Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tasty Seafood Cliche

You know the place. You see them on any American coastline from the Alaska panhandle to the northern tip of Maine. The classic, almost cliched seafood restaurant.

All have the same basic decor: dark wood paneling, model ships, nautical and fishing paraphernalia from ship tubes to nets strewn about the dining room or hung on walls and ceilings. The only way you know where are you are local touches like lobster traps in Maine, oyster tongs in New Orleans and South Carolina or something salmon-related in the Pacific northwest.

The food? Too big portions with too much butter, breading and sour cream. The taste typically ranges from decent to mediocre to awful.

Boothbay Harbor in Maine where my family went on vacation earlier this month had more than its share of such venerable establishments. We decided to try a typical exemplar called Brown's Wharf.

To be honest, our expectations were pretty low. We were tired and very hungry, still trying to shake a bad food experience in Portland a few nights before (let's just say that we violated most of Tony Boudain's rules and paid the price).

We were pleasantly surprised. The dishes were particularly well done versions of the classic seafood restaurant fare with some surprises. I especially loved this arugula salad with a blueberry vinaigrette. I'd never had Maine blueberries before, and they really are a world apart: intense flavor, sweet and fresh. They were in season. I ate very leaf.

Then it was on to the entree, which my wife also had: haddock with risotto. I feared the risotto would be too heavy, but the chef had a light touch. Delicious, but way too much food.

My daughter loved it as well. We indulged her with a kids favorite, a classic shrimp cocktail with tangy cocktail sauce.

We liked the place so much that we returned a second night. This time, they had an interesting variation, a lobster salad in a popover. Again excellent. It worked very well. The salad was tasty without too much mayonnaise and the popover was fresh and light.

So if you are in Boothbay Harbor and have a hankering for the kind seafood your grandparents loved, check out Brown's Wharf.

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