July 15, 2012

Dine Out Maine: The Osprey gives coastal summer dining a creative edge

A local treasure has a new chef whose skillfully prepared offerings include both the expected and the experimental.

By SHONNA MILLIKEN HUMPHREY

Tucked into a corner of Georgetown's Robinhood Marine Center, past a maze of industrial-looking buildings that make a driver think, "Did I get those directions right?" sits The Osprey on the edge of Robinhood Cove. While the parking lot license plates generally span the full map of New England, the restaurant represents the best of Maine's casual, high-quality seasonal dining.

click image to enlarge

The Osprey, open from May to October at the Robinhood Marine Center in Georgetown, provides diners with waterfront views and some unexpected menu offerings.

Courtesy photo

DINING REVIEW

THE OSPREY, 340 Robinhood Road, Georgetown. 371-2530; robinhoodmarinecenter.com/osprey-restaurant

★★★★

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Bar closes at 11 p.m.

BAR: Full bar. Nice variety of wines that range from $23 to $40 per bottle and $7 to $8 per glass.

CREDIT CARDS: All major

PRICE RANGE: $6 to $24; market prices apply

VEGETARIAN: Yes

GLUTEN-FREE: Yes

RESERVATIONS: Yes, but not always necessary.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

BOTTOM LINE: The Osprey has been a local treasure for years. It's off the beaten path and caters to a seasonal clientele, but locals might find it worth the winding drive to sample the restaurant's more recent creative preparations. With a plate of seafood and a glass of wine, the view of Robinhood Cove is hard to beat.

Open only during tourist season, the main dining room is fine, but ask for a seat on the enclosed porch if available. Amid blond timber walls and local map-topped tables, the windows offer a Maine summer harbor view of sailboats bobbing against blue sky and water. Like those languid sailboats, nothing about The Osprey's space feels forced -- the friendly staff is helpful without hovering.

The Osprey brought on a new chef this year, and the menu, I was told by the server, is a product of this hire. Menu design is tougher than it looks, and creating a series of food offerings that include both the expected and the unique is no easy task. A kitchen must capitalize on the Maine experience without lapsing into boredom and repetition.

Happily, The Osprey's menu shows a subtle and thoughtful hand, and I applaud the creator's vision. Substantial, local, interesting and accessible seem to be the kitchen's guiding principles.

First, seared scallops in lobster nage with fingerling potatoes and grilled asparagus ($24). Nage, or "a la nage," translates to "swimming," and the preparation technique is all about the sauce. In this case, the scallops -- big ones -- were seared to a caramel brown and floated artfully atop a savory lobster sauce. A small handful of tender potatoes and a fan of asparagus complemented the scallops in both flavor and presentation.

Bravo also to The Osprey's crab linguine ($21) with Maine crab, asparagus, spring peas, lemon, Parmesan and bread crumbs. Served as a large portion in a large bowl, the meal had no heavy, thick pasta sensibility. Instead, it was a light but substantial treat, capitalizing on the delicate blend of crisp vegetables and an abundance of tasty Maine crab meat.

My favorite item though, was The Osprey's salmon BLT ($12) and its ability to elevate the humble sandwich from a quick pub-style pick-up into a meal worth anticipating.

The high-quality, impossibly lean smoked bacon and tender salmon filet might be expected, but the expertly fried green tomatoes (if I closed my eyes, these tasted straight off a Southern table) and the tangy lemon aoli were not. The bacon, tangy green tomato with a crispy coating, smooth salmon and citrus aoli all combined to make a sandwich experience worth remembering.

The same happy surprise came in the form of romaine salad ($6), served deconstructed with a mammoth heart of romaine placed beside three paper-thin anchovy filets, a few briny kalamata olives and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Drizzled with a Caesar dressing, this is a salt lover's salad.

When The Osprey menu gets creative, it soars. For standards? Not so much.

While I recognize that lobster rolls are, largely, a matter of individual taste and preference, The Osprey's version offered too little lobster meat mixed with too much mayonnaise for my taste. Add a too-soft roll and watery cole slaw, and I cannot endorse it. Not because it is inherently foul, just because there are so many other wonderful menu items.

For example, mussels ($10) arrived in a tomato-based sauce with bacon slivers (the same applewood-smoked as the BLT, I suspect), and its smoky tomato-based sensibilities made it seem almost like barbecue sauce.

I was not expecting to love these barbecue mussels, but I absolutely did.

(Continued on page 2)

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