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Primo in Maine

I'm going to the Lobster Festival in Rockland this weekend and have made reservations at Primo. Any exciting recommendations?

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  1. The pork saltimbocca. Sorry for being 5 years late on my reply.

    1. I know this is an old thread, but I just ate at Primo and thought I'd share my thoughts. Frankly, while it was nice enough, I was disappointed. First and foremost, there were almost no local proteins on the menu - the pork for the saltimbocca was from New Jersey, and all the fish was from Florida (I asked). Even the veggies were nonspecific; a few were specifically listed as coming from the property, but otherwise our server wasn't sure where the majority came from. I thought this was their big claim to fame - the whole farm-to-table thing - and so I was very disappointed that my fish was being flown from thousands of miles away.

      As far as flavors, it was very good but not spectacular. The saltimbocca in particular was, to my taste anyway, far too salty. The charcuterie plate was good, but not memorably great; the pate in particular was a bit greasy. The corn risotto that came with my snapper was delicious, though - I think the corn was local (it was extremely sweet, in a good way). The snapper was well cooked but not extraordinary in any way.

      Overall, the flavors were good but not great and I felt a little misled about the origin of the food, so given that we received a bill for over $200 for two of us (for two appetizers and two entrees, two glasses of wine and two beers, and one shared dessert with coffee), I was underwhelmed. I live in Boulder, CO and we have a bunch of restaurants (the Kitchen, SALT, Black Cat, Colterra) that do the farm-to-table thing much more consistently, have equally good or better food, and are much less expensive to boot.

      Did I catch them on an off night? (It was a Monday in early August, just after lobster fest had ended - maybe the top-end staff had the night off.) Am I wrong? I'd be curious to hear other opinions from folks who have visited recently.

      4 Replies
      1. re: monopod

        I would be hugely surprised and I mean HUGELY surprised if all of those things you mentioned weren't from Maine at the very least (unless you are talking about some specific fish that's not native). All the herbs, veggies, pork come from their backyard. The only thing I'm aware of that isn't local (other than those things non-native to Maine and/or their backyard) is the beef and the foie gras.

        Do you remember your server's name? I go there often enough that I will ask what the deal is with his/her response. To say that ALL the fish, the majority of veggies, and the pork isn't local would be a huge misrepresentation on the server's part.

        1. re: MidCoastMaineiac

          I was indeed hugely surprised! When we asked about the pork, our server laughed and said that the pork saltimbocca is so popular that they couldn't possibly supply enough pork for it from local suppliers and that they'd found a good source in NJ. Regarding the fish, several of the fish on the menu were listed as being from Florida, and I specifically asked about the snapper (since it's what I ended up ordering). I wanted to order local fish, but it literally wasn't an option.

          Server was a pleasant middle-aged man with dark hair and a mustache and a round face. I don't remember his name, sorry.

          And my review above might have come off as more negative than I intended; the food itself was overall tasty. It's just that there are a lot of tasty restaurants out there now, and so I was expecting (a) a stronger local emphasis, and (b) something more unusual/memorable for entrees that are priced at $35-40 each.

          1. re: monopod

            Just one other point of clarification, entrees typically range from the mid 20's to 40 - not 35-40.

            One of my recent menus had the Chicken Ballontine at $25 on the low end, and the NY Strip Steak at $40 on the high end. And that doesn't count the pasta section, which is typically in the 20's. Nor does it include any of the "small plates" available from the antipasti / bar menu.

            1. re: MidCoastMaineiac

              Fair enough. I just meant that the entrees we had were each in the $35-40 range.

      2. Now I'm concerned. We have a res there in about two weeks after hearing raves, Bourdain's blessing, etc. We're coming up from NYC, so I hope we're not setting ourselves up for disappointment.

        Would we be better off sticking with Bresca or somewhere in Portland instead?

        111 Middle Street, Portland, ME 04101

        13 Replies
        1. re: loratliff

          100% of restaurants on the planet will have both positive reviews and negative reviews. Both. For me personally, and I daresay the vast majority of people who have dined there, Primo is heads and tails above the rest. Not only Maine, but New England and beyond.

