CHEBEAGUE ISLAND – During the hottest time of the summer you want to escape the heat, even if only for dinner. A meal at an oceanside inn like the Chebeague Island Inn, presiding over the western side of the island and offering good dinners and a fabulous view, is just the ticket.
But first you have to get there, and that will cost you extra (see attached box for info).
Casey Prentice bought the inn with his parents, Richard and Gerry Prentice, at the end of January. The inn opened on May 14 with a new chef, Justin Rowe, who has cooked at Fore Street in Portland, at White Barn Inn and On the Marsh in Kennebunk, and at 555 in Portland.
Prentice says he has focused on improving the menu to draw visitors. One hundred dinner guests, in addition to overnight guests, have been dining there every night of the week this summer.
The lobby is paneled with dark-stained beaded board, as all oceanside inns in Maine used to be. The wide covered porch wrapping two sides of the inn and the building’s boxy, 1920s facade give the imagination notice — this will be an old-fashioned holiday, whether a few hours or a few days long.
But however much you love architectural preservation, you can be grateful the menu holds up-to-date dishes and a decent range of international wines.
With a reservation (essential for this excursion), we were seated at a table on the screened porch, rolled-up plastic curtains ready for rain or cool wind.
Naia Verdejo 2008 from Rueda, Spain ($27), with hints of kumquat and pineapple, was perfect with the Hudson Valley foie gras torchon, a salty, dense piece of molded foie gras. Medjool date and honey in the comb sat alongside, their sweetness and similar creamy textures harmonizing with the foie.
The verdejo was also a hit with the smoked hake salad ($12), called fish and chips on the menu. Lightly dressed new greens and deep-gold house potato chips with lots of crunch completed that appetizer, a good choice when overlooking the sea.
Descendientes De Jose Palacios Petalos 2008 (not the 2007 on the wine list) from Bierzo, Spain ($38), with its deep-red color and peppery flavor, paired perfectly with venison carpaccio ($14) a gamey, intense appetizer touched with white truffle oil and chopped egg gribiche and three toast triangles.
That wine also made good sense with the ribeye ($36), an enormous steak from Archer’s Angus in Richmond. Black truffle sauce heightened its beefy flavor with earthy funk, and the cooking of the meat was equally correct — rare and juicy throughout the interior and crusted with a deep-brown grilled exterior.
But the “melted” leeks promised in the menu were tough and nowhere near a state of melt, and fried gnocchi were dry, resembling browned stale bread.
Seared scallops ($28) presented the kitchen’s confident take on protein, again with brown-gold exteriors and tenderness within. Forbidden rice, with its chewy texture, worked well with nutty wild mushrooms foraged by Rick Tibbets and fiddleheads, now out of season and off the menu, in brown butter vinaigrette.
Halibut “chowder” in a smoky cream sauce was the least exciting meal, although fingerling potatoes and bacon are likely to hold more allure on a cooler evening.
Leafy greens from Second Wind Farm on Chebeague and the next-door neighbor’s lobsters are also found on the menu.
The Sunset Landing menu is served on the open porch with wicker seating, and holds small bites such as lobster corn dogs, devils on horseback, dates stuffed with blue cheese wrapped with bacon, and scallop ceviche.
Monday night is Nostalgia Night and a favorite for local diners, with a $14-to-$17 menu of old-fashioned classics, including New England boiled dinner, sausage lasagna and stuffed pork chops.
It’s too bad the peanut butter cup dessert ($9) involved a small oval cake that was dry and tasteless. Chocolate ganache and peanut butter ice cream couldn’t redeem the weird dry cake, although they tasted good alone.
But coriander lemon curd in a puff pastry tart ($9) hit all the sensory sweet spots — well, almost all. Rich, slightly bitter and alluringly aromatic, the curd was excellent, and the pastry was as delicate as spun sugar. Honey and mascarpone made a creamy pillow alongside.
Frozen desserts ($3 per scoop) are made in-house, and recent offerings have included mint chocolate chip, chocolate and vanilla gelato, berry citrus frozen yogurt and raspberry or coconut lime sorbet.
N.L. English is a Portland freelance writer and the author of “Chow Maine: The Best Restaurants, Cafes, Lobster Shacks and Markets on the Coast.”