If you like a good culinary adventure – one filled with mystery, surprises and, most importantly, great food and a great time – then you’ll want to check out one of the new events planned for Maine Restaurant Week.

The Camden Gourmet Adventure is going to be something like a really long surprise party for people who like to dine out. You’ll meet a bunch of other hungry people in a parking lot, where you’ll all pile into a trolley that will whisk you off to one of four restaurants for your first course. You won’t know where you’re going – or what you’ll be eating – until you get there. And that’s just the beginning.

“All we have to have is guests with an open mind, ready to go that night,” said Bettina Doulton, owner of Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville, where the evening will end with a huge after-party.

There are lots of changes coming this year to Maine Restaurant Week, which will be held March 1-10, but some things will remain the same.

The week will once again kick off with the Signature Event, a cocktail-and-dessert competition that drew 400 people last year. Reigning champ restaurant The Good Table will be defending its title at the Incredible Breakfast Cook-Off, presumably bringing back its signature breakfast dish: Creme brulee French toast.

And restaurants all over Maine will again be offering great deals: Three-course dinners for $20 to $40 and, in some cases, three-course lunches for $15.

About 70 restaurants have signed up to participate so far, two-thirds of them in the greater Portland area. Among the newcomers this year are Zapoteca Restaurante Y Tequileria in Portland, Francine Bistro and Fresh in Camden, Shepherd’s Pie in Rockport, Hugs Italian Restaurant in Falmouth, DiSanto’s in Gray and Darby’s in Belfast.

Here’s a look at what you can expect this year:

 

THE SIGNATURE EVENT

When: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 29

Where: Portland Harbor Hotel, 468 Fore St.

How much: $35 in advance; $40 at the door, $120 for a pack of four tickets

If you missed the Signature Event last year, you really missed something. Cocktails and desserts – really, what else do you need? (Except maybe a treadmill to work it all off afterward)

“The Signature Event was so popular last year that there was no doubt that we would repeat it this year,” said Gillian Britt of gBritt PR, the organizer of Maine Restaurant Week.

“We got a lot of people who called to ask about entering the dessert competition and the cocktail competition. It’s been a lot of fun talking to the people entering. They are really competitive, and they are all focused on doing something different and fun.”

A ticket to this event allows you to sample everything and then vote for your favorites. Last year, a celebrity chef led the judging of the dessert competition. This year, expert bartenders will be judging the cocktail competition.

Maine’s own John Meyers of The Grill Room and John Gertsen of Drink in Boston will announce their choice for top cocktail of the night.

“We added that because we heard from a couple of the people who made cocktails last year that it would be nice to hear from some members of their own field what they thought of the cocktails,” Britt said.

Another addition is a “best table display” competition, inspired by the incredible array of desserts displayed by Whole Foods Market last year. Hors d’oeurves prepared by chef Geoffroy Deconinck of Natalie’s Restaurant will help keep your blood-sugar levels under control.

Last year, the event was held in the funky-looking Masonic Temple in Portland, and guests were elbow to elbow. It’s been moved to the Portland Harbor Hotel to accommodate more people – up to 600. “If the weather is nice, we will have fire pits outside and things like that,” Britt said.

Check out the full list of participating bartenders and dessert competitors at: brownpapertickets.com/event/221413

 

WINES AROUND THE WORLD

When: 6 to 8:30 p.m. March 1

Where: The Inn at Brunswick Station, 4 Noble St.

How much: $45, including wine, food, tax and tip

If this economy has left you with no travel budget, here’s a fun alternative. Just close your eyes and imagine yourself dancing the tango with a hot Argentinian cowboy.

The Inn at Brunswick Station is hosting this event with an international flavor, featuring wines and foods from Argentina, Italy, Spain, France and the United States.

At each station, you’ll sample three wines from the country you’re “visiting,” sample foods from that country, and listen to live music.

No need to pack a toothbrush, unless you’re planning to take advantage of the inn’s Restaurant Week package and stay overnight.

 

THE FIRST ROUND AT THE DANFORTH

When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. March 1-3

Where: The Danforth Inn, 163 Danforth St., Portland

How much: $25

Kimberly Swan of the Swan Agency Sotheby’s International Realty, one of the major sponsors of Maine Restaurant Week, wanted to do something special at the Danforth Inn, but didn’t want to compete with local restaurants.

So the inn will be hosting three nights of tastings led by chef Lee Skawinski of Cinque Terre and Vignola, whose restaurants will be in the middle of renovations that week.

On March 1, Skawinski will be pairing his homemade pastas with Italian wines. (How does rigatoni with carbonara sauce and black truffle sound?)

The next evening, he’ll be serving bourbon-glazed pork belly and other pork dishes, paired with bourbons. And on March 3, there will be five tastes of seafood dishes.

“We’re going to have menus there to encourage people to take the next step” and go out to dinner at a restaurant, Swan said.

Part of the proceeds from this event will go to charity. Guests will be able to choose one of three charities they want Swan to make a contribution to – the Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals, Share Our Strength and the Maine College of Art Scholarship Fund.

For the complete menu, go to: brownpapertickets.com/event/224656

 

CAMDEN GOURMET ADVENTURE

When: 5:30 p.m. March 8

Where: Meet in the Camden Harbor Landing parking lot to begin your adventure. You will travel to two different restaurants, then to Cellardoor Winery, then back to the lot.

How much: $79, includes transportation, food, an after-party, tax and tip. It does not include any drinks you order at the restaurants.

Bettina Doulton of Cellardoor Winery and Lani Temple of Megunticook Market are hoping Portlanders will venture up the coast for this event, so they organized something a little different.

“We can’t expect people to drive the extra 80 miles if it’s not really going to be something that’s really unique,” Doulton said.

The Camden Gourmet Adventure is based on a similar event that’s held at the London Food Festival. Guests will meet in a parking lot, board a bus or van, and be whisked away to one of four local restaurants: Francine Bistro, 40 Paper, the Hartstone Inn or Natalie’s at the Camden Harbour Inn.

After their first course, they’ll be taken to a second restaurant for a second course.

But here’s the kicker: They’ll have no idea which two restaurants they’ll be visiting or what they’ll be eating.

“You get to experience lots of things,” Doulton said. “We love the element of keeping peoples’ senses engaged.”

Worried about food allergies? Can’t stand the sight of oysters? No worries – all of that information will be vetted ahead of time when you buy your tickets. And if you’re in a group, organizers will do their best to keep you all together.

After the second course, you’ll board the provided transportation once again and head out to Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville, where there will be lots of luscious desserts, live music and dancing. Nat Hussey from Matinicus and his band will provide the entertainment.

This is one of the real bargains of Maine Restaurant Week.

“This feels like we are creating a nice event and offering our guests a lot of value,” Doulton said. “And I think that is a nice way to do it, instead of saying you get a $10 coupon off on going to dinner at ‘X.’ Let’s spoil them with more instead of just discounting something.”

 

INCREDIBLE BREAKFAST COOK-OFF

When: 7 to 9 a.m. March 9

Where: Sea Dog Brewing Co., 125 Western Ave., South Portland

How much: $17; $30 per couple

This event always sells out quickly. If you love breakfast, it’s a must-do during Maine Restaurant Week.

The competition is a benefit for the Preble Street Resource Center. Last year, it raised $3,750 for the organization.

Petite Jacqueline is competing for the first time this year, as is Bintliff’s Ogunquit.

Each restaurant prepares small plates of their best breakfast dishes, and you get to walk around and sample all of them.

Will someone finally topple The Good Table and its creme brulee French toast?

Stay tuned. And come hungry.

 

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: MeredithGoad