95 Ocean at the Nonantum Resort
The Nonantum Resort is a quintessential waterfront Maine resort, the kind of place families return to year after year, making their reservations for the following summer upon check out. The lobby has a charmingly old-fashioned feel, updated with comfortable furnishings. A welcoming front porch is lined with rockers. Outside, a line of Adirondack chairs invites guests to relax on the sprawling lawn by the Kennebunk River. While the place maintains its historical charm, renovations and innovations have kept the Nonantum current and competitive in the area’s crowded hospitality scene.
It’s a gorgeous setting for a wedding, family reunion, summer vacation, fall foliage weekend, or as your headquarters for Kennebunkport’s Christmas Prelude weekend. But the resort is also the place for diners in search of contemporary coastal fare. Find your way past the lobby, pausing for a look at the historic photos that line the hallway. Pass through the big room where breakfast is served daily to 300 guests, and you’ll arrive at 95 Ocean, the Nonantum’s restaurant. It’s an attractive room, pleasingly decorated with a nod to Kennebunkport’s nautical heritage without being too obvious. The view of the river provides a backdrop for the neutral decor, and a stone fireplace fills one corner. It’s here I sit with executive chef Steve Sicinski, who oversees the restaurant, as well as all the food service for the resort. The chef brings a wealth of experience from other high-end resorts, including Mii Amo in Sedona, Arizona, and Topnotch Resort in Stowe, Vermont. “I love the hotel scene,” he says. “I get a little taste of everything. It’s always busy, and it’s an awesome challenge to try to satisfy everyone. The demographics are so varied.” This is the end of his second summer at the Nonantum, and he’s working hard to create an identity for 95 Ocean.
The menu is focused on seafood, keeping in mind the varied tastes and needs of guests. Lobster figures in creative ways, as well as in the straightforward offering of a Maine lobster dinner. Most of the lobster comes from Port Lobster, just down the road from the resort. A starter of duck egg and potato gnocchi features nuggets of lobster meat and a creamy clam sauce with crisp parsnip chips. “This is a labor of love,” says Sicinski. “The gnocchi are all made by hand, with the duck egg adding richness. It’s a way to make lobster more elegant.” And, I would add, more delicious. The chef also uses lobster, along with shrimp, in steamed dumplings, held up by a roasted corn and avocado relish and finished with miso vinaigrette with just a touch of heat. It’s easy to see why this is the bestselling appetizer at 95 Ocean. Sicinski’s previous experience at a spa resort taught him to make food lighter and more healthful. “It’s real food, without sacrificing what you love to eat,” he says. The Coastal Chowder is gluten-free, resulting in a lighter but no less flavorful bowl, filled with clams, shrimp, mussels, and a touch of bacon. We love the pan-seared salmon over lo mein, with bits of pork belly and an orange-ginger glaze. Every dish is appropriately sauced, not too much, not too little, including the local halibut in lobster cognac butter.
Our friendly, helpful server, Lynda, brings over a few pieces of freshly baked focaccia, crackly and salty on top, tender within. She pours olive oil from Maine-ly Drizzle, a local gourmet shop, for dipping. The restaurant and resort have talented pastry chef Amanda Beun in-house, baking this and other breads daily. She makes all the breakfast pastries for resort guests and even bakes the rolls for hot dogs and lobster rolls. Her desserts for 95 Ocean are stellar in presentation and taste. The Berry Mascarpone Semifreddo is divine, a surprisingly mix of textures, including the crunchy candied almonds and kaitifi, a shredded phyllo dough, a delightful contrast with the creamy dessert and freeze-dried raspberries.
“There are so many people coming through here, all with different palates,” says Sicinski. “We’re trying to create a menu for everyone.” The chef will review the menu at the end of season to see what worked, and what they can make better. “I’m very organized,” he says, “good at putting it all together so that it makes sense.” The team is cooking in a completely renovated kitchen this year. Sicinski had the opportunity to work with the design team and get “everything I could ask for and more.” Having the resources of the resort behind him allows him to make 95 Ocean an extra-special dining destination that has nothing in common with typical hotel fare. “The Nonatum is really unique as far as places I’ve worked,” says Sicinski. “It’s owned by a family, not a corporation. Many of the employees have been coming back for years. There’s definitely a family feel.”
Even though the restaurant scales back in October, the team will work through mid-December, celebrating Kennebunkport’s Christmas Prelude with the incredibly popular Fire and Ice event on the back lawn. “I love events,” says Sicinski. “The hotel aspect gives me a taste of everything.”
95 Ocean at the Nonantum Resort | 95 Ocean Ave. | Kennebunkport | 207.967.4050