George

We had the best view in the state for a morning cup of coffee, enjoyed on the deck of our fourth-floor suite at Bar Harbor’s Bluenose Inn, high on a hill above the town overlooking the open ocean. Of course the Blenose also offers the best view in the state for breakfast and dinner at its hilltop restaurant, the Looking Glass.

But this story begins about 9 p.m. on Friday night, sitting in the lounge where Bill Trowell’s extraordinary piano playing has entertained guests for 18 years. Bill is amazing, and we make sure to spend time enjoying his music whenever we’re in Bar Harbor.

We had stopped by the lounge at 6 p.m. where the co-owner/manager, Jim Ash, the most hospitable man in Maine, spends an hour each evening visiting with guests and serving complimentary wine and cheese. We really feel at home here, thanks to Jim. And so do many other guests. There were visitors from England at one end of the room and Scotland at the other, and I fantasized about getting them together to discuss the vote by Scottish citizens to secede from England. But of course, that would have been wrong!

After dinner at Lompoc Cafe (a story for another column), we got back and settled in to enjoy Bill’s piano playing. We had just gotten through visiting with him and reading his wonderful 10-page “life story” that I am now going to help him turn into a book, when a couple of ladies who were sitting over in the corner got up and came over.

Jody Clark, of Gardiner, a church organist and retired teacher, and her daughter Debbie Susi, recognized us and came over to visit. We talked for about a half hour, thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to get to know them, until 10:30 p.m. approached, about two hours past our usual bedtime.

As we walked up the stairs to our room, I said to Linda, “Isn’t it a small world here in Maine.” She agreed. She actually knows one of Jody’s other daughters, who used to teach in our school district.

We also ran into and visited with Matt Kearns and his wife. I’ve known Matt for several years and he told me they were here to celebrate their anniversary. After checking many places in Bar Harbor, they had chosen the Bluenose because of its reasonable prices, a nice package deal that included breakfast and dinner. They told us they were very impressed with the inn and their room.

The next morning, in front of the inn, we saw them again. They’d had a wonderful dinner the night before at the Looking Glass and were now going jogging. We explained that we were getting our exercise by walking the 100 yards up the hill to the Looking Glass!

Breakfast here is extraordinary, and not just because of the view. I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve eaten breakfast at the Looking Glass, but I do know that I’ve had the Crab Cakes Benedict every single time. Our server, Tonya, tried to talk me into the Lobster Benedict, and she did make it sound very enticing, but I had been dreaming of the crab cakes and I remained loyal to them. Boy, that dish is a superb breakfast!

Linda ordered a lighter version of Eggs Benedict made with fresh spinach and raved about it. At one point, the very friendly Tonya walked by our table singing. Now that’s a happy staff member! And we were happy customers.

The Looking Glass is not open for lunch (drats!), but it does provide takeaway lunches for guests who are enjoying a day at Acadia National Park or elsewhere on the island. Guests make their lunch selections and hang the menu on the door of their room, specifying the time they’ll pick the lunch up. There’s even a special menu for kids.

But its dinner that’s the star here, where one of our favorite chefs, Arturo Montez, presides. Jim was anxious for us to try Arturo’s new vegan menu, and that was all the excuse we needed to return here in September. Jim and his wife Diane joined us for dinner, as did my brother Gordon and his wife Janet, in Bar Harbor for a medical association event.

One of the many things we love about the Bluenose is that all of its employees are very friendly, and willing to stop whatever they are doing to visit with or help you. Jenny, our server for dinner, is a recent college graduate who is planning a career in sports and exercise.

Jim takes great interest in the restaurant’s wine selections, and recommended an Adelsheim Pinot Noir wine from Oregon that he discovered at the annual Wine Expo in Boston. It was delicious.

Glancing down the extensive menu, past entree favorites like the Seafood Medley and the Gorgonzola Stuffed Filet Mignon, I was sharply reminded by Linda that we were here to try the vegan dishes. I intended and tried to order the regular Tomato Bisque, but Diane and Linda ordered the vegan version for me. Honestly, I didn’t know this until we were writing this column and Linda told me. But oh boy, is it good!

Reluctantly, I ordered the Curry Vegetable Stew ($26), somewhat mollified by the amazing rolls served with blueberry butter, olive oil, peppercorns and rosemary. Linda chastised me for using the non-vegan butter. I was close to falling off the vegan wagon by that time.

But I had to admit, as I dipped a spoon into the stew — composed of spinach, fresh vegetables and tofu topped with toasted sesame seeds, that it was delicious. Wonderful coconut milk broth, Thai- inspired with curry, lots of vegetables and very filling. I know our vegan readers are always looking for restaurants that offer creative meals for them, and this is definitely the place.

