The Bun and I have been in the habit of choosing to indulge in a really good restaurant experience every couple of months. After we decided to spend a night at the end of our latest trip to Maine in the little town of Ogunquit, I suggested that we try Arrows, which we knew about from our days living in Boston. According to Phantom Gourmet, a show we used to watch almost every weekend, it is the best restaurant they have ever reviewed in New England. I called to make a reservation weeks in advance for a Sunday evening and my choices were 6:00 PM or 8:45 PM; we opted for the earlier time slot and anticipated an amazing meal.
One of the pre-requisites of our “extraordinary” restaurants is that they have a dress code. Arrows asks that men wear jackets and we eagerly obliged, not having a single other occasion this season to don a summer suit. We rolled up the hill from the center of our hamlet and onto a country road dappled with sunlight leading to the beautiful old farmhouse that houses the restaurant. Upon our approach, we were greeted by a sweet-faced server offering the amuse bouche for the evening – a refreshing, sparkling concoction of lemon and ginger that tasted clean and sweet at the same time, which contrasted the warm smoky scent of the grill, which sat just outside the house. Walking up the path, we felt as though we could be heading into the home of a dear old (wealthy) relative or perhaps an old professor from college. All seemed right as we were led to our table, which was surrounded by the large back windows of the restaurant, where we looked out upon fruit trees and well-landscaped grounds. I thought, “yes, this is right, and this is going to be good.”
Wanting our experience to last and, knowing from experience about portions, we decided on the garden tasting menu. What I didn’t put together until later was that each of the six courses is just a paired-down version of another item on the regular menu (and the current website). It makes sense, but the meal does lose some luster knowing that you are not getting a meal that the chef crafted according to what mother nature gave him that day. The Bun’s counter to this is that the actual menu changes with the available ingredients and that the tasting is just that – a smaller taste of each item on the menu. That said, almost everything was delcious, with a few perfect moments that punctuated the meal. The quail was remarkable, with shocking green smears of stinging nettle sauce to counterbalance the earthiness of the perfectly seasoned bird. One of our favorite elements of the meal was the dressing for the salad, which seemed to take cues from both harissa (a north African spice paste) and from the warm spices of Indian cuisine. It was part dressing, part spice blend, and truly innovative, with coriander, peppercorns, cumin, and (I think) fenugreek punching the flavor profile. It somehow did not overpower the fine verdant flavor of the greens, which truly did taste as if they were picked and immediately placed on our plates. The fish course, a small portion of halibut, was cooked perfectly, and therefore paid respect to the fish, which is all I ask in New England; the accompanying potato puree, served in a cute little copper saucepan, could have been rethought, especially for the summer season. The worst part of the meal came with the meat course, an eye of ribeye which arrived overcooked and, given it’s placement in the order of the meal, had us leaving the table with a bad taste in our mouths. That is not to say that the next two courses were bad, but the cheese was immemorable and the dessert merely whimsical – a trio of very delicious homemade ice creams served in tiny cones (Maine blueberry was, of course, the best).
All in all, the experience of dining at Arrows was one that I will cherish, and because I am not the kind of person who dines like this all the time, I have to accept the faults of the restaurant other than the food, as well (far too precious, ridiculous staff uniforms, a general aire of fussiness). However, I also have to accept the beautiful setting, attention to detail, and the overall lovely experience of spending an evening surrounded by the luxury of eating well.