          I will also say that the whole "farm to table" concept is a bit overrated. If some source 500 miles away produces a product that is vastly superior to any source within 10 miles, I'll take the 500 mile away product any day.

          I totally forgot that I have a few Primo menus here with me...and I think for the most part if it isn't locally sourced...it will say so. Examples:

          Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras
          Taunton Bay Oysters (though there are plenty of Maine options)
          Spinach Cavatelli (with Oregon truffles)
          Cedar Planked Alaskan Coho Salmon
          Pan Roasted Florida Red Snapper Fillet
          Wood Grilled North East Family Farm NY Strip Steak
          Pan Roasted California Pink Grouper
          Pan Roasted Rhode Island Black Sea Bass

          Those are from 3 different weekly menus.

          And now that I think about it, the NJ pork makes sense...they do go through too much of it to house it in their barn out back. Most of their pigs are used for the charcuterie.

          To hope that any restaurant could source the best ingredients from their back yard or a 10 mile radius therein is wishful thinking at best.

          Now, if you tell me any dish that includes lobster is sourced from any other state but Maine, we'll have problems!

          1. re: MidCoastMaineiac

            MCM: Taunton Bay Oysters are from Maine. Taunton Bay is just north of Ellsworth, in the Acadia region.

            Had the privilege of touring Primo's gardens, and chicken and pig pens with Melissa Kelly--very enlightening experience. She encourages everyone to walk around them before dinner.

            1. re: Mainegal

              Thanks for the correction Mainegal...for some reason I was thinking Massachusetts (probably because of the city).

            2. re: MidCoastMaineiac

              Just to add: I've eaten at Primo dozens of times, having followed Melissa and Price from their first restaurant in Chatham, NY. One of the most delicious things I ever had at Primo was an app of local diver scallops they got in that morning. Can't remember the presentation; served whole in shell with the roe. They were sublime. When I expressed my appreciation they told me the seafood market was down the road and to stop there on my way home.
              I tend to eat in the bar these days, but when I'm in the area (a few times a year) I always try for Thursday or Sunday, and get $1 local oysters, as fresh as they get.

            3. re: loratliff

              Do both. I would never cancel a reservation at Primo to eat anywhere else. On the other hand, I wouldn't cancel at Bresca to eat anywhere else either. Two of the best around but different. FWIW, if you're going to try to get a weekend reservation at Bresca in the next two weeks, good luck.

              111 Middle Street, Portland, ME 04101

              1. re: bobbert

                We've already got our Bresca reservation—Friday at 8:30 p.m, and our Primo reservation for the following night. I do suppose I will keep both (that was the original plan anyway).

                Mainegal, I'm thrilled to hear that we'll be able to walk around the gardens before dinner. I made an early reservation there, hoping that we'd have the chance to do so in the daylight so I'm glad my hunch was correct!

                Thanks, all, for the insight.

                111 Middle Street, Portland, ME 04101

                  1. re: bobbert

                    Hehe. We're very excited—I've not been to Maine since I was a kid, and I certainly didn't enjoy food like I do now, so it should be a great trip. I'll be sure to report back.

                  2. re: loratliff

                    I always suggest sitting at the antipasti bar (or, if full, the "bar" bar). I think it's a much cooler vibe...and fun to watch the plates or drinks being made....

                    1. re: MidCoastMaineiac

                      We love sitting at the bar, so I'll definitely request this if we can. Thanks for the tip.

                      1. re: loratliff

                        Upstairs is "no reservations"....though I'm sure they will accomodate anybody with a reservation if they want to sit up there.

                1. re: loratliff

                  Definitely don't cancel your reservation based on my review; it's all very subjective, it was on a Monday night after a crazy weekend, and the fact is that we had a very good time despite my misgivings about the locality of the food. Go and form your own opinion! And let us know what you think here!

