Part III: The Maine Event

Cape Elizabeth, Maine

The conclusion to Part III of Saar Harel’s romantic road trip to Maine brings our readers a stopover in Boston, some badass clam chowdah, a few fancy eats and a Boston boutique hotel to die for. Just your standard run-of-the-mill escape up the east coast for a road trip from New York to Maine.

Maine

Nights end early up north and, for some reason, Mainiacs (yes, we were told that people from Maine call themselves Mainiacs) don’t stay up till the late morning hours like my wife and me. So, we headed home, well, our Inn by the Sea home. Morning came and so did breakfast. Note to travellers: make sure you wake up early as they do tend to close the Sea Glass Restaurant for breakfast at 10:30am.

Our room at the Inn by the Sea

My wife then headed to sample the spa and get a massage to get that vacation part well squared away, while I went running on the beach and nature paths. The scenery along the Maine coast really is remarkable as the seasons make a difference as the colors change from earthen brown and misty grey to burnt orange and sienna. Seeing the ocean, the sand dunes, forest and swamp while running makes for a much more interesting run than watching the news on your New York gym treadmill.

The Stunning Maine Coast

I even took the opportunity to try out the pool and since the spa was not fully booked they offered me the use of the premises. Among the amenities includes a pampering steam room that works like a steam room should – hot, and if you press the button, moist (unlike some NY gyms that seem to enjoy making you wait 30 minutes for a 5 minute burst of steam). But enough complaining and back to the room I am heading. The room is large and contemporary. The TV is huge – as it should be these days – and the view is lovely so you can read, watch TV, or just chat the day away with your special someone.

Do Not Disturb

At the end of the day, if you don’t feel like going out, the restaurant below is well known among the locals and even they will come to dine on special occasions or when their guests come to see them. When I came back to the room, my wife had arrived singing the praises of her Deep Tissue massage. She noted that her therapist, Cheyenne (a coincidence that it rhymes with Cayenne?) had terrific technique, along with a warm, friendly personality.

Boston

So, as our east coast road trip began to come to a close, we decided to add another might so that we could stay the night in Boston, the city of my father-in-law. Well, he ran away from Boston because it was too cold, but we are arriving during the early autumn so it was perfectly crisp and comfortable. Plus, after hearing multiple stories of the exquisite Clam Chowder, we headed straight for it.

Todd English

Before I get into how much we loved the cooking techniques of Todd English’s Kingfisher Hall, let’s talk traffic in Boston. It’s as bad as traffic in NY and the drivers are, well, not exactly the most patient. However, with a big Porsche Cayenne, nobody messes with you because the last thing anyone wants to do is pay to fix a Porsche fender. It was my first time visiting Boston and I was impressed with the charming surroundings. The hotel, XV Beacon, was smack in the middle next to Boston’s version of Central Park and a ten minute walk from the wharf. Parking is non existent so be prepared to shell out a daily stipend just to park it in parking garage.

Clam Chowder at Todd English

As usual, midday hunger set in so we headed out for the what we were told was some of the best clam chowder in Boston. Located in the touristy outdoor mall-type area called Faneuil Hall Marketplace – “as alive today as it was in 1742 when our nation’s fathers proclaimed it “The Cradle of Liberty.” It combines “the glories of Boston’s past with the urban sophistication of the city today”, just as the website states.

Inside this area, you’ll find Todd English’s Kingfisher Hall, a lovely restaurant with a brilliant – and very pragmatic decorative feature – fish spinning over charcoal (see above). The staff also had a sense of calm, assertive efficiency so we knew we were in good hands. A few oysters later, and we ordered our clam chowdah. To say it was tasty would be an understatement. Unlike most American food, there was no cheese, no excessive fat, and it had the perfect consistency. The best soup I’ve had in the USA (other than my own of, course).

Well, out you go and the port is in front of you. So, you can spend an hour or more just walking and taking in the sights; from spinning horse carousels and yachts to birds and people. At last, we headed back to the hotel to relax and sample it too.

Fifteen Beacon is one of the top boutique hotels in Boston. A Preferred Boutique hotel, this Boston hotel is part of the Preferred Hotel Group which represents more than 800 hotels worldwide. Needless to say, we were pleasantly surprised. It had some truly great features including faucets that look imported directly from 18th century England.

XV Beacon - Boston, Mass

They call the style “Jeffersonian” which also translates to: swanky and classic boutique hotel décor in the rooms and public spaces. The view left a bit to be desired as ours looked out at an office (with a nice young girl talking on her blackberry for hours and an employee surfing Facebook unaware. Oh, if I were their employer!!)

