Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Wanderlust | Down East (Maine)

Over Independence Day Weekend, Marcus and I took a trip with Lisa to Maine, where we explored about Portland and six other towns within an hour or so radius from there. So here's a little summary -- everything we did, what we liked/disliked, logistics, and some beautiful glimpses into our amazing trip over the course of three days (Wednesday through Friday).

01a - Ogunquit
First stop was to Ogunquit, one of Maine's most visited resort towns, about four and a half hours away from New York City. Its name is derived to mean beautiful place by the sea" from the indigenous Abenaki language. Lisa stumbled upon the cute town during a Today Show feature a while back.

01b - Lobster Shack
First thing was first -- we had to have our inaugural lobster roll, which we happily ordered at Lobster Shack, where its staff sport red t-shirts that read "Got Tail?" on the back. This place was legit. The lobster roll special includes homemade cole slaw, ruffled chips, and a cup of homemade clam chowder ("Momma's recipe" per the owner :P). And yes, the roll part of the lobster roll was buttered and toasted. Please be warned that the clam chowded is really hot, so proceed with caution!

01c - PC Candies
There's also a nostalgia candy shop called Perkins Cove Candies in Ogunquit which sells barrels of assorted salt water taffy as well as lost relics in the candy world including (but not limited to) Warheads, Bubble Tape, and Pop Rocks.

Our main attraction in Ogunquit was {1,3} the lobstering trip with Finestkind Cruises. Our tour began at 2 PM, and {4} there was already a queue to board the boat!

01d - lobstering 1
{5,7-8} During the ride to its lobster traps, the tour guide gave us a little background on how lobstering works in Maine, what's involved, etc., {6} including a rundown of how a lobster trap works. There are two chambers to the trap -- the kitchen (i.e., where the bait is kept) and the parlor (i.e., where the lobster is trapped from escape). {9} We were also shown the difference between male and female lobsters so we'd be able to identify them on our own.

01d - lobstering 2
{5} One of the catches that day included {2} a cull, i.e., a one-clawed lobster and {3-4} a few lobsters deemed to be regulation friendly. Lobsters can actually regenerate a new claw after losing one as a result of a defense mechanism, which can take up to two whole years. The tour guide also showed us some other sea creatures that tend to be caught in its lobster traps from time to time, including {6} a baby starfish as well as a sea urchin and hermit crab (not pictured).

Upon leaving Ogunquit, we made a pitstop to Yarmouth, home to the DeLorme Headquarters and {1-2,5Eartha, the World's Largest Revolving/Rotating Globe, {4} as esteemed by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1999. Completed in July 1998, Eartha took two years to build, spanning 41.5 feet in diameter.

02 - Eartha
Eartha represents earth as it is seen from space with a scale of 1:1,000,000 (i.e., one inch is about 16 miles). It rotates and revolves on a specially designed and built mechanized, cantilever arm at 23.5 degrees (same as the Earth!), and one revolution and rotation occurs every minute at maximum speed. The images on Eartha comprise of 792 map sections, all printed and mounted on lightweight panels with each about 8° latitude by 10° longitude.

We stayed in Phippsburg via Airbnb over the duration of our three-day jaunt in Maine, equidistant from Portland (where we planned on spending the Fourth) and Boothbay Harbor (the next day).

We had dinner in town that evening (a restaurant which shall remain nameless just to keep it simple) -- it was pretty mediocre and not very good, but we made do because we didn't wanna stray too far away from the beach house after dark.

But despite dinner being so-so, the view of Cape Small Harbor was quite nice.

View from the restaurant's window.

The next day was July 4, so we decided to spend the entirety of it in Portland. Our first stop was supposed to be Duckfat, a Belgian sandwich shop, but unfortunately it was closed for the holiday. Thankfully, our back-up plans had an oyster bar across the street from Duckfat called Eventide Oyster Co. {1Eventide Oyster Co. "marks the transition between day and night, a time that calls for refreshment and rejuvenation" as it aims to be {10} a true "revival of the great American oyster bar that offers pristine shellfish and a fresh take on classic New England fare." With it being an oyster bar, you can bet your bottom dollar that {4,10} Lisa and I ordered a crapload of oysters to slurp and enjoy. There were two section of offerings -- one listed Eventide's selection From Maine and the other listed selections From Away.

04a - Eventide
Since Lisa and I've had our fair share of the ones listed in the From Away, we wanted to really immerse ourselves in the local cuisine, so we decided to do a Maine-centric flight of oysters.