                  1. re: loratliff

                    We ate at Primo two weeks ago, and beginning to end, it was probably the best meal I have ever had. The place was a zoo on Thursday night during lobster festival, boy once seated the service was superb and the food was remarkable. We enjoyed every element of the evening. Bourdain was right that Primo is the best restaurant north ofNYC

                    1. I had dinner at Primo last Saturday night and had a pretty bad experience. It started with the host (whom I believe was the co owner) being very frazzled and seeming to have a hard time keeping everything under control. We were seated upstairs and if I had known I would have requested downstairs with my reservation. We ended up next to a very very loud party of 10, we could barely hear each other talk. Service was poor at best, waiting a long time for bread etc... The part that ruined the meal though was a misunderstanding with my wife's entree, she is a strict vegetarian and found after eating half of her dinner that one of the sides at the bottom of the plate had large chunks of pork in it. Our server's handling of the situation was so disappointing, not even an apology. The best way to describe her attitude at the situation was that she simply did not care at all. I see that this restaurant gets a lot of praise, but we will never go back.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: peedee360

                        Did you explain that she was a vegetarian? Did the menu item explain that it had pork in it? The server can be more sympathetic for sure, but I'm wondering about the background of the situation.

                        I think I saw your review on TripAdivsor too...

                        1. re: MidCoastMaineiac

                          It is unfortunate that your wife had an unpleasant experience. As MCM pointed out , telling your waitperson that she was a vegetarian probably could have circumvented this situation. As for the behavior of your waitperson -- may I suggest that informing the host ( which may have or have not been Price, co-owner) of the situation lends itself to correcting such attitudes. As to the loud party - I assume you were in the bar area -- people do have fun there, The downstairs dining room is a bit more formal and perhaps more to your liking.

                          1. re: DaBear

                            DB: We did not explicitly say to the server that she was a vegetarian, that was definitely our mistake, although we did make sure with her that the soup we ordered for an app was not a meat based stock.... The pork was not listed on the menu (we double checked). It was more her attitude that did it for us. She did take the entree off the bill, but without telling us which was odd, she just set the bill on the table and walked away. I will say again that I do not believe she sorry once. We were seated not in the bar but in the small room right at the top of the stairs. We waited downstairs to talk to the host on the way out but I think he had left his post for the night.

                            1. re: peedee360

                              Do you remember the name of the dish...I have to be honest...I am REALLY surprised at this. For the dish not to mention what has to be a pretty crucial ingredient (PORK!)...that is a significant menu oversight.

                              If it was indeed Price, he doesn't leave until the bitter end.

                              A rattled host and an unsympathetic waitress can happen anywhere...I hope you try it again. I think taking the entree off the bill was pretty generous since ordering the dish was admittedly your fault....

                        2. re: peedee360

                          Wow. This is strange. We make a trip up to Primo every year (and sometimes are lucky enough to make it up there more) and they always happily accommodate my vegetarian requests. I make a point of mentioning it when I make reservations at nicer places anyway but then I always let the wait staff know. I have never had anything but the best of experiences here.

                        3. I'm still curious to hear more recommendations on what is highly recommended on the menu. We have reservations in early October.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: MissLori

                            peedee360, please....help me help Primo. I'll probably go there this weekend...I'd like to point out to them a pretty significant mistake.

                            MissLori - to be honest, this entire year I've been doing the small plate samples at the antipasti bar (where you can also order off the regular menu). Some of the various small plates that I love include the arancinis, tuscan ribs, shrimp & polenta, chick pea fries, various pizzas, cheese and salumi (many options), grilled goat cheese in grape leaves, and you can always get a 1/2 serving of any pasta dish (that's not widely known).

                            1. re: MidCoastMaineiac

                              As another long time Primo fan (I used to eat at the restaurant they ran in my neck of the woods, Chatham NY) I too have been only eating off the bar, then small plates menu for the last few years. Am planning on being there this Thursday, and am really excited to hear MCM loves the arancini, which I've yet to try. $1 oysters, arancini and a a drink sounds heavenly to me!

                              1. re: mjoyous

                                I think you're on to something. Ordering from the bar/antipasti menu is a pretty good value IMHO. Throw in some $1 oysters and you're really looking good....

                          2. Stopped by the other night and ate upstairs for the first time. Before I get to the food, I have to say it felt a bit awkward when we were sent upstairs having been told, “Suzie (I don’t remember the actual name) will help you out.” We got to the top of the stairs and sort of stood around in the hallway trying to look as confused as we actually were so that someone, anyone (of the several that passed by), would say something to us. Another couple came up a minute later and was just as confused – finally, after a very long, maybe 2 minutes, someone did help us and we were soon seated at the counter in the counter room which is a very nice spot to eat.

