August 2, 2012

TRAVELIN' MAINE(RS): Summer dining divine at Bar Harbor's Looking Glass

George and Linda Smith

A special Chef’s Table Dinner was our excuse to return to our favorite Bar Harbor Inn — the Bluenose — and the dinner at the inn’s Looking Glass Restaurant was exceptional. But so is everything else at this resort with its stunning ocean views, gorgeous rooms, fabulous customer service and amenities and one of the state’s top chefs, Arturo Montes.

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This boat ride's a Lulu

The only lobster boat tour in Bar Harbor has been featured on many television shows — from the CBS Early Show to The Food Network — for a good reason. Captain John is a real showman!

On a hot sunny Saturday afternoon, the Lulu was packed, a popular attraction for families. While his sternman, a nice young lady named Lindsay, piloted the boat, Captain John kept us entertained for two hours with an interesting mix of nature, conservation, history and humor — plus everything you’ve ever wanted to know about lobsters and more.

The Lulu is not like any lobster boat I’ve been on, from the comfy cushions to the excellent sound system.

We went out to Egg Rock Lighthouse and got close up looks at Harbor and Gray seals, bald eagles and lots of ducks, including our favorite, the little Black Guillemots. Then it was time to haul lobster traps.

I’ve lobstered with friends and thought I knew a lot about lobsters. Nope! Didn’t know a lobster’s tail is actually the abdomen. Didn’t know how to tell a female from a male. Didn’t know how a lobster trap works — and that the metal traps must have a biodegradable hatch.

Especially didn’t know that Martha Stewart designed Captain John’s buoy colors and schooled him in the proper way to place fish in his bait bags. His catch went up 30 percent when he employed Martha’s suggestion!

Captain John is really good with kids. It was fun watching him engage them in his lobster lessons. This might be the best $30 you ever spend. It will certainly be the best two hours you ever spend on the water.

The Lulu Lobster Boat Ride departs from The Harborside Hotel & Marina Dock, and runs until Oct. 21. If you can’t go right away, check out their website at There are great photos and videos there. If you do plan to go, we recommend getting a reservation by calling 866-235-2341.


Something you should throw in your backpack . . .

Down East publishes three Pocket Guides that should be in your backpack if you’re headed to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Two of the guides cover biking and hiking on Mount Desert Island, while the third covers the park’s carriage roads. The guides include brief descriptions of the opportunities and trails, plus maps and other information including campgrounds. The second edition of all three guides was published this year.

And if you are one who loves those carriage roads — the perfect place to hike, bike and explore the park with horses — you will want to read “Mr. Rockefeller’s Roads,” by Ann Rockefeller Roberts, also published in a second edition this year by Down East. It’s the fascinating story of how philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. planned and built the carriage roads. The second edition includes excerpts from an interview with David Rockefeller, the international banker who loved the island and often piloted his own horse-drawn carriage on the roads, plus an interesting history of the restoration of the roads following decades of neglect.


Jim Ash, the inn's manager and co-owner (with Bangor's Lafayette family), takes hospitality seriously. He tries to meet all the guests and help them make the most of their Bar Harbor experience.

Jim told us a delightful story about recently encountering a group of 10 guests from Beijing, China. After discovering they had no plans, he directed them to the Lulu Lobster Boat Ride, partly because the Lulu's Captain John speaks Mandarin. Now that's customer service!

We love small inns where the owners live on site, able to interact with guests. Jim does that too, even though his inn is much larger -- but of course, he does live on the inn's fourth floor!

From the bottles of our favorite Fiori oils given to each guest at check-in, to the evening performances in the lounge by pianist Bill Trowell (who has been playing here for 16 years), to the astonishing attention from the staff to every detail of your visit, after one stay here, you'll put the Bluenose at the top of your list of Maine's best places.

But this column is about the elegant feast put together by Chef Montes for a table of eight guests. These Chef's Table Dinners are offered once a month and are limited to no more than 12 diners. You've still got time to experience this on Aug. 17, Sept. 21 or Oct. 19.

We began what turned out to be a four-hour dining adventure by gathering for drinks on the restaurant's new deck, looking out over the harbor. While admiring the Deer Isle granite surrounding the fire pit, I was astonished to hear Jim say that the building permit for the new deck cost more than the construction!

Dinner guests included a local food writer, a couple from nearby Somesville and a young Portland couple celebrating their 10th anniversary. Jim Ash joined us for the evening of lively conversation with lots of laughs.

Moving inside to a long beautifully set table for the dinner, I encounter more utensils than I've ever seen at a place setting. I ended up using about half of them. And that's good for me!

Nancy, our server, introduced each course and accompanying wine with a brief explanation. Jim is a wine connoisseur, and had chosen amazing wines for us -- including one extremely expensive Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon that was in the restaurant's wine cellar when the Lafayettes purchased, renovated and renamed it four years ago. It was probably the best (and certainly the most expensive) wine I've ever enjoyed.

The appetizer, a chilled strawberry soup, was gorgeously presented in the hollowed-out peel of an orange, and came with a Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine. After our wine dinner last month at the Tavern at Brunswick Station, featuring Napa Valley's Schramsberg winery, we've become big fans.

After a very tasty salad from the restaurant's vegetable garden, out came a blueberry-basil sorbet, made right there. I agreed with one guest's assessment: "I don't know that I've ever had a better sorbet!"

Conversation was brisk, covering everything from childbirth to the Red Sox (after all, we were a cosmopolitan crowd), topped by Jim's story of hosting Ted Williams at the Samoset Resort when he owned it.

It was especially fun to eat with other foodies, people who know and enjoy great food and wine. I'm learning a lot!

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