{7} From right to left, starting at accoutrement:
(a) *Winter Point Select from West Bath, Maine: Briny and peppery with a smooth finish.
(b) Norumbega from Damariscotta: Less briny than Winter Point Select.
(c) Dodge Cove from Damariscotta: Meaty and buttery.
(d) Brown Point from Damariscotta: Along with the previous two oysters of Damariscotta origin, this was very similar.
(e) John's River from South Bristol: Buttery.
(f) *Flying Point from Freeport: Nice and buttery.
{3} Starting clockwise from accoutrement:
(g) Nonesuch from Scarborough: No other word to better describe this other than funky.
(h) *Basket Island from Casco Bay: Very clean tasting and refreshing.
(i) Taunton Bay from Acadia: Didn't like very much.
Here were the remaining highlights of what we ate:
{2} fried oyster buns with tartar sauce and pickles: LOVED! Perfect size to get a taste of a well-battered oyster. Wish the bun was toasted though -- it was a little soggy by the end.
{6} lobster stew with sherry and paprika along with a homemade biscuit: AWESOME! Not too thick with lots of lobster chunks.
{8} Eventide lobster roll with hollandaise over a house-made bun: Though this lobster roll is more of a bite/appetizer size, the hollandaise was a nice touch.
{9fried Bangs Island mussel salad with orange-fennel vinaigrette and arugula: Really nicely done -- mussels were lightly battered, and the dressed greens made it even better.
04b - Downtown
The shopping in Portland is really quaint and cute. These were some of my particular favorites.{1}The vintage sail totes and accessories at Sea Bags (sadly closed on the Fourth) are made from recycled sales (from sailers and sailing communities around the world) that still have the markings from the retired sails. The design and manufacturing process takes place here in Maine on Portland's working waterfront. {3Abacus Gallery has a captivating collection of one-of-a-kind gifts, including jewelry (ranging from high-end to highly affordable) as well as unusual crafts and home accessories. I fell in love with an original giclee print (entitled See Maine) during our perusals there and regretted not getting it while being in town. Thankfully, Abacus has multiple locations, including Ogunquit (where we had gone the day before) and Boothbay Harbor (where we were headed the following day), so I was very much in luck. {2} Fizz Mixology Shop had just opened its doors that very day when we had stumbled upon it, offering a variety of bitters, syrups, mixology paraphernalia (shakers, muddlers, glassware, etc.). The soda bar inside the shop was still under construction at the time, so that would definitely be another spot to hit up during a subsequent visit.

04c - MDICC
A summer trip like this one isn't complete without having some churned confections, so we made our way to Mount Desert Island Ice Cream. The flavors we tried included: {3} salted caramel and cinnamon; {4} Ovaltine malt ball and Thai chili; {5coconut (incidentally President Obama's favorite when he visited this very shop); and {6} fresh mint chip. All these flavors were really solid -- the fresh mint chip that I got was just divinely refreshing -- as they had the right amount of flavor and sweetness without being overwhelmed with too much punch and sugar. Crazy to discover that Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream was noted in this recent round-up by Huffington Post as "Where to Taste the Future of American Ice Cream".

04d - Bard
If you're looking for a place that offers some really great coffee, Bard Coffee is your best bet. The coffee shop's name is derived from bard, which is "a minstrel poet of an ancient Celtic order who composed and recited verses celebrating the legendary exploits of chieftains and heroes." With this in mind, the baristas at Bard Coffee have made it their mission to tell stories of the people and places behind the great coffees it serves. I had an iced cappuccino with soy milk and a splash of simple syrup, and it was fabulous!

Since we were in town on the Fourth, I wanted to be sure we picked a restaurant that gave us a guaranteed dinner reservation. {1} So we headed to Street and Company for an early dinner in Portland's Old Port, tucked away on Wharf Street, a cute cobblestoned side street. This was probably the most refined dining experience we had on our trip, and boy was it pretty damn good! Also found out that not only do they take reservations up to two months in advance, they reserve 1/3 of the restaurant for walk-ins! {5} With a warm, welcoming atmosphere of rustic influence, Street and Co. has a few mantras that embodies what kind of restaurant it strives to be -- one that offers very fresh seafood (really "local seafare") with Mediterranean flavors with simple preparations that maintain the ingredients' essence ("less is more") of sizzling pans with garlic, olive oil, basil, shallots, and a little flame. The service at Street and Co. was very nice, making us feel right at home.

