George

Lots of families with kids were enjoying the Samoset Resort with us on a cold January weekend. And it’s easy to understand why, from the indoor playground and swimming pool to the ice rink to the comfortable rooms.

We scheduled our visit to coincide with Sunday afternoon’s Pies on Parade fundraiser for the local food bank. With savory and sweet pies in 25 locations around Rockland, I don’t have to tell you why I love this event. This year I didn’t get beyond 11 places before I just could not eat another bite.

There’s a lot to love at the Samoset, too, from the stunning ocean view from our room, to the wonderful walk Linda and I enjoyed one morning around the oceanside golf course, to relaxing in the Jacuzzi, this is a spectacular place for a special getaway.

La Bella Vita, the Samoset’s restaurant, has become one of our favorites, often transporting us back to Tuscany with their Italian cuisine. A heavy book contains the extensive menu, with a wonderful message: “For Italians, food is life. And life is food.” For me, too!

Head chef Tim Pierce and his team deliver Italy to your table in many dishes. While I pleaded for the large serving ($24) of pappardelle Farnese, Linda insisted I order the small portion ($14). It’s a good thing she did. I was only able to eat half it. This dish of braised short rib ragu, slow-cooked tomato sauce and shaved pecorino cheese is my favorite entree here.

You can often tell how much I enjoyed a meal by the amount of stains on the tablecloth and/or my shirt. Let’s just say the white tablecloth was very colorful by the time I finished eating.

Our meal matched well with our wine, a Ruffino sangiovese that we first enjoyed at an anniversary dinner in Maine, and the next year in Italy.

As we headed up to our room after dinner, I remembered something else in the menu’s message: “You don’t have to live in Italy to live like an Italian.” So true — if you are staying at the Samoset Resort.

Linda

La Bella Vita Restaurant is a quiet, relaxing place, while the atmosphere in the large bar area is vibrant with many tables of guests enjoying lighter meals, the fireplace and drinks. The low lighting is nice and the tables are spaced far enough apart that you don’t feel like you are bothering other diners.

The tables are beautifully set with white tablecloths and candles. Even the rosemary plant on the table was happy to be here: It was in bloom in January! Our wonderfully cheerful server, Chloe, a college student who has worked here for five years, made our meal even better.

Thank goodness I took Chloe’s suggestion by having the Tuscan salad ($9) — her personal favorite. It was big enough to share: mixed greens, large green olives, cucumbers and Roma tomatoes were the base of the salad. But it was the addition of big chunks of creamy gorgonzola, pine nuts and a honey balsamic vinaigrette that made it so special. Oh, and the surprise of a few onion rings on top made it extraordinary.

Bella Vita’s dishes are uncomplicated yet delicious. The antipasti choices range from risotto to lobster and shrimp scampi. I have ordered the Tuscan soup and really enjoyed it, but this time we branched out and ordered the eggplant rollatini.

I immediately recalled a similar appetizer we fell in love with when we visited Italy last fall. We actually went back again to that restaurant so we could have it again. I was happy to find this dish much closer to home. Thinly sliced eggplant is stuffed with herbed ricotta, Romano and mozzarella cheese. Their simple basil and tomato sauce was heavenly.

I ordered the hearth baked vegetable lasagna ($18). This is not at all what most of us think of as a traditional lasagna. Layers of al dente vegetables alternated with sheets of pasta, a white sauce made with three cheeses and a bit of pesto. The result was light and fresh. Eggplant, zucchini, fresh tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms were included. It was different and really great.

We knew what we wanted for dessert before we ever sat down. We have enjoyed it here before, and will continue to order it every time we dine here. Their creme brulee includes three different flavors: vanilla, chocolate and espresso. Each flavor is incredible, but my favorite might be the espresso. It is creamy and sweet, but not too sweet, and big enough that we can happily share. It is perhaps the best dessert ever.

We didn’t eat breakfast the next morning. But of course, we were headed to Pies on Parade!

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.