August 6, 2011

Dine Out Maine: Sunsets top off lovely seaside dining at Sebasco

By NANCY HEISER

Sun glints off the water at Sebasco Harbor Resort, located on the Phippsburg peninsula where upper Casco Bay opens to the sea. The resort sparkles in other ways, too. The rolling grounds are manicured, the saltwater pool is pristine, and the buildings of classic New England architecture are freshly appointed.

click image to enlarge

Rack of lamb joins seafood and other entrees on the Pilot House menu at the Sebasco Harbor Resort on the Phippsburg peninsula. The restaurant is open to non-resort guests.

Courtesy Sebasco Harbor Resort

DINING REVIEW

PILOT HOUSE at the Sebasco Harbor Resort, 29 Kenyon Road, Sebasco Estates. 389-1161; sebasco.com

***1/2

HOURS: 5:30 to 9 p.m. for dinner. Closed Sundays in summer; open daily the rest of season through October.

CREDIT CARDS: All major

PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $7 to $12; entrees, $18 to $38

VEGETARIAN: Yes

GLUTEN-FREE: Yes

KIDS: Welcome. High chairs and a separate menu.

RESERVATIONS: Recommended

BAR: Full. The international wine list has about 40 bottles, including four sparkling and some distinctive choices, $26 to $105. About 15 wines by the glass. Eight beers on tap, mostly Maine microbrews.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

BOTTOM LINE: Pilot House, overlooking a picturesque harbor, is the fine dining option at the resort. The Ledges, downstairs, is a casual eatery and has outdoor seating. Both welcome non-resort guests. The scenery alone makes Pilot House a delightful spot for dining, and a draw for visitors and boaters. There are several delicious dishes on a menu that offers steak, fowl and many seafood choices. Adventurous eaters may be disappointed that preparations are fairly tame. A good spot for groups.

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 resort is easy to navigate by foot or golf cart. It's designed to be restful, pretty and tourist-friendly.

The experience at its fine dining restaurant, Pilot House, extends this feeling. The view from the second-floor dining room is of moored boats, islands and broad ocean. Suntanned customers dine in casual clothes or dressier attire -- it doesn't matter; this is a place of no worries. Extended families sit at group tables; kids with chocolate milk, adults with mixed drinks or wine. The plate glass keeps out a curious gull.

While the menu includes some up-to-date options, the food doesn't really challenge this sense of repose. But the entree prices remind you that you are paying for that spectacular view from your table, which turns into an even more gorgeous tableau at sunset.

Most appetizers hit a high note on the night we visited. The only exception was a velvety-smooth carrot ginger soup ($7) that was served tepid and lacked much ginger bite.

But a triangle of diver scallops ($12) was outstanding, with the beautifully browned giant gems surrounded by a white chocolate mole, the sauce's sweetness enhancing the seafood's own, and a touch of chili keeping the flavor balanced.

Fried green tomato slices with a light and crumbly crust burst with juice and delivered a fiery kick when dipped in tomatilla salsa ($10). This is one dish with pizzazz.

Another appetizer, one we did not have the opportunity to try -- Maine shrimp with grits in Tasso cream ($12) -- hints at Southern roots in the kitchen. Indeed, chef Eric Walker, new this year, worked in North Carolina for a stretch.

Lobster pot pie topped with a golden puff pastry ($31) entices diners who want their shellfish easy to manage. The pink and golden entree is sherry-rich, studded but not jam-packed with lobster, and too heavy on salt.

One of the evening's two specials reprised an entree we had at Fish Bones in Lewiston two weeks earlier -- risotto beneath blackened seafood. For me, this combination doesn't make for a happy marriage, but others may think differently and want to give it a try, especially since this risotto, mixed with chunks of Alaskan king crab, is creamy and delicious. The blackened toppers -- three diver scallops and two colossal shrimp -- are tender and well cooked, but not as spicy as one might expect. The dish comes in at $38.

Seafood linguine ($26) is a large bowl of scallops, shrimp, mussels and lobster in a garlic-and-wine sauce with saffron. It's good, but not special enough to request a box in which to cart home the soupy leftovers.

The cauliflower "steak" ($18) is a thick slice of the vegetable anointed with a lemony flavor and topped with melted Parmesan. I enjoyed its simplicity. Unfortunately, the mashed potato mound underneath was cool in spots. This kind of thing is so easy to remedy with a zap in the microwave that it's hard to figure why it happens at any restaurant. Details, details.

The menu, which changes seasonally, includes a filet mignon and a New York strip, a pan-seared duck with blueberry and Port wine reduction, and chicken breast with a tropical fruit salsa.

If time permits, diners have the opportunity to eyeball their lobster before it's steamed, in the trap located just off the dock.

When it comes to service, the restaurant uses a team approach. One server takes our order, assigns the silverware and checks in mid-meal and at the end. Others deliver food, fill water glasses, clear the table, offer coffee. All the staff are professional and cordial. A maitre d' in crisp business attire maintains a friendly presence.

The centerpiece items we try are cooked to just the right doneness, and are attractively presented. The options and preparations here will please a range of palates. Overall, I'd like to see a more spirited use of ingredients to add character to some of the main dishes.

A foursome from France sits two tables away from us, lingering over their meal. A young couple on the other side takes photographs. These guests remind our party of Mainers that to be dining on well-prepared seafood in calm surroundings with a killer view is indeed something special.

We conclude with a giant wedge of Bailey Irish Cream chocolate fudge cake. Most of the desserts are similarly family-friendly. The rich, retro dessert puts a metaphoric maraschino cherry on top of our classic American resort dinner.

Nancy Heiser is a freelance writer who lives near Portland. Her work has appeared in national and regional publications.

 

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