                            I was very happy to have both menus to work with. DW and I had eaten a late lunch so we ended up sharing a few items. Off the counter menu, we had the polenta with braised short rib. This was delicious. The best part was that the dish got even tastier as the flavors blended together during the course of devouring a sizable bowl. How rare is it that you taste a dish and say, “this is great”, then take a second taste and it got better and a third taste and it’s even better? I know, it’s just a bowl of polenta for goodness sake but what a great bowl of polenta it was. Next, my wife insisted on the green tomato frico. I would never had ordered this because it did not have beef or pork in it but, to be honest, it was one of the best salads I’ve ever had. We also shared the pork saltimbucca, which has been written about at great length – how often do you eat pork that’s so tender you can cut it with a fork? Ended with a delicious dessert.
                            On the negative side: first and foremost, I was seated literally inches from a large wooden platter filled with Arancini. Of course, I was going to have one (or two) but, as my wife and I had decided we would share, she was able to veto that choice while mumbling something about heart attacks, lipitor, and having no one to mow the lawn if I continued unchecked with my eating habits. So there I sat for 90 minutes like a golden retriever who has a dog bone placed 2 inches from his nose waiting anxiously for the command to eat it, which for me never came. She would have never done that to our dog. We thought service was a little aloof, like they were just going through the motions – certainly satisfactory but somewhat staid, not comforting. The guy behind the counter had the personality of cardboard. I wasn’t expecting him to yell “bam” with each pinch of salt but for someone who’s out there and therefore part of the show he was pretty dull. So overall, once again Primo delivered. A couple of very minor hiccups in the seating/service area but the food… that’s really what it’s all about.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: bobbert

                              So true that they don't really have a process for seating upstairs. Many times we'll walk in, tell Price (or whoever is host/hostessing) that we're going up to the bar, and then find nobody around to seat us (there's not really a place to "hang out"). I think I've come to the conclusion that if there are seats AT the bar ("bar" bar, or antipasti bar), then they're mine, I'm going to sit there. It's no reservations, and I don't think the waitstaff has certain sections of the bar. As for the tables, I would guess you have to be seated at those. I'd say this confusion happens maybe 20% of the time.

                              Yes, Max (the "tattooed guy") at the antipasti bar doesn't offer up much conversation on his own...but once you start talking to him he'll open up a bit. Particularly if you talk about good food or beer.

                              I gotta tell you too, you are spot on about the polenta dish...we've gotten the shrimp and polenta a few times...it DOES get better with each bite. It's almost like the dish needs to firm up and get rustled around a bit before it really hits you with the full effect.

                                1. re: MidCoastMaineiac

                                  Actually I was a little harsh. He was OK.

                            2. A quick question for the Primo regulars - are the staff pitching anything about New Year's yet? Last year, we went there in November and got a pitch; this year, it looks like we can actually get up there for the New Year weekend. I checked their website, nothing about the holidays is there yet. Okay, so I'm jumping the gun. But if anyone has heard anything, I'd appreciate it if you'd pass it on. TIA

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: harrie

                                Haven't heard anything. Last year I went to closing night instead (the 4th maybe?) and the place was buzzing...downside being they didn't have a few things on the menu...

                                1. re: MidCoastMaineiac

                                  Thanks - guess I'm just rushing it. I'll keep an eye on their website.

                                  1. re: MidCoastMaineiac

                                    When do they close for the season? January?

                                    1. re: Kat

                                      Right...usually around the 1st week.

                                2. Following up .... had two nice dinners at Primo for New Year's (and the night before, inadvertently). New Year's Eve, there was a tasting menu - looked good, but was huge, and a couple of items made me back off. Had a duck dish, which was excellent. The hubby had swordfish with clams and mussels in a saffron sauce - freakin' delicious, he says. Though the place was totally booked, the staff was organized, efficient, and courteous.

                                  Just curious .... is Lily BIstro no longer with us?

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: harrie

                                    Was there for new years brunch and for last night of season (last night). Spectacular as always.

                                    And sadly, yes, Lily has closed their doors.