Monday, December 9, 2013
From the glorious margaritas, salsas and chips to the cunningly classy main courses, the food and drink at Comida Latin Kitchen in Camden struck such high notes on my first visit there that I left with this distinct impression: Here was the best Mexican food I’ve had in Maine.
On Elm Street in Camden Village, Comida Latin Kitchen is already a prominent member of the dining hierarchy in this region of culinary stars
Latin cuisine in New England is still a novelty, with some bright spots here and there. Boston has its share while some restaurants like Portland’s Zapoteca and Sonny’s or XYZ and Havana on Mount Desert are respectable contenders of the genre. The rest are underwhelming.
As for Comida I dare to say that after only one visit I’m convinced that at last someone has done it right. The kitchen is more about the broader reaches of Latin cooking, a manner of fusion fare that is fairly substantial and complex. My only misgiving is that I haven’t had enough of the delights yet from Chef Tom Sigler’s establishment.
The charming 20-seat dining room is neatly stylish and comfortable
Banquettes along the windows are favored by regulars
The side door leads to the garden where tables are set up for dining on the flower-filled patio
It opened along Camden’s main drag in February, giving this leafy harbor village a charming cafe that is already highly regarded.
Sigler came to Camden not just with credentials from the Culinary Institute of America followed by years of cooking in Mexico. But he also espouses the popular belief common amongst chefs nowadays of the farm-to-table regimen, which helps to distill a sense of refinement and flourish in his cooking.
A perfect margarita
This is not hard to do. The Mid-Coast region is rich with locally sourced, high-quality food to supply a chef like Sigler with the best of everything. Just witness the list of fine restaurants a stone’s throw from Camden Village: the hauteur of Natalie’s at the Camden Harbour Inn; Brian Hill’s exquisite Francine Bistro and Shepherd’s Pie in Rockport; Long Grain for wonderful country style Thai food and the inimitable Primo in Rockland — a Mid-Coast town that keeps producing ever more fascinating dining options.
Certainly It’s a stretch to drive from Portland to the Camden area for dinner, but when I was there earlier this week I made a bee-line at lunchtime for Comida.
The first chip dipped into the red-pepper-charred salsa and a vibrant tomatillo companion salsa confirmed that more deliciousness would follow. Even the house-made chips had just the right amount of salt. And for once the margarita mix was not drowned with overly sweet simple syrup but rather displayed the right balance of tartness and sugar with the tang of tequila to set it right.
It was a surprise to learn that the darker salsa shown here was made from charred red bell peppers; it was superbly good and rich, tempered by the adjoining tomatillo salsa and crispy house-made chips
As the meal progressed we relished the hint of sweet spices (cinnamon, allspice?) evident in everything we ate. The intensely bright green salsa verde that dressed my dish of rolled, deep-fried tortillas (flautas) filled with mojo pork, so heady from slow cooking in the juices of garlic and citrus, was a perfectly conceived dish. It was authentic, simple and utterly flavorful like the best of Latin home cooking honed by an abuela in the kitchen practicing generational standards and techniques.
Flautas filled with braised pork and served with salsa verde, beans and rice
The beans that accompanied were radiantly dark and spicy with flavor as was the rice that had just the right kick and texture. A little queso fresco and the sublime salsa verde brought together a fine dish indeed.
The fish taco that my lunch companion had was just as finely wrought. Here was perfectly cooked fish fillet with shards of pickled red cabbage, radish, the same rice and beans and embellished with the judicious textures of queso fresco and tomatillo salsa.
The brightly arranged dish of fish tacos were served on house-made tortillas
The dinner menu shows off another romp through Sigler’s fine hand with more complex dishes like arepas (corn cakes) wrapped in a sauce made from guajillo chili. The Bistec con Papas (marinated flank steak with chili infused potatoes) is cloaked in a rich blanket of red mole — that magical Mexican sauce that relies on dozens of ingredients to create such luxurious savor.
Chef Tom Sigler busily manning the stove at his Comida kitchen
That Camden should have a concentration of fine dining options like Comida and others in its grasp speaks clearly about how more and more chefs are drawn to the natural resources that Maine has to offer, making this a haven for chefs and connoisseurs alike. Comida should not be missed.Tweet
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.