Monday, September 7, 2009

maine. finally.

i don't even remember
who started it,
why it began or
how many years ago it
first took place,
but for almost as long
as i remember our relationship,
i remember us discussing
a vacation to maine.

we pictured it,
i think, like a nonstop
lobster festival,
heading from park
to restaurant,
enjoying lobsters,
on a roll,
tucked inside omelets
and grilled atop
open flames in a field.

for some reason,
it was always a far-off
dream, not
exotic or untouchable,
just never really the time.
we spent years - literally -
traveling the country for
friend's weddings,
then preparing for our own
and the honeymoon
(in the process, missing
the wedding of larry's
friend from college, who married
one week before us. in maine).

but this year,
after realizing we were
obligation-free and in need
of relaxation,
we finally summoned up
the decision to go for it,
and in june, we booked
before we could change our minds:
a couple days in portland,
before finishing off the week
in ogunquit.

there was just one problem.

i've loved lobster forever,
proud that at a very young age,
i knew what to do with a cracker
and always oddly, even prouder,
that while everyone covets the tail,
i would probably trade mine
(albeit, a bit hesitantly)
for an extra claw.

always faithful to steamed -
i never wanted to bog the meat down
with stuffings or sauces -
i finally had my first lobster roll
two summers ago at
in nyc.
it was without a doubt,
one of the most amazing foods
i've ever had.
if there was mayonnaise,
i didn't notice. a small slick
of melted butter and a good
sprinkling of chives - it
was unbelievable.

so good, that a month
later, for our culinary school's
grand buffet (aka, our graduation),
i decided to make mini lobster rolls.
which also meant, that i had to
kill 40 lobsters. the right way.
earlier in the year we had been
instructed to follow
method, which was scary enough.
but now, our new chef, believed
it was better to simply pull
the tails off the still-alive bodies,
then toss them in the water.
it experience.

i prepped them all on saturday
and on sunday -
the day of the buffet -
my chef walked toward
me looking kind of worried.
chefs in culinary school
- chefs in life -
don't look worried. they look
confident and no-nonsense.
they tossed your rolls last night,
he said. my rolls. mini. hot dog-
shaped brioche. special ordered.
gone. and too late in the day
to make our own.

together, we worked out a back-up
plan: shot-glasses filled with
avocado crema,
lemon and chive lobster,
roasted corn
and whipped corn cream.
they were very successful.
and it was a good thing,
too. because it was my last
positive experience with lobster.

one year later,
i went to pearl oyster bar,
specifically for a lobster roll.
the whole experience,
from a very mayonnaise drenched,
just ok lobster roll
to sneaky almost over-charging
was kind of a bust,
but the worst part came later
in the night, when i really didn't
feel well.

a little over a month later -
on labor day, actually -
i steamed lobsters at home.
that night, again, i was sick.
i think there was a little voice,
somewhere in the back of my
mind that hinted at the problem.
but it was pesky. so i ignored it.

then came new year's eve,
when i put out the cheese plate
and later, steamed lobsters.
it was a bad night.
at 4 in the morning,
after finally making a connection,
i was googling "lobster allergy."
but, still, i was willing to (maybe)
chalk it up to poor planning.
who eats a cheese plate and then
lobster and makes it out ok, right?

when we booked
the trip to maine in june,
i worried about lobster.
about eating it,
not being able to eat it.
finally one night in the beginning
of august, i knew i had put it off
long enough. we went out - larry
got a lobster.
i didn't.
i ate a claw.
one tiny claw.
an almost not worth
it claw.
i waited and after a couple
hours, i fell asleep, thinking i had
somehow won. but, alas, i woke
up hours later, not feeling well.
and that night, i came to terms
with my fate:
a lobsterless maine.

because in theory, the trip
was about a vacation,
not about lobsters,
we were still going.
the alternative would have
been a bit extreme, i think.

and, we ate pretty well
anyway, dealing with it by
acting like adults,
with the exception of
one night, when i sat in a
restaurant, the air thick
with the smell of lobster
and i swear,
everyone around us,
at every table, was
either anxiously
waiting to recieve or
was busy enjoying
a freshly steamed lobster.
larry included.
larry and his lobster

some food highlights:
my mom's friend joelle, sent an e-mail telling me about the amazing scallop cocktail at "a funky little place - a fisherman's type bar with great food and delicious beer on tap." one of my favorite rolls at one of my favorite sushi restaurant is the spicy scallop roll. the scallops are raw, but also, chopped fine. i wasn't sure how i would feel about the whole large raw sea scallops at j's oyster bar- but larry and i voted, and for both of us, this was our favorite thing that we ate the entire trip.
scallop cocktail from j's oysters

toward the middle of the week, when we needed a mini break from seafood, we decided to go to this tiny restaurant, banditos, we had passed a couple times in ogunquit. we were the only ones in the entire place, something that usually scares us away on a first time visit. i'm not sure if it was fatigue from the sun, hunger or laziness, but we stuck it out. the quesadillas were perfect - made to order, not too big (and filled with portobella mushrooms!), but i could have survived probably on the peach and vidalia onion hot sauce they kept at the sauce bar. (sidenote: we were there for an hour and were alone the whole time, save for the owner and the two kids working the counter who were trying to construct a fountain from a water hose and some rocks in the front lawn.)
quesadillas and peach-vidalia hot sauce
hot sauce wall

the first night, and our only reservation, was spent at hugo's, a restaurant we had chosen seriously, after reading many reviews of three popular dining destinations. we were not disappointed at all - enjoying very fresh raw clams, smoked salmon roe, a pork medley (loin, belly, and um, tail), and chicken liver agnolotti, which i could not get a good picture of for all my trying, but was so delicious, i had to share. first, the beautiful biscuits they served to start off the meal.
biscuits from hugo's
chicken liver agnolotti

for all the seafood we ate, larry had his fair share of pork, too. after hugo's, he enjoyed this braised thick cut "bacon," which had been coated in five-spice powder, braised and served next to arugula with smears of a maple blueberry sauce, from an odd place in portland (with yummy drinks) called local 188. when we first looked at the menu, we had no idea what we were going to eat - but had picked the place based on its proximity to our b&b. even though the innkeeper had sworn to us many restaurants were a five minute walk, this was the first we found...10 minutes later and late at night. we went with tapas...larry's bacon, a flatbread with an olive-anchovy spread, sauteed wild mushrooms with swiss chard and these, pickled string beans and chili peppers, which while tangy and lovely, actually looked in person, exactly like they do in the picture - a little pale.
braised five-spice bacon
pickled green beans and chilis

and yes, there was plenty of lobster for larry. i'm not that mean. his favorites. a lobster roll from the clam shack, in kennebunkport, that beat out one he had loved earlier in the week from a lobster pound in freeport. and, from katie's, a really clean, simple and friendly place, that served not only as the perfect final meal for our vacation, but also easily swept second place in larry's rankings: truffled lobster mac and cheese. so good, he ate the rest at the airport the next day (alongside my seared scallops with a corn risotto cake).
lobster roll and clam bellies from the clam shack
lobster mac & cheese (and scallops)

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