Fifteen Beacon

My wife was a huge fan of the property as the amenities looked like they came from Armani – complete with the hotel’s chic XV branding – and they even give you a small vanilla lip gloss. She loves those fancy little touches (and really, what woman doesn’t?). They, too, had a great Flatscreen TV and a fireplace. We also appreciated the unique artwork on the walls – particularly because Layla is a connoisseur of mixed media.

For a city, Boston is well set. Its city center is quaint, clean, and historic. It has a lovely waterfront, old buildings, the people were friendly, and they even dress up in cufflinks – a rarity in America, the Land of T-Shirts and Bored Shorts. Yes, Bored.

The Ames Hotel Lobby

The restaurant scene does it justice too. As we headed over to Woodward, the restaurant at the Ames Hotel, part of the Morgans Hotel Group (Mondrian, Hudson Hotel, St. Martin’s Lane, etc.), we encountered a beautifully designed boite bathed in amber light with a fireplace for guests to complete the warmth. We sat and ordered our last round of vacation restaurant meals and the food was worth its weight in calories. Executive Chef Mark Goldberg delivers a New England-centric ingredient driven menu of composed plates with dishes like Island Creek oysters with ginger mignonette, short rib tortellini with Madeira and truffle butter, and a crispy poached egg, bitter greens, romesco and almonds salad that my wife couldn’t stop praising as ‘the perfect combination of light and hearty’.

We sat right next to the fireplace. Perfectly cozy and excellent service at Woodward - Ames Hotel

As I’m from the Middle East and cook a mean chicken, I was anxious to try the pistachio stuffed chicken breast with duck fat roasted cauliflower and swiss chard. My wife and I, ever the picky palates – especially when it comes to chicken, both gave it a thumbs up. It was delicious and, surprisingly, not dry. I think she would have preferred more pistachios, but I thought it was perfect. As long as restaurants don’t add unnecessary oil or butter, I tend to have an open mind. I’m a purist and Chef Goldberg has created a solid menu that leaves you satisfied. Next time, I’ll have to try their lobster roll. Our hostess even gave us directions to the ‘till the morning hours’ drinking establishment that the inner circles frequent. We thanked her and headed straight for the hotel (since we’re officially in our thirties – a tad too old for raging).

Ah, the open east coast roads....

As we left in the morning our Porsche was waiting ready to take us back, a quick 20 minutes and the lovely Lady of the Dashboard navigated us from the shark infested Bostonian drivers straight onto the Land of Freeways. The three hour drive went quickly and the sight of NY from afar did not fail to excite us. Well, back to the apple jam. An hour of traffic later, we made it home, parked our ride, and the gas bill for about 600 miles and 10 hours of freeway driving? A mere $100.

All I could think was… my frugal dad would be proud! Meanwhile, the list below is a round up of some of the best lobster shacks and seafood from New York City to Southern Maine. As we only had five days, we didn’t have time to taste all of the delicacies offered at the establishments below, but with a week or two, it’s a definite possibility and we strongly recommend ’em.

New York to Maine Road Trip Itinerary

Sept. 12th/13th – Kennebunkport, Maine – Captain Lord Mansion (Harvest Room)

Sept. 13th – Academe – Kennebunk Inn – Dinner

Sept.14th/Sept. 15th – Cape Elizabeth, Maine – Inn by the Sea

Sept. 16th – XV Beacon – Boston, Ames Hotel (Woodward) – Dinner

Top Food Picks

Westport, Connecticut

Dressing Room

Le Farm

Boston Restaurants

Kingfish Hall

Kelly’s Revere Beach

Clam Box

Fine Dining

No. 9 Park

Craigie on Main

Rendezvous

Market by Jean George

Woodward – Ames Hotel

New Hampshire

Markey’s Lobster Pool

Maine Seafood Shacks and Restaurants

Academe – Kennebunk Inn

Bob Clam’s Hut

Fosters Downeast Clambake

Barnacle Billy’s

Gran’s Chowder House

The Clam Shack

Cape Porpoise Lobster House

On the Marsh

Mabel’s Lobster Claw

The Lobster Shack

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Part I: The Maine Event

Saar Harel - Contributor/Husband Extraordinaire/Best Friend

This week, our very own Editor-in-Chief’s husband, Saar Harel, takes us on the first of a three part East Coast Road Trip series. From New York City to the great state of Maine, he’s sampling some of the tastiest seafood shacks and savory chowdahs along the way. Think romantic B&B’s, seaside inns, lobster rolls, fireplaces, and… a metallic blue 2012 Porsche Cayenne Hybrid!