04e - Street and Co (1)
For our starters, we decided to go family style and try four dishes that struck our fancy over a bottle of a 2006 Gewurztraminer from Alsace produced by Trimbach. {2} The calamari in a spicy tomato broth with olive couscous proved to be very tender and robust in flavor, and mixed surprisingly well with some bites of the {3} fresh crabmeat tossed with local English peas, grilled red onion, Upland cress, and orange citronette. {4} The roasted pepper and tomato soup was hearty and concentrated with the boldness of the earthy red fruits. Maybe a little too much with the ridiculously hot weather we had that day, but it all worked out. We also shared {6} the mussels provençal with garlic, white wine, and butter -- can't beat mussels generously showered and basted with these three things, especially if they're nice and plump!

04e - Street and Co (2)
{1,3} We sat in the restaurant's back dining area, which was really roomy but cozy. The noise level was comfortably energetic, making our meal there that much more pleasant. {2} For my main course, Among the main courses we had were the broiled scallops with seasonal vegetables -- it is really hard to do scallops right -- getting that perfect interior temperature is really tricky. But the simple preparation surely had these beauts sing their true flavor. {5} The blackened sockeye salmon with seasonal vegetables was fantastic, too. The blackened rub made the filet of salmon taste super zesty, giving some excitement on the palate. {4} Lastly, we tried the monstrous but awesome lobster diavolo (for two) -- one whole lobster (split in half), squid, clams, mussels, and shrimp over linguine in spicy, tomato-y fra diavolo sauce. Honestly, the portion really isn't for two -- it could have fed all of us in addition to one more main course. (6) To end our meal, we had the pecan pie a la mode. Apparently pies are a thing in Maine, and this was quite lovely. All in all, this was undoubtedly my favorite dining experience during our entire time in Maine.

Our last day in Maine first brought us to Edgecomb, where {1Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm has its commercial and retail storefront. {6} We arrived ready to shuck some oysters with our very own oyster knives and gloves. Glidden Point cultured oysters are "well-known around the world for their uniform size and shape, deep shell cup, and superb freshness with a flavor that is both distinct and complex (briny yet sweet) as well as meat that is plump and firm, directly a result of slow, cold water growth."

05a - Glidden Point
{4} We got two dozen Glidden Point Select oysters and some of the Farm's cocktail sauce to go with it, {3,7} where Lisa and I used the skills we learned in the oyster shucking class at the Astor Center to open up these precious bivalves and {2,5}eat them fresh out of the shell right here at the Farm. The Farm's store is stocked daily with diver harvested oysters (along with other shellfish), which are "grown in a very natural, pristine setting, using no machinery or processing equipment as everything is done meticulously by hand." {8} Here are the remains of the two dozen oysters, shucked and eaten (made for a really, really great tasting East Coast oyster).

Lisa and me at Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm, shucking our own oysters.

After our oyster shucking extravaganza, {2} we drove on over to Boothbay Harbor, about fifteen to twenty minutes away from Edgecomb. We worked up quite an appetite, so when we arrived to {1,5The Lobster Dock (Lisa's favorite casual spot in Maine during her last visit), you can bet your bottom dollar that we ordered a crapload of grub.

06a - Lobster Dock
{2,7} We had our fair share of fried seafood, including these awesome fried clam strips, plump fried oysters, and lightly battered fried calamari with fra diavolo sauce. {6,8} For our larger starters, we shared an order of mussels marinere with garlic, wine, herbs, and crusty garlic bread as well as Throwdown crab cakes (made famous on Throwdown! with Bobby Flay) served with summer salsa and topped with signature remoulade sauce. Both were fantastic! And last but not least, we tried two different lobster rolls -- one cold served with a touch of mayonnaise and the other hot which was gently warmed with butter. I think of all the lobster rolls we had in Maine, this was by far our favorite. It was the perfect ratio of lobster-to-roll and more about the lobster than the mayonnaise or butter. Plus, a well-buttered and toasted roll makes any lobster roll THAT much better.


We walked around town after lunch (walking off all that food was key), where we stopped into a really cute used bookshop, Friends of the Library Used Bookstore, where Lisa found some presidential biographies for less than $5 each, and I scored a copy of Chef Christina Tosi's Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook for a mere $5!


Also, since the Sea Bags headquarters shop in Portland was closed on the Fourth, I was able to find a retailer in Boothbay Harbor called Sweetbay Shop which carried a wide variety of the repurposed sail totes. I found this fabulous one with anchors that I happily brought home with me. I also returned to Abacus Gallery to pick up that print that I had fallen in love with in Portland, and it now hangs on our living room wall! :D

06b - BBH gifts
On our perusals through down, we found this really cute gift shop called Maine Made & More which had {1} beautiful display ships crafted by hand, {3} gilded nautical paraphernalia (compasses and the like), and {4Sea Bags with the coordinates of Boothbay Harbor sewed on. One thing that particularly sparked an interested in Marcus and me were these gorgeously crafted Galileo thermometers. Being the geeks that we are, we bought one for the apartment, and we continue to marvel at the sheer brilliance behind the Italian scientist's clever apparatus.

