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Dinner in Camden, ME

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I've been given these 5 choices for a business dinner in Camden - Primo, Natalie's at the Mill, Ephemera, Francine's, and Chez Michel. Any thoughts on these choices? The meal will be expensed, so cost is not an issue. Good ambience (meaning conversation is possible), and quality but not too fussy food are the prime requisites. Thanks!

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  1. Chez Michel is loud with waitstaff so busy they're almost running from table to table. And the food is very so-so. I tried Ephemera and was very disappointed with a decidedly tasteless salmon quiche.
    There have been recent posts here expressing disappointment with Francine's. Natalie's is good but very fussy & stuffy. The waitstaff is too obsequious for my taste. There's a fabulous new restaurant next door in Rockport - The Gallery Cafe at Prism Glass. Totally awesome!

    1. Hi, I can give you the following recommendations:

      Chez Michel -- just "no"
      Primo's -- EXCELLENT food, service. Not formal or fussy. But it's in Rockland, about 15-20 mins. from Camden.
      Francine's -- I have not eaten there but I have friends who have eaten there twice now and LOVE it. It's referred to as the place for the "trust fund babies", which my friends are decidedly not. But they said it's a "must".
      I've not heard of the other two you mentioned, but there are two other restaurants that my husband and I have liked very much: Atlantica and The Gallery Cafe (it's also a gallery called Prism Glass Gallery & Cafe).

      Good luck!

      1 Reply
      1. re: Pam

        I had two great meals at Atlantica a few years ago but rarely see it mentioned on Chowhound...is it still around? Is it still good?

      2. I love Primo in Rockland. Yes, it is a bit of a ride, but a nice one, and well worth it. Great food, atmosphere, just perfect! I met Elinor Klivans there! (Author of several great baking cookbooks, lives in Camden) And although there are nice places in Camden, they aren't this good.

        1. Probably way too late to voice a useful opinion, but Primo's gets my vote. Great food, good wine list, excellent atmosphere. And the people who own it are just remarkable.
          We've also enjoyed Natalie's; didn't find the servers a problem at all.
          But, stay away from Francine's; they're too apt to ruin an evening with bad service and just basic rudeness.
          (Gallery Cafe isn't bad, and we do like Atlantica a lot, though it is in a different class in terms of sophistication and creativity.)

          1. Primo's is hands down the top choice, as it is a James Beard award winner in its fabulous chef Melissa, with the front room run by her very caring and capable partner. The food is some of the best you will ever eat in your life, made with local stuff they have grown in their extensive gardens, and other fresh things bought locally. Primo is on a par with Hugo's in Portland and Arrows in Ogunquit as Maine's only three world class restaurants. A list of desserts that simply out of this world, an extensive wine list that can surely dent your expense account, and attentive and careful service make this place absolutely tops. Natalie's comes in second, with superb food and very attentive service in a wonderfully redone old mill. Francine's is a local yokel place except for the massive tourist season, where you'll sit about two inches from the sweatshirt and jeans wearing folks at the next table and hear their whole conversation, whether you want to or not, eating OK fare. No need to go to the other two; we often go to Primo's two nights in a row since it is such a treat. Mike Coughlin

            2 Replies
            1. re: gizmo61

              If I'm not mistaken, Primo's owner/chef is a transplant from the Chatham Sheepherding Co. in NY State. They folded and she has moved on to great success. I enjoyed a meal in the Chatham location a few years ago and look forward to the same this year on one of our trips to ME. Being retired now, cost is a consideration. Can you give me an approximate cost for dinner for two?

              1. re: feelinpeckish


                Looks like you're right - about the chef's provenance http://www.primorestaurant.com/restau...

                We've been the last couple of years on vacation & I can't give you an up to date price but it's not cheap - basically big city good restaurant prices rather than small town Maine. IMHO it's worth it - extremely good, fresh ingredients cooked in interesting though simple preparations - we always try to splurge there one night & eat more restrained the next couple. My recollection is that main courses were in the $25-$30 range. They have lots of wine by the glass too which is great as you can try different wines with different courses, I believe they were reasonable for the quality of the wine but still probably ~ $10.
                Hopefully someone can give you more up to date prices but I noticed no one had replied for a while.
                Staff were always v. friendly & attentive - we always felt v. relaxed, able to ask questions etc & never got that 'big restaurant, superiority complex', you can get.
                Hope this helps!

            2. PRIMO- no question. not even in the same game as the others... enjoy fb

              1. Hello,
                As a camdenite with pretty serious interest in the local restaurant scene I would say Cafe Francine is excellent. Gizmo's rude assertion regarding people clad in "sweatshirts and jeans" has nothing to do with a truly adorable restaurant with great food. It's close quarters bur casual, as are most of the restaurants in Camden. Most of them are also "local yokel" since that's what keeps them in business year round. Francine in quite wonderful though and I think a pretty inaccurate depiction has been created here. I have not eaten at Natalie's but have heard that the food is alright, the atmosphere is awful (I have had a drink there) and it almost feels like a hotel. Very generic, not much character. I had an amazing meal at Ephemere recently, perfect scallops and a great little place to dine. As it warms up, the deck at the Waterfront is pretty amazing and they have awesome mussels.
                If you're offended by "sweatshirts and jeans" you might want to try another state, though I'm pretty certain that there are few people who hinge the quality of their dining experience by what the people at the next table are wearing.
                Good luck and enjoy. It's a gorgeous town.

                1. I agree with Camdenkid. Francine's is wonderful, and intimate. I've never seen people in old sweatshirts and jeans eating there but so what! The food is great and the service attentive. And yes, Natalie's tries too hard to be elegant and it comes off as a little stuffy. But the food's pretty good. I LOVE Primo but sometimes I'm put off by a certain snobbishness--not from the staff as much as the clientele, mostly during the height of tourist season. But for the next couple of months that shouldn't be a big problem.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: rufustfi

                    I have never heard anyone ever say anything negative about Francine, it is outstanding, Chef Hill has been written up in every major food magazine as well as getting 4 and 5 star reviews locally. Where else do you get very creative, organic wonderful food with a menu that changes 100% every day? I have dined at Primo's at least 6 times, my husband is a builder and we entertain clients frequently and Primo's and Francine are the top 2 choices, and Francine gets raves from everyone. Primo can be a little on the "snotty" side, be warned. Natalie's is just odd, the owner tried to tend bar, she can't, they are moving to the Inn and aren't open right now.
                    Francine is perfection, Ephemere is also fantastic, and you may be sitting next to someone in Prada or someone in JC Penney, deal with it! I have never seen anyone at Francine that didn't look elegant and well, honestly, somewhat wealty. It's Camden for god's sake, it's a $$$ town.

                    1. re: aynne35

                      aynne35--is Natalie's moving from their location of last year? We were there in ugust/september and they were in that mill complex over the river. If so, I hope their new location is a little more cozy than where we dined. I would like to have sat in the front area where there is a little more going on, but we were taken to a a back room with a very hushed atmosphere. Food was great although I questioned(to myself) the need to import fish from Australia while the Penobscot Bay is just a few blocks away!!

                      1. re: hot tamale

                        Hi hot tamale,
                        Yes, Natalie's is moving to the Camden Harbour Inn, on bayview street. 236-7008. I know what you mean, the last two times we dined there we were seated out there and it's awful, you feel as though you have to whiser. Anyway, the word is opening the last week of June at the new location. Hope this helps!

                    2. re: rufustfi

                      Hi rufusti,
                      Your observation on, some, of Primo's clientele is so spot-on I'm out-of-control laughing!