So I just returned from a short honeymoon in Kennebunkport, where we were able to sample some of the high-priced cuisine as well as the take-out seafood shacks. We went to the White Barn Inn, On the Marsh, Bartley's, the Clam Shack, and the Cape Pier Lobster Shack (in Cape Porpoise).
So I wanted to do a couple things - 1) compare to two "fancy" places and 2) compare the shacks, especially the lobster rolls.
Before going, I read a lot of good things on this board about On The Marsh. I have to say I was very disappointed. The food was great, but service was weak at best, the appetizers were okay, and it is very overpriced. I think it is a classic example of a tourist-area restaurant that could be great if it was lower-priced...but for my money, I would rather splurge on White Barn than spend a lot at On The Marsh.
But here are some details - I had a lobster ravioli appetizer which was okay as I said. It was topped with a bitter green and some fried onion...but it seemed like it was the onion skin, which was even more bitter. The ravioli themselves were tasty, but very rich and overly emphasized the sauce and stuffing, as opposed to the lobster. For the entree, I had a duck that was very good, but they skimped on the sauce so it was not as good as it could have been. Also, there were chunks of dried apricot in the sauce which seemed like store-bought dried apricots. Their hardness and size made them incompatible with the rest of the dish. My wife had the tuna entree which was actually quite impressive, mainly just based on the quality of the tuna. It was such a deep red color, that I would almost call it purple. The dish was well-executed and maybe even a good value, considering the size of the cut. The dessert was also delicious, a nice apple tarte with ice cream and they even brought out a few blueberries on the side, as I requested. Overall, it was a very good meal...but considering our total check came to ~$200, there were some issues. Aside from the aforementioned food issues, the service was lacking. The server was polite, but he had almost no knowledge of the wine list, he never described the dishes as he put them down, he was not attentive in regards to water/wine, and he just seemed distracted. I think, if On The Marsh wants to strive for the price level where they are focused...they could do better in these areas. As we walked out, we did meet one of the chefs and he was very nice, probing for any insights re: our meal. I liked that he genuinely cared and seemed very passionate about the job they were doing.
The White Barn Inn is one of those places you spring for once every year or two, feel guilty spending the money, feel guilty while you are eating...but rave about it whenever you can. I am going to save the details for a separate post, but the food is excellent...the servers are incredible -- they know when they are needed, offer helpful advice, and never seemed flustered. When a 30-year old waiter can talk specifically about two half bottles of wine and then recommends the less expensive one because he is confident it was go better with your meal, he demands more respect in my eyes. Anyway, one of the best meals I have had anywhere.
As for the shacks, here are the clear rankings: Clam Shack, Cape Pier, Bartley's. I was expecting the Clam Shack to be kind of overhyped, but they were definitely the best based on fried clams and lobster rolls. The lobster rolls had the best buns, the freshest meat, and the most generous offering. Bartley's offered refrigerated/frozen meat, mainly claw meat, so that was just plain bad. They tried to hide it with Old Bay...but didn't work. Cape Pier was actually very good, but didn't love the hot dog bun and the lobster serving wasn't quite as generous...but still pretty good. I think the Clam Shack benefits from its booming business -- they have so many customers, they can afford to buy more lobsters, cook them constantly without waste, and thus give better portions.
More to come on White Barn, but that's the gist of the trip.