Linda

It is commonplace to expect vegetarian options on restaurant menus today. A couple of decades ago, if you’d chosen that style of diet, our parents’ generation would have told you to “pick the meat out” of the dish they’d prepared, or have made you a salad. They worried frantically that you’d still be hungry. But now many of us choose a meal without meat because elegant, creative vegetarian meals are offered at restaurants.

Fast forward and look at what is happening in today’s food scene. Many people are on gluten-free or vegan diets.. I can imagine that their frustration at the lack of offerings is as high as being a vegetarian when people didn’t understand why you weren’t just eating “regular food.”

The Looking Glass Restaurant in Bar Harbor has recognized this dilemma. Their menu is exemplary due to the number of offerings that are gluten-free or vegan. A note on the top of the lengthy entree page explained that all items except mac and cheese could be ordered gluten free. In addition, many appetizers were gluten free as well.

I personally encountered the vegan challenge when I learned that our two nephews were now eating vegan style — the night before Thanksgiving dinner at my house. Yikes! No meat, no dairy and no eggs. I scrambled and came up with a stuffing they could eat, and was comforted by the salad and all the vegetable dishes that were already in my plans.

When we met with Jim and Diane Ash for lunch this summer, after our trip to Swan’s Island, Jim explained that he had worked with Chef Arturo Montez to provide a new menu which included vegan items. I knew that I was about to learn how creative vegan dishes could be, because their Chef Montez is incredibly talented.

Sure enough, eight vegan appetizers are now on menu. The Stuffed Artichoke was very tempting, but I chose the Roasted Sweet Corn and Potato Chowder. They used coconut milk as a replacement for the dairy component. The chowder was full of potatoes and the fresh flavors of corn, roasted to crunchiness. But it was the intriguing herb flavor that had me guessing. It turned out to be marjoram, which made this soup extraordinary.

Entrees such as Potato and Cabbage Croquette and Mediterranean Stuffed Sweet Pepper were made with vegan cheese. Being a sucker for eggplant, I went with their very unusual version of Eggplant Roulade. Grilled eggplant was stuffed with white bean hummus, wild mushrooms, kale and sweet potato. I also found summer squash, asparagus and carrots in the crunchy vegetable filling. All this was drizzled with an 18-year-old balsamic vinegar, adding another dimension of flavor. The portion size was big and I enjoyed it reheated a couple days later. This was an amazing entree, and I certainly didn’t feel like I was “getting by” by ordering the vegan option. Now if I could just have Chef Montez help me out with Thanksgiving dinner!

I’m not so sure we stayed on the vegan train the whole way, due to the fact that everyone ordered one of their mini desserts. My white chocolate mousse held a surprise of chocolate sauce at the bottom and was great. George’s chocolate mousse was decadent, too. A mini dessert is the perfect solution to craving a little sweet something at the end of a meal.

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed in the “Best of Maine” section.

Join the Travelin’ Maine(rs) for Mystery and a Meal

We’ll be “Cruising for Murder” at the Bluenose Inn on Nov. 7. And you can join us!

You need not worry. You won’t be murdered. But this mystery theater promises to be entertaining. Half the guests get to perform while the other half observe. You can choose to participate in the mystery performance, or not. Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that I signed up to perform while Linda will observe.

The evening includes the Captain’s Cocktail Reception with hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar, starting at 6 p.m. in the Great Room of the inn, where the mystery begins. Halfway through the performance, a dinner is served, including dessert.

But the real dessert comes after that, when the mystery continues and each guest tries to name the murderer. The first to do that wins a very nice prize.

Mary Roberts Rinehart, a famous American mystery writer, ran an inn that once stood where the Looking Glass is now. Perhaps she’ll be there with us in spirit for this mysterious evening.

We would love to see some of the readers of this column join that night. The event costs $75 per person. The inn is offering a special $99 rate for rooms that night. RSVP by Oct. 23 to Liane Wood, Marketing Coordinator, at 288-2665, extension 492.

If you want to join me in the performance (come on, you know this will be fun!) Liane will give you your “character sheet” and some recommended costumes. Yes! We get to wear costumes! I told Liane I was hoping for something in camouflage, but she was not sure that would be appropriate attire for a cruise. Alas, probably not.

As the advertisement of this event notes, “You will be provided with everything you need for a dramatic and sinuous night of surprises and seafaring scoundrels!” How often do you get to be a scoundrel?!! — George