After a disappointing week for Maine chefs slighted by Beard (James who?), an upbeat note sounded across Camden Harbor Saturday afternoon.
On a hillside above the shrink-wrapped schooners, applause broke out at the Camden Harbour Inn as a gleaming silver skillet was hoisted in triumph.
Beaming, hoteliers Raymond Brunyanszki and Oscar Verest broke open the bubbly. It was time to celebrate.
Their bistro Natatlie’s was just named one of the top 100 restaurants in America by Open Table. Based on 5 million online reviews of 20,000 restaurants, Natalie’s joins The French Laundry in California and Barbara Lynch’s Menton (James Beard nominee) in Boston. The accolade was a Maine first.
Open Table account manager Tianna Joy Baker arrived in a vermillion dress that matched Natalie’s red accents to present the engraved skillet. Having dined there the night before, she declared the experience “one of the best meals of my life.”
And the ambiance isn’t bad either. The inn that turns 140 this year is a mix of old-Europe-meets-old-Maine-meets-old Hollywood. A perfect place to celebrate.
Chefs Chris Long and Shelby Stevens created a tasting menu for a roomful of supporters and friends. (Tasting menus are ideal for mid-day noshing. You can clear three plates, a glass or two of wine, down an espresso and still hit up a Pilates class. Not that I did that, just sayin.’)
From oysters served with a delicate broth that amplified their sweet marine essence to a respectfully grilled swordfish artfully plated with a swoosh of green garlic sauce and mushroom cream flanked by mini carrots, it’s easy to understand why the boutique auberge is an awards magnet.
In the fall, chef Long won Maine’s Lobster Chef of the Year. A month later the inn was dubbed a Relais and Chateaux property of distinction. Does all this mean you can’t get a reservation? Go now before the tourists descend.
The finely attuned staff, that help not hover, are as smooth as the mascarpone ice cream atop the carrot cake and as rare as the beef tartar and quail egg served on a lentil cracker. Sure there is a million dollar view, but the action is inside, not out.
As they say in Dutch, Gefeliciteerd!