My wife and I added a day onto our trip to Boston for a wedding so we could hit Arrows Restaurant. We ate at the White Barn Inn this past summer during a vacation and wanted to try the other A+ restuarant in Maine. We know many people who have been and raved about it. Sadly, we will not be among the ravers.
Once sat, we were offered water service (a little over the top) and an optional butter service (a LOT over the top). I'm a big butter fan, though, so we went with the butter service. 3 specialty butters which were just fine. But when we were served bread, we were given one slice each. So we quickly were without bread, with plenty of butter still left to go. We eventually had to request more bread.
We did the six-course tasting menu. It was a little odd that there was no amuse buche, but it seemed particularly lacking when the first course came out - lobster and brussel sprouts - a fairly heavy way to begin without a small amuse. The lobster dish itself didn't really work, since the strong the strong lobster flavor competed with the strong brussel sprout flavor the whole way. [Remember this comment...it's the motif of the evening.] Toward the end of the dish we struck a lemony sauce underneath, which kind of brought the dish together. But too little too late. To be clear, each element of the plate was prepared well - it was the design of the recipe that seemed to fail.
The second course was what I imagine is their signature - 4 lettuces, 4 oils, 4 vinegars. This was the home run. An extremely interesting and well-designed plate that wowed us. It would be worth returning just to have this.
The third course was fish - turbot, to be exact. This plate was out of control, and not in a good way. The turbot had a sauce of shrimp and oysters which was very strong. Again, a bad choice since the fish and the sauce really fought each other the whole way through the dish. There was also a fried potato ball on top of jerusalem artichoke puree and some other sauces. (?) There was ALSO a small fennel salad with mandarin orange. The entire plate was complicated and didn't work well together. It looked like it was way too involved, as well. Honestly one of the most poorly designed fish courses I've ever experienced. I thought it would be the most poorly designed course of the night. Sadly, I was wrong.
The fourth course was beef, prepared traditionally with potato and red wine reduction. There was certainly nothing surprising about this dish but it was very well executed and delicious. I would go back for the salad and the beef only, except the beef was $44 a la carte! Huh?! But for us, it was lovely.
The fifth course was cheese. Or was supposed to be, anyway. Cheese plates are supposed to be about the cheese. On this plate, the cheese was an accent. There were two cheeses, both rather mild. The white cheese came resting on pear. (So far so good.) Next to it was a poached pear. (OK.) With pomegranite seeds. (Uh...) And marmalade. (Stop.) And other accompaniments. (STOP!) The blue cheese was fine but came with a similarly long list of side items, each of which was displayed at least as prominently as the cheese. And in case that's not enough, there were slices of homemade dried sausage on the plate. As before, taken individually, each item was fine. But as a whole, the plate was a disaster, and didn't remotely serve the function that a cheese plate is meant to serve.
The sixth course was dessert. Once again, a very involved plate that didn't seem to merge in any coherent theme. Vanilla panna cotta was DELICIOUS! a small spoon with cranberries and pomegranite seeds (there they are again) seemed superfluous. There was also a small bowl of unmemorable chocolate ice cream, over which we poured pomegranite juice from a small pitcher on the plate. The pitcher sat in a small pool of chocolate, which made for messy and unappealing occurrences when you picked it up to pour.
The dessert plate might be better remembered if there were petit fours at the end of the meal. After all that food, dark chocolate is more than a fun bonus - it's a way to clean it all up once you're done. Since that dessert plate didn't come close to accomplishing that, petit fours would have been most welcome. But alas.
The final kicker was that we went to the entryway to retrieve our coats and after 3-4 minutes, had to eventually hunt someone down back in the dining room to retrieve them.
I will say that the salad dish was tantalizing enough that we would probably return if we were up there during the summer, while the garden is in full operation. But our December 1 visit was a conceptual disaster and didn't live up to the excitement we'd heard about from many our friends. The White Barn Inn, while the food wasn't out of this world, was a much more complete and satisfying dinner experience.
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