Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Kennebec Journal Staff
Maine restaurants and inns celebrate summer with many special events, including wine dinners featuring five specially prepared food courses, each with a matching wine, for far less than you’d pay if you ordered the same dinner from the menu. When we looked for a wine dinner in southern Maine and another in northern Maine, we were lucky to find them at two of our favorite places: The Inn and Tavern at Brunswick Station, and the Lucerne Inn just east of Bangor. We stayed the night at both inns — something we recommend if you intend to more-than-sample the wines. There were some similarities in the dinners, and some interesting differences, but both were fantastic experiences.
Everything you wanted to know about Maine lobsters
Given that Maine is known for its lobster — and sometimes only for its lobster — isn’t it time you knew more about this tasty crustacean?
Ginny Wright, a very talented writer for Down East magazine, has stepped up to this task, writing The Maine Lobster Book, published this year by Down East. It’s a comprehensive guide to everything lobster from the creature’s fascinating sex life to lobster lingo.
The next time a tourist stops you on the road to ask directions to the nearest lobster roll, you’ll be able to start your answer with a couple of revelations about the lobster’s sex life. The female lobster woos the “guy with a reputation for toughness and strength,” by leaving him gifts — urchins, mussels, sea starts, at his front door.
Then they move in together and the story gets a lot racier! Ginny leaves nothing out!
Well, perhaps by the time you finish telling your story about lobster sex, the tourist seeking directions will have moved on — probably at a high rate of speed. Mission accomplished!
There is a ton of information here, including lots of great lobster recipes from some of Maine’s most famous chefs.
You’ll learn about the ongoing debate about whether to buy hard or soft shell lobsters. A 1-pound hard-shell lobster contains 4 to 5 ounces of meat while a 1-pound soft shell lobster houses 2 to 3 ounces of meat and a lot of water. Go with the hard shell. It’s a better buy.
You’ll hear about the battle between those who prefer their lobster roll with mayonnaise, and those who want melted butter — lots of it. Fortunately, Ginny doesn’t even try to claim that a Maine lobster roll is a healthy choice. But it turns out that parts of the lobster — including the shell — are nutritious. Bring it on!
I loved the inspiring story about Julie Eaton, the cover girl on the 2012 Lobsterwomen of Maine calendar, who recovered from a severe car accident that required intensive therapy for three years and left her with no short-term memory.
And, I thoroughly enjoyed the interview with Kristen Sawyer, the Maine Sea Goddess, who told Ginny, “my father is a pastor and our congregation is full of fishermen.” Amen.
From Diane Cowan’s fascinating lobster research, to Ben & Bill’s lobster ice cream in Bar Harbor, this book will entertain you, and make you hungry!
Linda -- The Tavern at Brunswick Station
The concept is a great one -- host a dinner featuring great wines and have a talented chef devise a menu to match those wines. Most of us ordinary cooks find it impossible to come up with food that will bring out the best in wines or vice versa. So, I was more than a little impressed by the offerings at both wine dinners we attended.
The fact that Hugh Davies, the owner of Schramsberg (a Napa Valley winery whose sparkling wines have been served at the White House since President Richard Nixon resided there -- and who took a Schramsberg wine to China on his first trip there), would be coming to talk about his wines at the Tavern's wine dinner astonished our daughter Hilary.
"Are you sure?" she inquired. She was well aware of the reputation of these wines, two of which are served at the high-end Washington, D.C., restaurant where she works. There turned out to be a good reason for Hugh's presence in Brunswick: His 25th class reunion at Bowdoin College was that weekend.
The Tavern's banquet room included tables for six. At the start of each course, Hugh and Chef Kevin Cunningham explained the wine and food. The appetizer, seared bay scallops atop mini crab cakes, made a scallop lover out of me! George has been trying to do that for 33 years, without luck. The matching Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc was fresh and sweet.
I am not familiar with sparkling wines, but each and every one we tasted was light and paired very well with the courses.
The second course was my favorite. Imagine melt-in-your-mouth leg of duck served with crispy potatoes, carrot puree and a Malbec demi-glace. Everyone wanted to know what they did to the amazing carrots and the chef's reply was "just really fresh carrots (gourmet red bliss ones), roasted and pureed." I listened carefully to the chef and heard an aside of "a little butter and cream." Aha!
Just in case you're wondering how anyone can eat all this, rest assured that courses were small plates, and the wine a sampling. I sampled everything, ate what I loved and didn't finish a plate.
Entertainment was a part of this dinner, and Hugh took the prize when he opened the Schamsberg Cremant for the dessert course with a sword! He warned us, "This is really sharp when you do it this way, so don't drink out of the bottle!" The Mango Panna Cotta dessert was beyond description and is my new favorite dessert.
Linda -- Lucerne Inn
If there ever was a perfect time for a wine dinner, it was the night we headed to The Lucerne Inn. A couple hours before, I had just finished school for the year, sending my first-graders home for the summer.
"Wine Down Wednesday"dinners at The Lucerne Inn are held on the second Wednesday of each month (except August) from 5 to 9 p.m. and have quite a local following of repeat guests. Maine Distributors and Bangor's State Street Wine Cellar co-hosted our dinner.
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