I’m originally from Israel, so now that I’ve moved to New York City, when vacation time came along, I suggested a romantic road trip filled with local seafood and charming bed and breakfasts. Since north of New York played host to some of the best seafood in the world, it was really a no brainer. A New England road trip filled with fried clams from New York City to Maine, here we come…

Who wouldn't want to eat lob and see lighthouses?

When you live in NY you rarely drive. Sometimes, you take a taxi. Me, I mainly walk. So, the last car I drove was in Hawaii where my mother-in-law drove a Toyota Prius. As an avid speed junkie, I was a bit disappointed as anything without carbon fiber is not exactly high tech for me. However, when you settle into the Aloha spirit, you’re no longer in a hurry and the added advantage of a hybrid car is that’s quiet and makes for a more relaxed, easier vacation. Simply put: hybrids don’t require you to purchase Exxon stock, invade foreign nations, or marry your daughter to Sheik Bandar.

Come to Papa, Pretty Little Porsche Keys, Come to Papa...

So, when Porsche offered to hand over the keys (and such pretty little keys they are) so that my wife, the Editor of one of the best travel blogs around (no, of course I’m not biased) could test out their brand new 2012 Porsche Cayenne Hybrid, I was thrilled to try their latest offering. Having owned the Porsche Boxster a few years back, I was always pleased with the level of the car, it’s handling, and it’s quality of build.  When I heard we would also have GPS navigation, that set me at ease. Hey, America’s a big country and it’s an easy place to get lost.

2012 Porsche Cayenne Hybrid

When the car arrived, I loaded up all 2 suitcases. To say that the Cayenne is roomy is an understatement, you can fit groceries, luggage, and have room to spare. Navigation was a nice addition as with country, state, city, and address options, you’re all set. We didn’t need a map or to pre-plan.  It even calculates the traffic and tells you where to go.

Turn Left. We joked that they should also let you download different voices for the navigation (we wanted an Italian), but I guess that will happen when Apple comes up with a navigation system. Besides being overwhelmed, at first, with all the different buttons and levers, the car is easy to start and drive. If you ever wanted to a fly commercial jumbo jet yourself, then this is the car for you.

All the bells and whistles

The city drive was very smooth. The hybrid part does its work, and you barely hear the car moving along. In fact, there are no spikes as it engages and disengages the engine. The roads do open up and the toll roads are well maintained so you do get to step on the pedal. To be honest, after my multiple run-ins with the police and helicopters in Israel as a youth, I don’t speed much, but you can’t have a Porsche without testing its fine ability to accelerate. The sign says 60 or 70, but the car is so solid and stable on the road that you feel like you’re not even speeding. Step on it a bit and you’re quickly at 90. I don’t think the officer will be very understanding so you can just engage the cruise control and go back to paying attention to your wife (failure to do so can be expensive). Trucks do come along and the last thing you want is to pass them slowly, so just a light touch and they’re history. Rain falls and nothing changes. The car doesn’t slide around, the wipers work perfectly, and you feel as if you are the safest driver in the world (cue luxe family road trips here – there’s even an option for TVs on the back of the front seats).

From New York City to our first destination, Kennebunkport, Maine, we got hungry, so, although my lady planned out all the seafood shacks in advance, hunger knows no timeline so we Googled some sea shack on the iPhone – The Sandbar in West Haven, Connecticut – typed the address into the navigation, and you’re set. A few fried clams and some taters later, and we were on our way.

The Sandbar - West Haven, Connecticut

Gas… don’t even bother… the meter has barely moved. We made to the Captain Lord Mansion’s stunning “ye olde” room by 11pm. A breezy 5 1/2 hour drive from New York City (especially when you’re in the smooth belly of the Cayenne beast). With the Captain Lord Mansion, if you wanted Kennebunkport, Maine… you got it. An old mansion converted into a neat B&B, the property was originally owned by Captain Lord himself, a shipbuilder and lover of all things seafaring.

