Monday, July 13, 2009

4th of July Getaway to Kittery, ME

Over the 4th of July weekend, my wife and I traveled to Kittery, Maine for a one-night getaway. This small yet beautiful coastal town in Maine, which overlooks yet another scenic tourist destination, Portsmouth, NH across the mouth of the Piscataqua River, is about an hour's drive from our home, perfect for a short weekend trip. We made reservations for our one-night accommodation at a local bed & breakfast called Portsmouth Inn and Spa. This is a nice quaint 5-room inn that overlooks the Piscataqua River and is just a stone's throw away from Portsmouth (walk across the historic Memorial Bridge and you are there!). Of the five total rooms at the inn, three were already booked and we chose a room called Alice, the smallest one located up in the attic, which has a window overlooking the scenic river (the left-most window on the roof in the picture below).

The inn also offers full spa treatments and we chose to have a duet Swedish massage. We arrived on Sunday, July the 5th and immediately scooted over to the spa next door (the small house on the left) for our massages before our 4 o'clock check-in. And I gotta say, the massage felt so good that we were both hoping that it would never end! But end it did and we were greeted by our friendly host with some fresh-baked cookies and coffee and were promptly checked-in. The inn itself and our room is very neat and clean, just like how you would want your own home to be. And that was how it felt, like coming back to your own home where you can just kick off your shoes and relax, leaving all the stress of everyday life behind, if only for just a day and a night.

After settling down, we now we have to think about where to have dinner. And in both Portsmouth and Kittery, there is certainly no shortage of quality restaurants waiting to serve you. Before arriving, I had done some research and decided that the menu at Anneke Jans in Kittery was the most promising. Having worked at a New England seafood restaurant, I was not about to have more of the same and believe me, in this part of the world, the vast array of New England-style seafood restaurants dominate. Hello! Maine lobsters and Bob's Clam Hut, anyone? So, in choosing Anneke Jans, I was going for more of the variety and style of food than anything else. Anneke Jans bills itself as a neighborhood bistro style restaurant and had received numerous positive praises in reviews from area magazines and newspapers.

Arriving at the restaurant, we were surprised to see how small it was. Located on a secluded corner of a one-way street, Anneke Jans probably has less than 40 seats and the crowded quarters is not something I look forward to when I go out to dine. Especially, when my arm was brushing up against another patron's seated on the table next to us. Really, that place was tiny. It has a bar and like the restaurant I worked at, an open kitchen, where customers can watch the chefs cook their meals. Our server was friendly enough but she did not offer any further explanation about the various menu items or any recommendations. Not a good start but I already know what I wanted to eat.

For starters, we went with Bangs Island mussels with bacon, shallots, white wine, cream and for a dollar more, Great Hill blue cheese crumble. It was excellent and I was impressed. The mussels are fresh and the creamy sauce is so savory and delicious, I could almost drink it up! What a great start and I couldn't wait for our entrées. I chose a striped bass with lobster, potatoes, pearl onions, wild mushrooms and lobster foam while my wife had seared duck breast with wild rice pancake, grilled asparagus and blueberry glaze.

They both sounded great on paper and we couldn't wait to try them. Our meals arrived and immediately, my heart sank. For $25, my plate had two small pieces of pan-fried striper laid on top of a 3 or 4 shredded pieces of lobster meat, a child's handful of pearl onions, peas, potatoes and several slivers of mushrooms. And the promised lobster foam? Well, let me ask ya, what foam? Instead of a frothy and savory whipped cream-like foam, all I could see was a watery mess pooled on the base of my plate. To make matters worse, the "foam" tasted very much like it looked, watery and devoid of any flavor worth writing about. My wife's duck dish fared a little better although not by much. Hers was $27 and all she got for it was a single duck breast which was nicely cooked and flavorful. However, the wild rice pancake was forgettable and the asparagus was over-grilled and limp. The blueberry glaze was OK but really nothing to write home about.

As for desserts, they were more like an afterthought when the menu was conceived and really not worth mentioning. Nothing exciting, just the usual line-up of cheesecakes, créme brulée, etc. The bill came up to just over $100 for the two of us and we left the restaurant feeling slightly ripped off. Seriously, I could have made any of our entrées taste much better at less than half the cost. C'est la vie......

Dinner was a disappointment but the rest of our stay was memorable. It so happened that due to the crappy rainy weather we were having the two weeks prior to our arrival, the 4th of July fireworks was postponed to the night that we arrived. And the best part is, we got to watch the sensational fireworks display right from our room window! No need for bug sprays or blankets.

The next morning, breakfast was served promptly at 8:30 am. There were five other guests staying at the inn and we all had breakfast together. Three of the guests were returnees, having stayed at the inn several times before and they were really treated like family. The meal started with a nice strawberry and granola parfait and ended with eggs florentine served with a humongous croissant over some flavored jam, orange juice and coffee.

Overall, we had a great time with just a little bump during dinner. We would definitely come back again and maybe next time, spend more time exploring the town of Portsmouth, which we didn't have time to do this time around.

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