.

This incredible meal continued with a plate of three seafood crepes. I loved the shrimp crepe and George said the salmon and the lobster crepes were equally as good. The vegetables with this were perfectly prepared. Cathy and I agreed that we could make a meal of these veggies.

The four of us were unanimous that the pepper-crusted beef tenderloin was incredible. Extremely tender beef was topped with a demi glace that included blue cheese. Whoa. Montes included a squash-stuffed squash — sort of summer meets winter — with whipped winter squash served in a summer squash. Very creative.

Each and every course was paired with wonderful wine. George and I loved the Paso Robles San Juliette Petite Sirah. It was a match made in heaven with the beef.

This really was an incredible meal. Chef Montes shyly stepped out at the end of the evening, to sustained applause, and was almost blushing at the diners’ praises. One young man told Montes he didn’t eat seafood, but had totally cleaned his seafood crepes plate. George and I knew Montes made another convert too, for now I am a scallop lover.

George

It was impossible to choose a favorite course, but the tenderloin triumphed for me, the loin cooked perfectly (rare) and smothered in a delicious blue cheese demi glaze. The 18-year balsamic dressing on the salad mix of four of my favorite ingredients –arugula, goat cheese, walnuts and pears — was very good.

The sorbet was a wonderful interlude served mid-dinner, so good that we managed to take home two pints of it.

I was counting on the opportunity to eat Lin’s scallops. When I glanced casually sideways and saw she’d eaten every one of them, I was astonished. But I’m no longer disappointed because now, at home, as I finish writing this column, she’s in the kitchen making this dish! My dream has come true!

I am not a dessert wine guy, but the La Clotte Sauternes — with its chocolate after-taste — was superb.

I’ve attended many conferences and events at the Black Bear Inn over the years. They have 7,600 square feet of conference and event space, serve good meals and are handy to the interstate and the University of Maine.

But I didn’t know until this trip that the Lafayettes owned it. The Black Bear Inn was their second hotel (and the only one they built) of their 25 Maine hotels and resorts. They also own three New Hampshire resorts and a Michigan hotel.

We stayed overnight at the inn, and I noticed as soon as we entered our large room — with all the amenities we’ve come to expect from the Lafayettes — that Montes has had an immediate impact on not only the dinner menu, but on all the food served there.

Picking up the room-service menu, I was surprised to see his spicy crab cakes listed. In 2011, we conducted a year-long search for the best crab cakes in Maine and judged Montes’ crab cakes the best. For every breakfast I’ve enjoyed at the Looking Glass, I ordered his crab cakes benedict. Unbelievable.

Conclusion

If you are anywhere near Bangor and Orono this winter, do not miss the chance to taste the food of Arturo Montes. It’s astonishing to us that he’s cooking right now for a tiny dining room that seats only about 20 people, sort of like having him cook for you in your home.

And we noticed, on the regular dinner menu, an entrée of Grilled Beef Tenderloin Marsala, our favorite course at Montes’s Chef’s Table dinner that we enjoyed last summer at the Looking Glass. It’s worth the drive to Orono.

IF YOU GO

WHERE: Black Bear Inn, Conference Center & Suites
ADDRESS: 4 Godfrey Drive, Orono (just off the Old Town I-95 exit)
ON THE WEB: www.blackbearinnorono.com
PHONE: 866-7120
HOURS: Dinner served 5 to 8 p.m. every night but Sunday. Reservations recommended.

Visit George’s website: www.georgesmithmaine.com for travel tips, book reviews, outdoor news and more.