George

Five minutes after we entered the Thomas Moser room at the Harraseeket Inn, I told Linda I was ready to write this column. While a Saturday night dinner and Sunday brunch were ahead, I could easily have written the entire column about our room featuring 14 stunningly beautiful pieces of furniture from Maine’s own Thomas Moser.

And every piece was available for purchase! Of course, we would have had to sell our house to afford it all, and then where would we have put it? But it sure was nice to luxuriate in this beautiful room for a weekend.

The Harraseeket delivers luxury along with fine dining at very affordable prices. And the inn’s package deals make it even more so. Families are especially welcome during school vacation weeks. The kids love the indoor pool.

But we were here to enjoy February’s Maine Harvest Game Festival in the Maine Dining Room. What a feast! Every year, during the month of February, the inn features a special game menu. This year, Executive Chef Tony Mains created a completely new menu, and we were having difficulty making our choices until Tony came out to help us.

He’s been cooking here for three years, and was promoted to executive chef 10 months ago. Given that he’s an avid hunter, I was pretty sure he knew some good game recipes. And I was right. He recommended the antelope for me and the squab for Linda.

Our server, Carlos, has been working here since 1991 — something we also appreciate at the Harraseeket. The staff loves working for the Gray family, and tends to stay here for long periods of time. We were pleasantly surprised to find one relatively new staffer, Jessica McCormick, a young lady who grew up in Readfield and who came over to our table to say hi when she heard us mention that we live in neighboring Mount Vernon. Jessica is the new person in the dining room — even though she’s been working here for three years.

I began dinner with the Roasted Bandera Quail, prepared with wilted greens, wild mushrooms and Marsala wine sauce. It was a beautiful presentation. The quail was perfectly cooked and I really loved the mushrooms and sauce. There was no sauce left on my plate when Carlos cleared it. No, I did not lick it. I used the bread for that purpose!

While I’ve never hunted antelope, I have admired them sprinting across fields in the western states and Saskatchewan. And I need to tell you that none of the animals on the menu here are wild — that would be illegal. These are farm-raised animals.

And the menu is not all meat. The Vegetarian pot pie was a popular item, and the Seafood Sampler delivered to a nearby table in a huge glass was a work of art. Boy, I wanted that! It looked soooo good.

But I’d already ordered the antelope. When it arrived, I quickly forgot about seafood. The chop was large and thick — more steak than chop, really — and delivered with mustard spaetzle, poached pear, brocollini and mead-spiced bordelaise.

The eat-little-meat wife sharing my table kept demanding pieces of my steak, so fortunately there was plenty to share. In return, I got to nibble on the bones of her squab.

Linda explained that spaetzle is usually bland, but the mustard elevated it. And rather than simply boiled, Lin thought it must have also been pan-fried with the mustard. After explaining all of this, Lin exclaimed, “And what would you do without your wife?” Well, I wouldn’t be much of a travel writer!

I really admire the inn’s commitment to good environmental practices and the restaurant’s partnership with Maine farms. The back page of the menu listed dozens of Maine farms and vendors, including many from central Maine.

Carlos delivered the dessert menu while Linda was lecturing me that we could only order one. But I tricked her. This is one of the few restaurants that feature at-the-table preparation of some dishes, and there were four desserts on that list. I ordered the Jamaican Bananas, without specifying for two, knowing that’s what they’d prepare. And they did!

The flaming performance was very entertaining. The fresh-sliced bananas, Tia Maria and Canadian pecans, flamed with Myers dark rum, and served on homemade vanilla ice cream — well, just the description still makes me smile. I noticed Linda ate all of hers.

Back in our room, we enjoyed the wood fire — and where can you find real wood fires at inns these days? It reminded us of home. And we do feel at home at the Harraseeket. With or without the elegant furniture.

Linda

The Harraseeket Inn is only an hour from our house, but the style in which our Thomas Moser room was decorated was several decades ahead of our abode. In Mount Vernon, our furniture is anything but coordinated or stylish. So it was a great treat to stay in this lovely room at the Harraseeket, where the decor is modern elegance.

I love the sleek lines of design that are distinctly Thomas Moser. It reminds me of the simplicity of Shaker furniture, made with the same attention to detail. I also love the idea of handcrafted furniture because it is such a work of art. The curved lines in some of the chairs give that modern feel, but this is furniture built to be used and to last for a lifetime. I do not feel like one of these chairs might break as I do when I sit in antique pieces.

The color scheme of our room was shades of gray with accents of brown. Luxurious draperies and wooden doors that slid open on wrought-iron tracks lent an urban feel. And the stylish white bathroom included a Jacuzzi tub (where the water was beautifully blue), heat lamps and plush towels. I remarked that it felt more like an elegant apartment than a room at an inn.

A handwritten welcome note, bottle of wine and fruit and cheese plate welcomed us. The wood fireplace was set to go with the light of a match, which we did after a wonderful dinner.

I enjoyed meeting chef Tony Mains, and noticed that he checks in at all tables to see if everything meets diners’ expectations. You can hear the pride in his voice at being Harraseeket’s executive chef. He stressed the effort the Grays take in using Maine products. I later read on the menu that they buy Maine products to support the Maine farmer. “Maine is a special place and we want to keep it that way.”

An amuse bouche of orange fennel crab salad on cucumber started this memorable meal. The fresh flavors made a delectable bite. A bread basket arrived and under two varieties of house-made bread I discovered gold in the form of a cracker. The thin and crisp cracker with caraway seeds and salt was incredible and was, of course, made here.

I selected the Winter Salad as a starter because I have never seen one remotely like it on a menu before. Freshly prepared chickpeas were combined with shaved fennel, black and green olives and wheat berries. Diced roasted vegetables and a tahini dressing finished off the dish. It’s not often that a salad has a tempting aroma, but this one certainly did! These were classic Mediterranean flavors highlighted in the best way possible.

Choices of entrees ranged from boar and buffalo to quail and seafood. There was also a vegetarian option of Wild Mushroom Pot Pie. I selected the squab, something new for me. The squab was enhanced with a very special Lingonberry-Chipotle sauce. Each item on the dishes here has been given careful consideration, and the fresh spinach and nicely roasted baby potatoes were every bit as good as the main feature.

While the game menu is only served in February, the dinner menu here is always creative and meals are memorable, no matter the time of year.

The Harraseeket Inn offers pampering in all forms — afternoon tea, incredible food and sincere service. It is the perfect place for a getaway — and I didn’t even mention L.L. Bean and all the other shops just down the street!

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.

Sunday brunch, weekday lunch and conferences

In 2011 we spent the year searching for the best brunches and, before we started, Chip Gray told me the Harraseeket would be number one. And he was right. Brunch here is an extraordinary feast for the very reasonable price of $29.95.

We’re going to do another favorite brunches column again this year, so if you have a favorite place for brunch, let us know (email georgesmithmaine.com or mail to 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352).

We had no opportunity this trip to have lunch at the Harraseeket’s Broad Arrow Tavern, but it’s a big favorite of mine. Over the years I’ve eaten here dozens of times, especially enjoying the wonderful array of foods in the lunch buffet, from mussels to pizza. And the desserts are always special, too.

I’ve also attended and organized conferences and banquets here. The inn has a variety of conference spaces including a gorgeous board room and a very nice outdoor courtyard.

Carol Ford, of Cranberry Island Kitchens in Portland, once told me, “I would go to a conference on watching paint dry if it included lunch at the Harraseeket.”

Me, too!


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