October 11, 2012

TRAVELIN' MAINE(RS): Duck dinner at The Village Inn fits the bill

George and Linda Smith

The Village Inn in Belgrade Lakes has been known for its duck dinners for decades. But the inn’s restaurant surprised us with its extensive and creative menu. It’s not just all about duck!

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Harvest on the Harbor

Mix a room full of Italian wines, savory seafood dishes, fabulous chefs, commercial fishermen and members of Maine’s growing aquaculture industry, lots of media, a good band and the paying public, and you get a seafood stew worthy of Maine’s food and foodie capitol: Portland.

And that was just one of the events that I enjoyed at last year’s Harvest on the Harbor. This year’s event, scheduled from Oct. 24-27 at Ocean Gateway on the Portland waterfront, sounds even more exciting — a major food experience spread over four days.

I attended a special event last year — The Ultimate Seafood Splash — and feasted my way around the room, sampled fine wines, visited with some of Portland’s most famous chefs, spoke with important people like Down East editor Paul Doiron, and Sebastian Belle, executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association. I learned a lot about interesting initiatives like Glen Libby’s Port Clyde Fresh Catch fisherman’s coop and Tollef Olson’s Ocean Approved kelp business, and came away very encouraged by our state’s growing potential in value-added seafood products.

I visited with Sam Hayward, chef/co-owner of Fore Street Restaurant and probably our state’s best-known chef. He’s an avid sportsman, but we talked about mushroom foraging — something Linda and I are really enthusiastic about — and about Redfish. I was also captivated by Sam’s presentation of a Redfish fillet, procured from Glen Libby’s coop. Yummy.

Celebrity Chef Michael Ruoss of Salu offered the tastiest shrimp I’ve ever had  — barbecued, New Orleans style. Very spicy. I went for seconds on this one.

Several special events like this are scheduled this year on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights. A Thursday night event sounds especially good, as four of Maine’s top chefs compete for the title of Maine’s Best Farm-to-Table Restaurant. I’ll be rooting for Eric Flynn, the master chef at one of our favorite restaurants — the Harraseeket in Freeport.

And you won’t want to miss Friday night’s BBQ, Brews & Blues. What a great combination!

Saturday’s event draws the largest crowds, with two opportunities — from noon to 2:30 p.m. or 4 to 6:30 p.m. — to attend the Savory Samplings at the Marketplace, where 160 food artisans, beer and wine brewers and distributors, and creators of Maine-made products are there to serve you. Mix in a bunch of our favorite cookbook authors, cooking demonstrations and music, and you’ve got a finestkind of a Saturday afternoon!

For tickets and information visit www.HarvestOnTheHarbor.com
or call 772-4994.

Linda

It’s been years since we’ve been to the Village Inn. Now, after going back recently, I’m wondering what took us so long. This is a great restaurant just down the road from our house and only 12 minutes away!

The last time we were here — probably 20 years ago — you could see Belgrade Stream from the windows. Now, time has marched on and an incredible willow tree has matured. (But I imagine the stream is still back there.)

During our visit a couple of weeks ago, the restaurant was very busy — bustling with local people and those we assume have summer places nearby. I noticed many parties of six or more, clearly marking this as a place to gather for great food. People feel comfortable here. Many lingered, taking their time to enjoy a delicious meal and visit with one another.

Dinner is served from 5 to 9 p.m., and when we arrived around 6 p.m., people seemed to all enter at once, and the large main dining room quickly filled. Part of the crowd went downstairs where a wedding rehearsal dinner was taking place.

The Grovers bought this restaurant as a retirement adventure, and now, nine years later, are still enjoying the experience. Susan stopped by to talk to us a few times, and we found out that she used to be in the kitchen but now just makes the desserts. She is a hands-on owner, at ease visiting with patrons throughout the dinner service.

We started off with a sampling of four appetizers, and I have to say the cooking was extraordinary. Small portions of each selection came out, as we requested, and they even split the cup of soup into two half-cups. The selection of appetizers was impressive, so it was nice to get a sampling.

The Beggar’s Purse, porcini mushrooms wrapped in house-made pasta, was my favorite. It included fresh tomatoes and spinach, portabella mushrooms with a little garlic and white wine. Heavenly. Another pasta sampling was the butternut squash ravioli — also very good. They make their own pasta here — an important sign of a good restaurant.

That night’s menu featured Duck and Apple Soup that was so delicious it’s hard to describe. Unbelievably smooth, rich broth contained tender pieces of duck and apple. It was perfect for a starter on a chilly evening. This would make an awesome potpie. Note to the owners: If this suggestion ever goes on the menu, please call me and I’ll be right over!

I ordered something I’ve never seen on a menu — Pork Porterhouse. A cut of strip loin was grilled as a steak and served with apple cranberry chutney. It was moist, very tender and seasoned perfectly. This made a perfect fall dinner accompanied with mashed red potatoes and squash.

The executive chef, David Jordan, is talented. He knows where the line is on saltiness — just enough to make it flavorful, but not too salty. Even the soup broth wasn’t salty, a common mistake in many places. He’s creative and versatile as well. The menu is five pages long if you include the specials and dessert menus!

At one point, Susan stopped by and suggested that I try the petite pot de crème, (apparently knowing my tendency for decadent chocolate). After her description, I made sure I saved room — believe me.
Out came the cutest cup of chocolate custard topped with whipped cream. It’s rich, with a smooth texture that literally melts in your mouth. Some might be surprised at the size, but actually it’s a perfect portion and makes a very special ending to a very special meal. I told Susan on the way out, “I declare it the best dessert ever!”

George

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