Taste of Bar Harbor: Chef’s Table
A really good dinner party needs just a few ingredients: great food, a beautiful setting, and good company. An element of surprise is a nice touch, too. Lucky for me, all the above were present last Saturday evening at the Chef’s Table—the most prestigious happening during Taste of Bar Harbor. The four-day event is put on annually by the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, encouraging visitors and locals to get an early start on the summer season with visits to restaurants and bars for tastings and specially priced menus. While all the events offer good food and fun, the Chef’s Table is the most intimate and enticing.
It was hard to pull myself away from the comfortable chair on the wrap-around porch of the Manor House Inn, where I was staying, but I had been looking forward to the evening for weeks. It was just a short walk from the inn to FIORE Artisan Olive Oils and Vinegars in downtown Bar Harbor, where a pre-dinner reception was taking place. Pine State Trading, an event sponsor, was pouring wines from Gallo and a glass of La Marca prosecco was just the thing to start the evening, along with bites of Parmesan drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar. Part of the fun of the Chef’s Table is that you don’t know which restaurant of those participating will be your host. A place card picked up at FIORE reveals our dinner destination, and photographer Heidi Kirn and I are excited when we draw Havana.
Havana has been a Bar Harbor favorite for the past 18 years. Brazilian, Mexican and Caribbean influences find their way into highly flavorful, innovative dishes cooked by chef Josh Crotty. Owner Michael Boland brings a personal, hospitable touch and a sure hand with the extensive wine list. There were ten of us who would be dining at Havana and we made our way down Main Street to the restaurant. Seated to my right was Jim Ash and his business partner Liane Wood, both restaurant consultants, gourmands, and super friendly dinner party companions. Ash is a board member of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce and a big supporter of his adopted town. To my left, Lynne Williams, another resident of Bar Harbor, introduced herself as the state’s foremost cannabis attorney, serving as the general counsel for Legalize Maine. Across the table sat Sharon Joyce, owner of Bar Harbor’s Ambrosia Cooking School, and at the end of the table, a father and son duo, on a road trip from New Jersey, were celebrating the young man’s recent graduation from college. Varied company such as this makes for fascinating and lively conversation.
Boland welcomed us with a rosé cava, and when Williams mentioned that she had recently returned from Havana, Cuba, he joked, “From what I understand, our food is much better.” I haven’t been to Cuba but I can say with all certainty that Havana of Bar Harbor put on an exceptional five-course dinner for the Chef’s Table guests. We began with a bright green cucumber and jicama gazpacho, with a swirl of blueberry vinegar and olive oil and garnished with a scattering of fried jicama. It was as delicious as it was beautiful, subtly spiced and silky smooth. Arctic char followed served atop creamy parsnip and buttermilk purée with radishes and ramp leaf powder. Next came a well-seared steak, with a savory black cardamom red-eye gravy, pickled wild ramps and saffron potato foam, followed by a plate of three Maine cheeses, with carbonated grapes and spicy chili and sesame seed salsa. I have a weakness for dessert, and the decadent chocolate and orange torte with white chocolate ganache and crushed tarragon sugar was worth every single calorie.
We bid each other good night, but for some the evening continued at the bar. It was a wonderful time, with new friends and truly fine food just as a dinner party should be.