06c - DT CP
No trip to the New England coast isn't complete without picking up some salt water taffy, and we found the perfect spot to do so. {1,3,4Downeast Candies' Daffy Taffy Factory had an interesting selection, including wacky flavors like licorice and root beer. Then down the street was {2,6Coastal Maine Popcorn Company which had many originally flavored popcorns, most notably a bacon and chocolate variety.

Before we were on our way back to our airbnb, we drove through the cutest town called Wiscasset, allegedly heralded as the prettiest village in Maine. Judging by what we saw, I don't think that title is without merit! :P

{2} We passed a little corner shack called Red's Eats, which {1} had a line going around the corner -- we thought to ourselves that something but be amazing here for people to tolerate a queue this long. And just like that -- it became our spot for dinner. Funny enough, Red's wasn't always located in Wiscasset -- its original home was in Boothbay Harbor until 1954.

07a - Red's Eats
{3} The sweet potato fries were really good (and this is coming from someone who doesn't typically like these), and unfortunately, the (in)famous lobster rolls here -- guaranteed at least one pound of lobster per roll! -- were a wee bit overwhelming for us. Although you get a bigger bang for your buck at Red's (and bragging rights for having eaten at the "World's Best Lobster Shack"), it was kind hard to eat and enjoy because the lobster-to-roll ratio wasn't necessarily ideal. Perhaps it was because it was the last lobster roll of our trip (and we were certainly not only seafood'd out but truly lobster (roll)'d out, but we didn't see what the hype was all about. It was a ton of lobster, and not enough roll to support it. Nevertheless, it was nice to end our trip in a pretty town like Wiscasset -- it made for a peacefully satisfying farewell to our time Down East.

Price point: $15 for the lobster roll special at Lobster Shack; $17 per person for the lobstering trip with Finestkind Cruises; free admission to Eartha at the DeLorme Headquarters; $15 for half dozen of oysters at Eventide Oyster Co., $27 for full dozen, $11 for each stew, $7-11 for each cooked item, $8 for each salad; $3.75 for each single sized cone at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream; $3.50 for each iced cappuccino at Bard Coffee; $5.95-12.95 for each starter at Street and Company, $28.95-47.95 for each main course, $7 for each dessert, $39 for a bottle of Gewurztraminer; $22 for each dozen of Glidden Point Select oysters, $3 for each serving of cocktail sauce; $7.95-12.95 for each starter at The Lobster Dock, $8.95-16.95 for each side, $15.95 for each lobster roll; $17 for each lobster roll at Red's Eats.

--July 3-5, 2013

*Lobster Shack
110 Perkins Cove
Ogunquit, ME 03907

Perkins Cove Candies
103 Oarweed Road
Ogunquit, ME 03907

*Finestkind Scenic Cruises
boarding dock at Barnacle Billy's
70 Perkins Cove
Ogunquit, ME 03907

The DeLorme Map Store
2 DeLorme Drive
Yarmouth, ME 04096

*Eventide Oyster Co.
86 Middle Street
Portland, ME 04101

*Sea Bags
24 Custom House Wharf
Portland, ME 04101

*Mount Desert Island Ice Cream
51 Exchange Street
Portland, ME 04101

*Abacus Gallery
44 Exchange Street
Portland, ME 04101

*Bard Coffee
185 Middle Street
Portland, ME 04101

*Fizz Mixology Shop
345 Fore Street
Portland, ME 04101

*Street and Company
33 Wharf Street
Portland, ME 04101

*Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm
707 River Road
Edgecomb, ME 04556

*The Lobster Dock
49 Atlantic Avenue
Boothbay Harbor, ME 04538

Friends of the Library Used Bookstore
behind Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library
4 Oak Street
Boothbay Harbor, ME 04538

Sweetbay Shop
9 Townsend Avenue
Boothbay Harbor, ME 04538

*Abacus Gallery
12 Mckown Street
Boothbay Harbor, ME 04538

*Maine Made and More
25 Granary Way
Boothbay Harbor, ME 04538

*Daffy Taffy Factory
Bridge Street and By-Way
Boothbay Harbor, ME 04538

Red's Eats
41 Water Street
Wiscasset, ME 04578

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