Spring Fling, made with Cold River Gin
April is, truly, the cruelest month.
Where we live in Maine, winter is clinging on by its fingernails, and that’s making me cranky. We had one day of 60 degree weather a week ago; when I took a break from my office at lunchtime, people were walking around downtown Portland with goofy smiles and blissed-out looks on their faces like they had just been released from an icy prison. Which they had.
David’s KPT may catch first-time visitors off guard, in a good way. One of chef David Turin’s group of Maine restaurants, it takes up almost the entire first floor of The Boathouse Hotel, which at high tide seems almost to float on the Kennebunk River. The decor is modern, chic and ever-so-slightly nautical, with cobalt blue banquettes, lots of polished wood and a curving wall of windows — a stunning setting for chef David Turin’s contemporary American food.
It’s a swanky place, no doubt, but the mood here is down-to-earth and 100 percent Maine — a welcome dichotomy personified by head bartender Joel Souza.
Fresh octopus photographed by Ted Axelrod for “Gourmet Mexican Kitchen” by Shannon Bard (Page Street Publishing, 2015)
In Northern New Jersey, where we lived until we moved permanently to Maine two years ago, some of our favorite restaurants were Greek. At Oceanos, Taverna Mykonos, Axia, and the short-lived but wonderful Nisi Estiatorio, we always ordered the grilled octopus, because like the keftedes (lamb meatballs) and galaktoboureko (a dessert of custard with a crispy phyllo crust), it was something we would never try to make at home.
In 1981, I spent a summer working in Key West. Way back then, the “Conch Republic” was still a blissfully ribald, tropical version of the Wild West, with treasure divers searching for sunken Spanish galleons, a raging gay party scene, and regular landings by the Coast Guard of “square grouper” — trashbag-wrapped bales of pot abandoned in the ocean by smugglers.
I had a room at a B & B, where I worked as the chambermaid and set out breakfast in the garden each morning. At night, I wore a batik-print dress and served drinks on the deck overlooking the Gulf of Mexico at The Pier House, at the time the only hotel at the end of Duval Street, the main thoroughfare of the (then) sleepy downtown.
Waterside restaurants are scattered liberally along Maine’s 3,478 miles of coastline, most of them tucked into harbors and coves. Only a handful offer the stunning view of the open Atlantic you’ll find at Ocean, the restaurant at the Cape Arundel Inn in Kennebunkport.
The circa 1895 inn shares serpentine Ocean Avenue with some of Kennebunkport’s most spectacular summer homes, including the Bush compound on Walker Point just a short distance down the road. My first visit to Ocean was last March with then-Portland Press Herald restaurant critic John Golden (of the blog The Golden Dish), who was reviewing the restaurant. Shortly after we were seated, George and Barbara Bush — who we discovered are regular guests — came in for dinner, accompanied by two other couples and Secret Service agents. I have to admit, it was a thrill, although it was also sad to see the former President not looking terribly well.
No one bothered the Bushes, which is I’m sure part of why they like dining at Ocean. The restaurant is serene, a bit Old World (in the best way), and with all the hubbub over the Maine food scene, under the radar — at least for non-locals.
Our recent evening there offered proof that it deserves to be more of a destination.