As my companion and I walk across the parking lot toward the front door of Arrows, we observe a member of the kitchen staff tending to an outdoor grill. Upon getting closer, the cook turns to greet us with a tray holding two small grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, which, in my opinion, couldn’t be a more perfect welcome to what has become universally regarded as one of Maine’s most elegant dining experiences.
After finishing our hors d’oeuvres, we are received warmly by the maître d’, who escorts us through the tranquil dining room, situated in an 18th century post and beam farmhouse and dominated by large picture windows overlooking flower gardens and apple orchards. As we are seated, water service begins, with four bottled options or the “house water,” which is sourced from an old artesian well on the property. The well water sounds the most appealing, and turns out to be as clean and crisp as I could imagine any of the bottled varieties to be. I can honestly admit that I drink enough water to tell the difference, as I believe it to be the single most important element in balancing the enormous amount of wine that I consume.
Chef/owner Clark Frasier approaches our table to welcome us and discuss the new “Revolution” menu format that has been adopted for Arrows, featuring a series of “collections” that allow the diner to create their own tasting menu experience. Or, as we choose to do, you may simply ask for the “chef’s collection” and put the kitchen, headed by executive chef Justin Walker, completely in control. Frasier suggests that we take a glass of Champagne out into the gardens, where Arrows sources most of its specialty vegetables, for a stroll before dinner. We oblige and procure flutes of Delamotte Brut NV, a crisp, lemony bubbly from the Côte des Blancs, before heading out into the brisk, early spring air.
Though the wine makes me feel progressively warmer, my companion begins to grow cold after about 15 minutes, so we head back inside and get things started. Bread service features outrageously delicious butter and three choices of baked goods, of which I, wisely, opt for the rich and flaky biscuit—conveniently served in halves to accommodate second and third helpings.
Rather than select wine pairings for each course, we decide to go the route of two versatile half bottles to take us through most of the meal. The first is the 2001 Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile, from the Alsace. Due to its high level of acidity, this wine ages quite nicely and displays the traditional notes of petrol, lime peel, and flowers commonly found in Rieslings from this part of France.
There is still a bit of Champagne in my glass to pair with our first dish, the “Oysters in Green.” It is, like many of the courses this evening, a combination of three elements, the first being a chilled, raw Pemaquid oyster, bestowed with brilliant green garlic and chive vinaigrette. Also on the plate are plump oysters poached in a delicate, creamy sauce of spinach and shallots, as well as a single, lightly seasoned and cornmeal-battered fried Pemaquid, garnished with an herby, tangy green goddess sauce.
As our server clears plates and begins crumbing the table, I notice that he is employing an antique silver implement for the task of storing refuse. Throughout the meal, I continue to spot small details such as this, each contributing to the overall uniqueness of the experience. I also rather enjoy the weighty, oversized water glasses that are both functional and beautiful.
“First of the season” greens, dressed with a Champagne vinaigrette and tossed with tomato concasse, are remarkably flavorful, and make a perfect companion for paper thin sheets of aged, house-cured prosciutto from 2010. The ethereal, salty meat is some of the best I’ve tasted, and plays effectively off of the zippy Riesling.
The next course features a visually stunning array of fruit segments—pineapple, pomelo, mandarin orange, and ugli fruit—each topped with a dot of spicy dried shrimp, chicken, and coriander paste. The combination of sweet, salty, and spicy is quite intriguing, and aided by the slight bitterness of the micro greens and cilantro used as garnish. What’s even better is that once I’ve worked my way through each fruit, there is an identical progression on the opposite side of the plate so I can taste them in varying orders.
The breadbasket makes its rounds once more, and I can’t help but lay claim to another biscuit. We order our second half bottle—a 2006 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the Rhone Valley—popping the cork in an effort to give it some much needed air, considering how early in its potential lifetime we are drinking this age-worthy wine.
The remainder of the Trimbach is seamless alongside barbecued cuttlefish, upon which our server pours scalding and aromatic lemongrass oil from a small black teapot. The texture and flavor of the cephalopod is quite enjoyable, especially when heightened by the tender, bright green asparagus salad and sweet, lightly spiced clementine chutney. It also seems to work in unanticipated harmony with the cover of Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time playing over the stereo.
The meal thus far has been very carefully paced, allowing for relaxation between courses. Service anticipates every need about five seconds before you realize it, and avoids intrusion while fulfilling those needs. I feel completely at ease when each course makes its way to our table.
Cobia, a fish native to warmer waters and referred to as Black Salmon, is next in the progression. It has been poached in olive oil, and is sitting atop an impossibly delicate and impeccably crispy potato galette. An exceptionally bold and spicy romesco sauce compliments both the mild, meaty fish and the briny littleneck clam ragout. I mop up any trace of the sauce with the final segment of my biscuit.
Despite the number of courses, Arrows is not shy when it comes to portion size. This becomes evident as we transition into our next dish, which features several elements of duck. The first is a cube of confit, delightfully crispy on the outside and giving way to a velvety, fatty core flecked with kumquats, and topped with a swirl of sweet and earthy caramelized duchessse parsnips. On the opposite side of the plate rests chilled, smoked duck breast and a piquant sauce of preserved lemons. We are each provided with a petite spice caddy containing ground cinnamon, paprika, chili powder, and cumin seeds, and instructed to individually spice each bite as we see fit. This succeeds in taking an already strong dish and elevating it to the realm of Elysian. I find myself quite partial to the cumin on the smoked breast, and the cinnamon on the confit.
The duck course also prompts us to begin drinking the Beaucastel, which is showing beautifully, driven by flavors of black pepper, licorice, clove, and just a hint of tamarind. This winery, though in my opinion not exactly one of the greatest values, always produces consistently great wines. It is practically “meant to be” with the last of our savory courses, a trio of lamb. I immediately gravitate toward the meltingly tender braised shank, situated in a pool of silky fennel puree that provides a stark contrast to the crunchy fennel salad on top. The loin, cooked with stunning precision, showcases its natural flavor and benefits nicely from a drizzling of sweet and vinegary huckleberry gastrique. The final element, cornmeal-battered fried lamb belly, finds a perfect foil in a sprinkling of tarragon vinegar. Judging solely on the flavor of the different cuts, this was clearly once a very happy animal.
I am completely full at this stage, and we are informed that the next course will be the final for the evening. We are poured a glass of sparkling sake, and presented with the “Thai Dessert Box.” Its modern presentation is segmented into four square-shaped dishes, prompting my companion to comment that she would like to “live in a house that looks like this someday.” One box holds a very spicy tamarind paste, which we are instructed to employ as garnish on each of the other elements, the first of which is a coconut ash pudding. Though I enjoy the pudding on its own, the paste seems to completely overwhelm the delicate, toasted coconut flavors. A fried banana fritter suffers from an overwhelmingly chewy texture, as does the unusually firm coconut and pandanus gelée. I like the idea here, but in my humble opinion it needs a bit of re-working.
There are no such problems with our mignardise: tiny date cakes, chocolate chip cookies, and candied walnuts. After finishing, we are greeted once again by chef Frasier at the bar, and have the opportunity to meet chef Walker as well.
Arrows is an all-encompassing dining experience. The staff works to make each patron feel special from the minute they approach the restaurant until the minute they start their car. This is truly one of the most memorable meals I have enjoyed in a very long time.
41 Berwick Rd. | Ogunquit | 207.361.1100 | arrowsrestaurant.com