GEORGE

If you are enjoying the Samoset Resort’s ice bar this weekend, lucky you! If not, there’s still opportunity to do that next weekend. For two weekends every January, the Samoset features this amazing structure and display, chiseled from 50,000 pounds of ice, and you really have to see it to believe it.

Unfortunately for us, we were unable to get there on those weekends this year, but we did spend two nights at this favorite place earlier in the month. Open only on weekends in the winter, the Samoset offers special packages that make this a great place for a winter escape.

We did slip away one evening for a special dining experience at 40 Paper in Camden. The owners, Josh Hixson, a chef, and his wife, Tara Barker, the baker, also own 3 Crow in Rockland, a tapas restaurant we enjoyed and wrote about last March.

40 Paper is a different establishment, with a popular bar and an elegant restaurant featuring creative Italian food.

We were blessed by our server, Brye, who is also the floor manager. She’s worked here since the restaurant opened four and a half years ago and was both super-friendly and helpful in explaining the complicated menu. Truthfully, I wanted to order everything.

And yes, that includes wine, because their lengthy list of quality wines is inviting. We stuck with our favorite, a Chianti Classico, reasonably priced at $29. And I must say, for the high quality of the food and experience here, the prices are low.

Our daughter, Rebekah, and son-in-law Patrick joined us, giving us a great opportunity to try a lot of dishes. When Brye said the local mussels ($11) are a popular antipasto, I was hooked. They were perfectly prepared, soft and tasty, with a delicious lemon broth. The portion was generous.

Most of the Primis offer small and large portions, which is nice. We found that the larger portions were sized just right for us. So many restaurants send out a pile of food that you can’t possibly eat. I think 40 Paper is wise to offer reasonable portions, so that their prices can remain reasonable as well.

After Linda and Brye explained what bucatini carbonara ($18) with guanciale is, and Linda assured me I would like it, I ordered it. It came with roasted tomato, peas and arugula. That peppery arugula topping lightened up the dish very nicely. And Linda was right. I loved it.

The bar is a popular place for after-work drinks and appetizers. A good excuse to go back soon!

LINDA

40 Paper is located in part of the old MBNA building in Camden. The space has been transformed into an inviting, chic restaurant. The bar area is located up front, and there are three dining areas for dinner. We were seated at a table for four in a quiet corner. The beautifully set table was enhanced by an overhead fixture made of wine bottles and soft lights.

I had perused the menu online and already had a pretty good idea of what I was ordering. So while others were trying to decide, I started on the thin baguette slices served with a soft herbed butter. I found myself continuing to eat them through the entree course once they replenished our supply. They were awesome.

The stuffed baby artichokes were calling my name. Filled with goat cheese and sprinkled with prosciutto, this appetizer was crispy outside and creamy inside. Rebekah and I shared this appetizer and we both deemed it spectacular.

Chef Patrick Dean sent out a sampling of calamari. I don’t think I have ever seen calamari on a menu unless it was deep-fried. Here, it is grilled and served with cannellini beans and arugula. It, too, was nice. The chef also sent another sample out, this being the squash bisque. It was creamy, flavored with local honey and garnished with caramelized apple. We all loved it.

Brye explained that the small plate ($11) had four ravioli, while the entree size ($18) had eight, which was just right for me. The ravioli dish here is one of the favorites, and I see why. Rebekah and I both ordered the spinach and ricotta version while Patrick got the wild mushroom version. The sauces make these housemade ravioli stand out. My dish came in a brown butter sage sauce with strips of crispy prosciutto. Mmmmmm. Patrick also raved about his tomato cream sauce.

Tara makes all the desserts and her menu is creative. Titles such as “semifreddo” and “affogato” had us stumped, but Brye helped us out. We ended up splitting the almond custard with cranberry compote and a white chocolate-cranberry biscotti. Creamy custard, crunchy slivered almonds and the tart compote balanced well.

We also got the Chocolate Raspberry Clafoutis, (a French baked custard that is firm around the edges but sticky and gooey in the middle). This one was topped with vanilla bean gelato and raspberry sauce. It was really amazing, and we probably should have had more than one. George didn’t share very well. Gelato and chocolate. I should have known.

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


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