Maine: beautiful setting, beautiful lobster

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One in two million: Rare blue lobster caught at Beal’s Lobster Pier, bound for an aquarium

When I think of Maine, with all due respect to its famous lighthouses and coastline, the first thing I think of is delicious, fresh lobster. I’ve loved it ever since I could remember and when I was growing up in Tokyo, Red Lobster was my favorite restaurant. If it was available, I would order it, even when I was young enough that my father had to read the menu to me aloud. In New York City, however, a lobster dinner would easily run you $50+ with no guarantees of freshness, so it was with great excitement that I found myself headed to Bar Harbor, Maine last August.

IMGP3967Bass Harbor Headlight

 

Bar Harbor is a beautiful area located on Mount Desert Island on the coast of Maine, summer getaway for the Rockefellers and other famous families, home to Acadia National Park with its hiking trails galore, kayaking with porpoises, and stirring vistas of coastline and lighthouses. The town is quaint New England with colorful paint and porches, but drive a little ways out of town and you will see some magnificent mansions with wild, country Maine gardens.

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Fountain and flowers in the town square, Bar Harbor, Maine

 

There are dozens of excellent dining options in town, and my quest for lobster began here. The Side Street Cafe was widely considered the best lobster roll in town and after a morning spent kayaking around a beautiful sound, watching seals, porpoises and osprey, it certainly hit the spot. As much as I love lobster, I prefer it in simple form: steamed, with melted butter; lobster rolls heavy on mayonnaise and other seasonings have never been my preparation method of choice.  As good as this sample was (and it is far better than any I’ve ever had from food trucks in New York City), it left me craving a whole lobster that much more.

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Stone Throw Cottage front porch

Most of the travel sites I visited, and the recommendations of the amazing bed and breakfast hosts Jerry and Kim at Stone Throw Cottage (which I cannot recommend enough) pointed me to either of Thurston’s or Beal’s Lobster Pounds. However, a last minute tip from the owners of one of the most beautiful houses in all of Mt Desert Island steered me in a different direction: the Islesford Dock on Little Cranberry Island. Talk about a hidden gem–you will not find much info about this on major restaurant review sites. Perhaps I am even annoying a few locals by mentioning this place, but it needs to be said: this was the best lobster I’ve ever had.

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View from the backyard of my friends’ house and award-winning garden in Bar Harbor

Getting there is an ordeal. You can take a ferry service that runs during the day for cheap. However, if you want to go for dinner, you are going to need other arrangements. Private water taxi can be arranged for $100 return for the 15 minute boat ride. Yes, you read that correctly. One crisp Benjamin Franklin note, and you may want to add a tip to boot. Crazy? Well, no. As much as that price tag may intimidate you, think about it this way: you order a 1.5 pound lobster at a nice restaurant in New York where they shipped in the lobster that week and kept it in a tank (lobster is one of those seafood items that must be kept live right up until cooking time or it just doesn’t hold its flavor). This will set you back around $40 at a minimum, and more for bigger specimens. I ordered a three pound hard-shelled (vs. soft-shelled) behemoth for less than $30–caught that afternoon, hauled up on the docks, as fresh as possible, with fries and drawn butter on the side. When I ordered it, the kitchen staff actually questioned the barman placing the order if I meant to actually order a 3-pounder (most people stop at 2!).

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Leaving for Little Cranberry Island via water taxi

Because we were a last minute booking, made possible only thanks to our “marvelously-housed” friend, we did have a half hour wait before we could be seated. During that time, we hung out on the dock and watched one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen in my life. The photos I took don’t even begin to do this sunset justice. It was everything I could ever want in a sunset–the setting, the lingering colors, the pine trees and the water forming the frame. The only drawback was the swarm of mosquitoes that would descend upon anything emitting heat: me, my camera, my camera bag; essentially the photos I took in the gallery below came at the steep price of my blood, so I hope you enjoy them!

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The restaurant at Islesford Dock. Worth the $100 return trip? Absolutely

When the lobster arrived, it was prepared to perfection, and the unoaked chardonnay the barman recommended was a very reasonably priced and perfect complement. When the water taxi came back to take me home, it came all too soon. But it was a spectacular evening. My quest for the perfect lobster not only led me to that, but it also led me to the perfect sunset. I will take the time now to mention that it was my birthday that day. And the sunset was a gift that kept on giving. The brilliant oranges, pinks and purples lingered for my entire meal; it was one of the most memorable birthday of my life.

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Picture Perfect

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