Captain Lord Mansion

The décor is fitting a man of station – preferably of a naval station – and the fireplace is a button away. Imagine staying at a cozy mansion complete with paintings and trimmings and curtains and towels and books on Impressionism. Each room is also named and styled after a different ship vessel to complete the seaside theme. This is rated one of the most romantic B&B’s in Maine and there’s good reason. Attention to detail is supreme. Right down to the hammock, flowers, and fountain in the front yard with a sweet boy and girl chatting under an umbrella.

Captain Lord Mansion Luxury Room

Morning came, the sun was shining, and my wife even powered through breakfast (she’s not a morning person). Their breakfast was quite hearty and delicious and it’s interesting to get extensive conversation with other guests of the establishment as you’re seated at a large dining room table. As it’s always difficult to chat up new people since they always say to avoid politics and religion (and we’re not very good with that), we still managed to have a lovely time and hear the assorted stories of each person and what brought them to Kennebunkport. After all, with a little nice sun, a lovely breeze, and a warm meal, people don’t really care too much if you don’t believe in their god.

Kennebunkport, Maine

Kennebunkport is definitely charming. The crowd was older as it was autumn, and, in general, we were told summer months bring more of a family crowd. There’s a nice walk with lovely shops in rustic little cottages. My wife loved the shop, Pink Tangerine, with colorful Lilly Pulitzer dresses and accessories, but I went straight for the lobster. Yes, apparently Bush has their lobster and considers it the best. That’s why he got a vacation house there. My wife had the fresh lobster (and by fresh I mean 3 hours old), while I tried the mussels in tomato sauce at Mabel’s Lobster Claw. Both were so fresh and tasty that you suddenly realize that New York restaurants aren’t always as great as everyone claims.

Layla says, "Time to Get Crackin' at Mabel's Lobster Claw..."

The town is nice enough to have paths for you to walk around and enjoy the view of wooden ships sailing the ocean, marinas with lovely boats, old style houses of wood, and beautiful gardening with the perfect weather to stroll, leaving you relaxed and refreshed.

Kennebunkport, Maine

Night comes early, but a short drive away you can take it some of the non-shack style restaurants. One of my wife’s contacts suggested Academe at the Kennebunk Inn (not to be confused with the Kennebunkport Inn). The Kennebunk Inn is about a 10 minute drive from the Captain Lord Mansion and a small restaurant managed by Shanna and Brain O’Heas, a married couple who make it a point to leave the place and fly on occasion to other countries so that other influences can come into their food and change their culinary perspective.

Shanna and Brian O'Heas - Academe at the Kennebunk Inn

The star chefs met at CIA and their professional skills have been finely honed through assignments in Boston, Connecticut, Florida, London and New York in settings ranging from The Four Seasons to luxurious clubs and resorts (Grand Floridian, Ocean Reef and Greenwich Country Club), as well as private homes and estates. The O’Heas’ mentors include some of the most talented and celebrated figures in the culinary world: Madeleine Kamman, author and PBS series host of “Madeleine Cooks” and Michel Boulard, former chef to the King of Belgium and one of New York’s finest private French chefs.

Haddock Chowder

They draw on their culinary and artistic backgrounds to create imaginative and enticing soups (check out this Haddock Chowder), salads, and entrees served in an informal setting. Menu highlights include the Lobster Pot Pie, selected by celebrity chef, Cat Cora, to be featured on the Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate.” An Academe exclusive, it sounds a lot heavier than it actually is  – with poached lobster including tail, knuckle and claw meat, peas, corn, potatoes and Shanna’s hand rolled puff pastry.

The Award-Winning Lobster Pot Pie

Their travels are evident in their cooking and the different tasty combinations deserve nothing less than that fabulous word “fusion cooking.” Some of their fantastic combinations included a Maine Crab Cake and Citrus Salad with fresh local crab panko crusted and fried over jicama, cucumber and citrus supremes with a white balsamic lemon vinaigrette. Next time, my wife and I are dying to try the Steak and Blue Salad with grilled coullotte steak, crumbled blue cheese, roasted beets, sherry vinaigrette and sea-salt vinegar beet chips, along with the Personal Meatloaf wrapped in bacon with mustard mashed potatoes haricot verts and truffle ginger BBQ sauce. I ate one of their specials – a fried clam pizza made with whole wheat dough topped with capers, mozzarella, and basil.

The Special of the Night: Fried Clam Pizza

And as for the conclusion – a selection of amazing homemade sorbets (mint chocolate chip, blueberry crumble) and tasty tawny port (courtesy of the Portuguese).

Next up?

Part II of Saar and Layla’s Seafood Shack Roadtrip to Maine…