In the beginning, there was ramp soup. Two years ago, chef Romann Dumorne, then head sous chef at 50 Local in Kennebunk, came up with the idea for a layered, potato foam-topped concoction as he prepared for a one-night guest gig at a nearby restaurant. He played around with strategies to add complexity: grinding charred ramp leaves to lend smokiness; pickling ramp bulbs for acid and texture; and rapidly chilling blanched spinach so he could color his purée a riotous shade of golf-course green. And it was good.

So good that guests went out of their way to rave about it, even pulling him aside to let him know how much they enjoyed it. “It was by far the thing I got the best reviews for. I thought, ‘If I can do this – pull off a menu that’s all mine, start to finish – and get such great comments, I need to move on to show what I can do in the kitchen,'” he said. Almost immediately, Dumorne found Lauren and Matt Wickert, who were gearing up to open a wine-focused, small-plates restaurant called Northern Union on Ogunquit’s woodsy Shore Road. He cooked a meal for them, including the ramp soup, naturally, and began his next chapter.

Three seasons later, his menu has evolved considerably, incorporating new ideas and flavors into an eclectic repertoire bracketed by rock-solid, mostly French techniques. But that extraordinarily lush ramp soup still appears on the menu ($6) whenever the foraged wild leeks are in season. “I’ve put it on there every season since we opened. I think it represents my cooking style and how far I’ve come and the reasons I am where I am,” he said.

Another of Dumorne’s signatures is preparing everything in-house, from crème fraîche, to pickles, to a thin tagliatelle that he sautées with meaty planks of king oyster mushrooms, cured egg yolk and fiddleheads ($22), all tossed in a piquant spring garlic cream sauce.

The portion may not be huge, but it is satisfying, not to mention versatile enough to pair with several of Northern Union’s intelligently selected, wide-ranging wine offerings, like the citrusy Purato white ($8), a blend of pinot grigio and Sicilian Catarratto grapes. It works equally well with the medium-light Baileyana Pinot Noir Firepeak 2014 – not sold by the glass, but thanks to a Coravin system that allows the restaurant to pour any wine on its large menu without ruining the bottle, available by the half-bottle ($24 for approximately two large glasses).

Even though the restaurant makes a virtue of its attention to wine, its cocktails are also imaginative and clever. There’s a seasonal strawberry-rhubarb mule ($11), made with vodka, vinegary homemade fruit shrub, ginger beer, and a sumac-and-ginger gummy candy garnish that bar manager Tim Yee makes himself. Even better is the Joggling Board ($11), a completely unorthodox blend of Cocchi Americano, vodka, Persian dried limes and matcha, poured into in a coupe glass frothed not with egg whites but aquafaba (flavorless whipped chickpea liquid). Take a gimlet and strand it on an island for a few centuries like one of Darwin’s finches, and this is how it might evolve.


A little of that same eccentricity runs through the interior of the restaurant, which is broken into several rooms, each with its own theme. There’s a blue-walled, cottage-style dining room; a mid-century modern lounge with starburst light fixtures and tree-stump stools; a vast glass wine wall next to a subway-tiled bar; and a cozy, eight-person room featuring an old typewriter and a wall of antique books. Not every space articulates well with every other, but the disconnects create a sense of age, making the space feel like a home that was decorated slowly, over a span of decades.

That semi-disjointed aesthetic also runs perfectly parallel to Dumorne’s menu, where you’ll find beef and pork meatballs, smoked for three hours and then simmered for another in a turmeric-infused ancho chili barbecue sauce ($5), eliding into David Chang-inspired Taiwanese-style pork buns ($12). Dumorne prepares the delightfully doughy buns letting them rise four times before steaming, then fills them with a housemade pickle of red cabbage and carrots, a cast iron-seared slice of sous-vide pork belly, and a little drizzle of that same barbecue sauce. On the meatballs, it’s just a tiny bit too sweet, but on the crisp, chewy bun, it is superb.

Another pork dish, a roasted tenderloin with pea and mint puree ($27), brings together unexpected elements like roasted Hakurei turnips, toasted wheatberries and a mostarda-marinated grilled apricot. Absurdly, they all make a wacky kind of sense on the same plate. I only wish that the tenderloin had been as salted with as much caution as it was roasted.

Fortunately, mistakes at Northern Union are rare, even in risky, high-wire dishes like the earthy beet sponge cake ($9), torn into craggy, coral-like forms surrounding a stark white quenelle of housemade yogurt sorbet. To make the cake, Dumorne salt-bakes beets, sweetens and reduces their juice, then uses both components to make a batter that he aerates in a siphon gun before preposterously microwaving it for 30 seconds in a pin-pricked paper cup. It feels crazy just to write those words, but the dessert is phenomenal, especially with a sprinkle of toasted macadamia nut crumble and a few droplets of wobbly rhubarb gelée.

Karen Mathis and Rob Love enjoy a glass of wine by a picture window at the restaurant and wine bar Northern Union in Ogunquit.

All through my meal, I got the impression that I was witnessing something special: a young chef who, after three seasons running his own kitchen at Northern Union, has grown confident and skilled enough to assemble a polished menu of seemingly unrelated dishes – ones that, implausibly, snuggle up companionably next to one another. Whether it is late spring and ramp soup is on the menu or not, get to Ogunquit to taste Romann Dumorne’s cooking soon, before his undeniable talent carries him into the next chapter of his career. He’s ready.

Andrew Ross has written about food in the United Kingdom and in New York, where he co-founded NYCnosh, a food website. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is an Internet researcher and higher education consultant. Contact him at:

Twitter: @AndrewRossME

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