Saturday, December 7, 2013
By NANCY HEISER
A historic farmhouse with a barn rests on an idyllic clearing in the woods on Westport Island. This is the cozy, quaint Squire Tarbox Inn, about 8.5 miles from Route One near Wiscasset. Owners Roni and Mario De Pietro have been offering sustenance and respite here since 2002.
The Squire Tarbox Inn on Westport Island feels far from civilization, but is just a little over an hour from Portland. Vegetables from its organic garden appear on the menu, and two or three times a year, the inn serves island-grown lamb.
SQUIRE TARBOX INN
1181 Main Road, Westport Island
HOURS: Open 6 to 8 or 8:30 p.m. every day but Tuesday through Oct. 19. From Oct. 20 to December, open 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 6 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Closed January to mid-April.
CREDIT CARDS: Visa/Mastercard
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $6.50 to $9.95; entrees, $23.50 to $32
VEGETARIAN: Limited to plate of nightly vegetables with grains or starch, salads and some soups
KIDS: Welcome; no high chairs
RESERVATIONS: Highly recommended
BAR: Full. Beer in bottles.
A 30-bottle wine list includes the innkeeper's favorites from Switzerland, France, Italy and Portugal.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Limited to downstairs dining room
BOTTOM LINE: Squire Tarbox is a spot for a special-occasion foray to a historic inn, where the chef ably prepares Old World food with an emphasis on Swiss cuisine and local organic produce.
Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service and value:
*Poor **Fair ***Good *** Excellent *****Extraordinary.
The Maine Sunday Telegram visits an establishment twice if the first dining experience was unsatisfactory. The reviewer dines anonymously.
The inn's ambience adds much to the dining experience. Doors open to a deck that looks across fields, a brook, a greenhouse, berry bushes and woods. Kyle De Pietro, the owners' son, cultivates the organic vegetables that appear on chef Mario's menu; he also sells at local farmer's markets.
Roni's vintage marionettes, many from Prague, dangle here and there about the inn, adding a unique charm to the dining and sitting rooms.
Dinner is served in a 25-seat rustic area dating from 1763, where a giant Colonial stone fireplace takes up much of one wall. A second, upper dining room holds a few more tables, and was occupied by a large party when we left.
This gave our meal's closure a somewhat hectic feel. However, service for most of our dinner -- and we arrived early enough to enjoy seats on the deck -- was personal and chatty. Courses were well-timed.
Swiss-born, Mario includes a few of his country's specialties on his menu of hearty fare that is strong in traditional continental and Germanic cuisine.
A terrific tomato curry soup was velvety, not too rich and carefully seasoned so that the curry did not overwhelm the flavor of just-harvested tomatoes. The Swiss onion soup was good and hearty, less beef-flavored than its better-known French counterpart and lacking that often awkward crouton. It came amply sprinkled with Gruyere and Appenzeller cheeses.
The crab cake appetizer was a 4-inch patty studded with red peppers. Nicely browned, it was a fairly standard rendition ($9.95).
Translucent slices of cool, dill-cured salmon, prepared in-house, were a beautiful and delicious nod to Scandinavia, the homemade mustard sauce containing a second dose of the fresh herb flavor in its tangy mix ($8.50).
Strips of Swiss-style veal ($27.50) came in a mildly flavored cream and mushroom sauce and was served with roesti potatoes. This Swiss take on hash browns -- a fried-in-bacon-fat, crispy cake molded to fit a fry pan -- was delicious to nibble and too large to finish. It's often cut in wedges to serve.
The chef, who came to our table mid-meal for a brief visit, said the potato dish is enjoyed in Switzerland for breakfast, lunch, dinner, even dessert.
Other entrees on the menu included roast duck, filet mignon, rack of lamb and potato-crusted haddock -- nothing overly challenging for the palate.
Specials were where the chef introduced some invention, and we chose three.
A broad, thin slice of swordfish smothered in a house-made chutney of green tomatoes lightly dusted with curry was a sound pairing. It offered the novel calm of a carousel, not the thrill of a roller coaster.
Scallops were prepared in an Indonesian style and served with a coconut peanut sauce and rice ($27.50). The chef did an able job as he strayed from Northern Europe preparations to create a satisfying, if not mind-blowing, entree.
Two or three times a year, the inn serves lamb grown on Westport Island. Lucky us, as we hit the right night. Mario butchers the animal himself and serves the filet, which you don't commonly see ($31).
A fresh mint sauce that was dark, leafy and nicely tingly -- Roni's English recipe -- accompanied delicious slices of meat.
Vegetable sides from right off the Tarbox farm were expertly steamed, then sauteed in a little butter. My friend called this the best dinner he's had out all year, and he eats out a lot.
House-made key lime pie and chocolate mousse, two of four classic and predictable choices, were adequately rich, not cloying. A delicious selection of breads from Borealis Bakery was served during the meal.
In general, how much you enjoy Squire Tarbox's regular entrees will depend on how much you enjoy food that doesn't shy away from cream, butter, bacon fat, and potatoes. Those who prefer a gentle simplicity, where the same high-quality ingredients are more likely to be prepared with olive oil and garlic and a lighter touch, will be less excited by the food options here, as will those who crave novelty and fireworks.
Squire Tarbox is a spot for a special-occasion foray down a winding road for those who enjoy classic Old World food very well prepared in an unusual and historic setting with a lovely and tranquil ambience. The inn feels far from civilization, but it's just a little over an hour from Portland.
Diners who particularly aspire to traditional Swiss specialties might want to visit on Thursday.
Nancy Heiser is a freelance writer. She can be contacted at: