Exporting Penobscot Bay to New York City
It may seem strange to travel all the way to New York City to taste fresh Maine seafood. Last month chefs Lynette Mosher and her partner/husband Robert Krajewski, owners of Lily Bistro in Rockland, teamed up with their neighbor (the two restaurants share a common wall on Main Street), Keiko Suzuki Steinberger of Suzuki’s Sushi Bar to cook a Maine seafood dinner at the famed James Beard House in Greenwich Village.
It was well worth the trip.
Seafood lovers, New Yorkers who “summer” in the Camden/Rockland area, and those who are fans of Maine, filled Beard’s brownstone on West 12th Street. “We love Maine,” said a woman in all black waiting on line in the ladies room with me, when she heard where I was from. “Lobster and all those beaches. Just love it.”
Everyone crowded into the back room overlooking Beard’s garden and enjoyed Champagne and passed hors d’oeuvres: Maine uni (sea urchin) on a diver scallop tsuke-yaki with a thread of Maine kelp, Brandade cakes with roasted red pepper and a Shitake and oyster mushroom terrine with leeks and Maine sea salt. According to the menu, “the chefs are committed to using the best from the cold, rich waters of the Penobscot Bay.”
The six-course menu that followed featured an astounding number of foods harvested from the Maine coast: rock crab, surf clams, smelts, oysters, scallops, shrimp, halibut, crabmeat, Maine kelp and “sea veggies,” and tofu made from Maine-grown soybeans.
The highlight of the meal was Lily Bistro’s seared scallops with smoked butter, apple rosemary puree and cabbage. “We wanted to challenge ourselves to not use bacon, hence the smoked butter,” chef Mosher said. The butter had a smoky, meaty essence that brought out the best in the sweet winter scallops. Lily Bistro’s Seared Port Clyde halibut with Maine shrimp gribiche ( a simple pickled shrimp preparation) and tiny greens was perfectly cooked.
The Financier cake with preserved pears, pear jelly, and cream was so good that several New Yorkers — home to some of the country’s best bakeries — wanted to know if they could mail order the cakes.
Each one of these foods was grown or harvested by someone that the chefs know personally. As Mosher put it: “I think it is a unique place that knows the names of their harvesters, fisherpeople and growers.”
I look forward to making it up to Rockland later in the season (once the snow disappears, but before the New Yorkers head north) to try Lily Bistro and Suzuki’s on their home turf. Based on the dinner at Beard House, these are dedicated chefs who showcased Maine’s seafood — in the dead of winter, no less — in an ambitious and, for the most part, delicious menu.
Kathy Gunst is a cookbook author and the award-winning "Resident Chef" for WBUR's Here and Now (heard on over 60 public radio stations). Her newest books, Stonewall Kitchen Breakfast and Stonewall Kitchen Winter Celebrations will be published by Chronicle Books in September 2009.
If You Go... Lily Bistro, 421 Main Street, Rockland ME 04841; 207.594.4141; dinner only.
Suzuki’s Sushi Bar, 419 Main Street, Rockland, ME 04841; 207.596.7447; dinner only.