November 12, 2013

Dine Out Maine: Cape not overrun with fine dining options, but Sea Glass is one

The Cape Elizabeth restaurant offers stylish seaside dining.

By John Golden

With our relentless idealization of local food, where foraging is akin to godliness and artisanal delirium rules the day, a chef like Mitchell Kaldrovich is a relief from the culinary frenzy.

click image to enlarge

The food is good and the view striking at Sea Glass at Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

SEA GLASS AT INN BY THE SEA

***

WHERE: 40 Bowery Beach Road (Route 77), Cape Elizabeth. 799-3134

HOURS: Breakfast 7 to 11 a.m. Monday to Friday; lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday; dinner 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; brunch 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; lounge 4 to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday to Sunday

CREDIT CARDS: Yes

PRICE RANGE: Most first courses $6 to $13, entrees $18 to $28, desserts $9

VEGETARIAN: Yes (a few choices)

GLUTEN-FREE: Yes (a few choices)

KIDS: Yes, welcome

PETS: Allowed in lounge and outdoor dining deck

RESERVATIONS: Yes

BAR: Full-service and bar menu

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

BOTTOM LINE: For stylish seaside dining in one of Maine’s premier inn resorts, Sea Glass offers a menu of admirable dishes that are well prepared. The wine list is extensive and offers superb choices in all price ranges. Best dishes include gaucho steak, mushroom tart, roast chicken under a brick and any of the desserts by pastry chef Karen Voter.

Ratings follow this scale and takeinto consideration food, atmosphere, service and value: H Poor HH Fair HHH Good HHHH Excellent HHHHH Extraordinary. The Maine Sunday Telegram visits an establishment twice if the first dining experience was unsatisfactory. The reviewer dines anonymously.

In case you’re not familiar with his name, this affable Argentinian is the executive chef at the highly proficient kitchen of Sea Glass restaurant, the signature dining venue housed at the Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth.

Sea Glass is a far cry from what this space used to be when it was the Audubon Room, a deadly dining facility where I once had a roast beef sandwich no better than shoe leather on rye.

That was before the inn underwent its astonishing facelift in 2008, which turned dowdy guest rooms into sleek accommodations as homage to quasi-mid-century modern decor.

To Cape residents, Sea Glass must feel like the culinary gods have descended because fine-dining options are otherwise slim in this neck of the woods. And for hotel guests it provides very decent dining without having to travel to Portland’s worldly-wise eateries.

But I must beg this question: For those who live on the other side of the Casco Bay Bridge, is Sea Glass a destination worth the crossing to rumble down the dark passages of Route 77 on a blustery night? For the most part it is.

My guest and I did just that and arrived on a busy Friday night for dinner. Upon entering the inn’s attractive lobby you’re immediately drawn to the striking cocktail lounge at the far end. It’s a stylish space with tables, banquettes and bar seating. That night it hosted a soigné group of diners at a table for 10, with others holding court at banquettes against the wall.

We went straight to the main dining room for our 7:15 reservation. The hostess told us that our table wasn’t ready (but the room was only half full). We repaired to the bar.

We barely had time for a few sips of our well-made drinks when the hostess told us that our table was now ready. I paid the bar bill, a whopping $25 (before tip) for two drinks.

We were shown to a spacious table for two. I looked around the room to take in the scene. Why is it, I wondered, do hotels resort to installing these faux-formal dining rooms in lieu of more relaxed, contemporary décor? Unless the walls are sheathed in boisserie, the furnishings 18th-century and minstrels are in the wings, a stage set of Ethan Allen reproductions is such decorative tomfoolery.

At the table, we were presented with the impressive wine list. It’s a huge collection that is catalogued in a leather-bound volume with compelling choices in a wide range of price points. These included a $30 bottle of malbec (Argentina) to a $700 bottle of Chateau Haut Brion, the legendary Bordeaux.

It’s a great wine list. We, however, chose from a good selection of wines by the glass. My earthy, herbaceous malbec (Crios de Susana Balbo, Argentina, $12) was excellent, and my dinner partner’s chardonnay from A to Z Vineyards (Willamette, Oregon, $10) was a good choice, too, though it’s a thin chardonnay.

Kaldrovich’s menu won’t offend or shock the average diner. Nor will it tickle your culinary itch beyond getting good solid cooking in the American bistro style. But there are dishes worth contemplating, which I’ve had in past visits. His grilled gaucho steak ($26), for instance, is succulent and gutsy; the roast chicken under a brick ($22) is juicy and flavorful, and a starter on the menu, mushroom tart ($12), holds bold flavors.

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