It’s hard not to giggle a little when, just after you’re seated, your server solemnly intones, “Welcome to Earth.” But that’s how things roll at Kennebunkport’s latest hot spot. Its full name, Earth at Hidden Pond, indicates its role as the chow hall for Hidden Pond, the nouveau rustic resort that opened last year. As the name indicates, Earth has grand aspirations. Even the speed limit signs on the long, wooded drive from Goose Rocks Road have import: “Drive Slowly. Breathe Deeply,” reads one.
When you approach the restaurant proper, an idle valet greets you at the door; given the property’s roomy expanse, parking your own car is easy as can be. Inside, a few guests are gathered around a roaring fire, glasses of wine and bar snacks at hand. The sloped ceiling is high, leaving plenty of room for the dining room’s signature feature: an upside-down apple tree trunk-turned-chandelier with white lights draped across the branches. The tables are rough-hewn wood, the walls adorned with cross-sections of logs. And a wide enclosed porch overlooks a grassy meadow with a bonfire off in the distance.
While the setting is dramatic and the aura a bit over the top, the staff is uniformly friendly and well informed. That’s critical to Ken Oringer, the renowned Boston chef and restaurateur who oversees Earth’s menu and ambiance. An old friend of Hidden Pond developer Tim Harrington, Oringer hoped to create a place where “people sit for three or four hours and don’t want to leave,” he says. “We wanted to create food that people crave during the summer, driven by the produce right outside the back door.”
Oringer isn’t exaggerating: Earth boasts a large on-site garden that augments the produce executive chef Kevin Walsh sources from local farms. The goal is to highlight the ever-changing seasonal bounty of Maine’s fields, farms, and sea. In a visit just after the property opened for the year, an asparagus and goat cheese salad bursts with the flavors of late spring: impeccable asparagus spears are grilled, then artfully combined with creamy goat cheese, edible flowers, a hazelnut crumble that itself contains seventeen different ingredients, and a mysterious blend of spices that turns out to be harissa, the North African red pepper sauce. Other dishes display the chefs’ proclivities toward all things house-made. A hearty pasta is made from spelt flour milled on the premises, then served with fava leaves, melted ramps, and rabbit pancetta that was cured by Earth’s staff.
At the height of summer, Walsh and his team will focus on corn and tomatoes. Oringer expects to serve an heirloom tomato and watermelon salad, perhaps with local feta cheese, sweet cicely, and Japanese sweet-and-sour plums. He also plans to bring back a highlight from last summer: grilled corn served Mexican street-style, with garlic mayonnaise, cotija cheese, lime powder, and Basque spices.
Earth also sports the specialty cocktails that have become de rigueur at nice restaurants, along with a wine list that manages to be both comprehensive and relatively brief (though not inexpensive). As for dessert, the salted peanut butter ice cream sundae is a revelation, combining sweet and salty, crunchy and creamy, warm and cold, while a warm chocolate brownie with coconut caramel and almond milk sherbet manages to win over even an avowed coconut hater.
Given the richness of the dishes — not to mention the expense — it’s hard to imagine that guests will fulfill Oringer’s wishes by returning to Earth night after night (a stay at a one-room bungalow runs $650 a night with a three-night minimum). Still, a visit to Earth — for a special occasion or drinks at the bar — is well worth the trip.