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The Rusticator (Sargentville, ME): not good enough (long)

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We (SO; ellieeggplant, and ellie's husband) had high hopes for this place, which also serves as the dining room for The Oakland House, a traditional Maine summer venue for families, once it was announced that the executive chef was the son of the chef at one of our favorite places, Cleonice in Ellsworth, where local sourcing and interesting tastes are the rule. The menu promised a lot of local sourcing, so our expectations were high. Unfortunately, they weren't fulfilled.
Given that it's a summer-colony kind of place with lots of young servers, service wasn't bad (although I had to help one young woman manage opening a bottle of wine, to the amusement of other guests). They don't have a full bar, so ellie's hubby was unable to get the martini he had in mind. Wine list is somewhat limited, but not unfairly priced, although only a few choices by the glass. The open restaurant tables are on a screened porch, overlooking some nice-looking garden produce on-its-way.
For starters, we had "Maine in a Box," which is indeed a box with mini-seafood rolls, rather like sliders: fried clam, crab, and lobster, along with cole slaw. These were tasty (rolls were bland), and the slaw quite good. I had their shrimp a la Russe, the traditional cold-rice mold with pieces of Maine shrimp, etc.: again, tasty, but not outstanding or distinctive. Ellie's beet salad was fresh, and she liked it. Remaining starter was "Mrs. somebody's crab" which was a healthy helping of fresh crab sitting on a somewhat cheesy base, with crackers. Unfortunately, for a hot appetizer, the base was pretty cold, so when mixed, it got stiff and and lost some flavour.
None of the above was enough to merit a bad review, but it was downhill from there. One of us had "scallops a la Greque," with the expected feta, olives, etc. OK, if not superior, and nothing very local about it except the scallops. But two of us went for what should have been a no-brainer: sauteed "dab flounder". We each had two large filets, lightly breaded (not overly tasty breading) that were light brown on the serving side...and completely black and hard on the bottom. As Ellie's husband commented, a decent expediter (presuming they have such) would not have allowed these to be served, since all the flavor of the fish had long since vanished. We pointed it to our server, who asked if we wanted something else. Since it was now the height of the service, and quite busy, so that we would not have been able to continue eating with our friends, we said no, so she said she would say something to the chef. Perhaps she did, but our expectation that someone would now appear to ask what might be done to improve our satisfaction...didn't happen. Nothing was said, nothing was comped. Ellie had the best entre of the night, a completely delicious (and properly undercooked) risotto and local veg made with the grain faro: very unusual, and very good.
I note that for a place with an emphasis on local, one of the 6 appetizers featured "elk tartare with raw quail egg," and one of 7 entrees featured bison flank. Maybe I'm missing some local purveyors, but neither of these strikes me as "eating local in Maine!"
For dessert, each couple shared what was billed as a "dark chocolate trifle," which led me to expect some nice layed confection with rum or sherry soaked cake, chocolate cream, etc. What arrived was fairly ordinary "mousse in the glass," with just something chocolate-pudding-y, and whipped cream, and small amount of raspberry sauce on the top: again, not bad, just not up to the standard we hoped. With wine, $210 before tip.
I'm not sure we'll make a return visit unless we hear from others of a better experience. Too bad, as the Blue Hill peninsula doesn't exactly abound in decent chow in the summer, even though you'd think it would given the volume of flatlanders coming to visit.

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  1. Sorry for your meh experience mainemal but thanks for a nicely detailed post.
    FWIW however, buffalo or American Bison are raised on at least three Maine farms that I know of. So it may seem a bit exotic for a dowager Maine seacoast inn but it is local.

    Harp

    2 Replies
    1. re: Harp00n

      HarpOOn,

      You DO get around, don't you?

      Your posts pop up in the most unexpected places. You are truly an asset to this board.

      1. re: hilltowner

        Gadabout Gaddis or what?
        No mystery, really, hilltowner. I live in the Metro-West, work on the North Shore, have a cabin, yes a cabin, in Southern VT and freeload, a lot, on DC's
        Mid-Coast, ME. Oh yeah, then there's the ocean front retirement land in SW Nova Scotia where I freeload on another nearby retired DC as much possible. Hey, a Hound's gotta eat, gotta drink, right? Why not share as much info on these boards as you can. But I assure you, I get way more good info back from people, such as yourself, than I could ever give!

        Now if I could just get a job like Marc aka hiddenboston, pulling down the big $'s, chowing across the entire Northeast on an unlimited expense account, work if you want, or not, I just might swear off of lobstah. Nah!

        Harp

    2. I'm wondering what other restaurants you have gone to in that area. My grandfather
      was born there and have spent summers there for years. I think there a Mexican
      restaurant also down the street from the Oakland house, Also the Bagaduce lunch
      in Brooksville Me just won a James Beard Foundation Award for being an American
      classic take out.In back of this place you can watch Bald Eagles fly back and forth
      on the Bagaduce river up close to where you eat your lunch I don't think you can ask for a better sight than that! Did you try the Fisherman Friend in Stonington? In this part of Maine there's are a lot of interesting places. Let me think of some other places and get back to you.

      3 Replies
      1. re: brucekc

        Thanks, Bruce, but no need: I'm pretty familiar with the area. Bagaduce lunch is fun, but certainly not fine dining! Fisherman's Friend in Stonington we ate at in June, and frankly, it was dreadful: it's hard to wreck friend seafood, but they did. We've also eaten at Flying Point Inn in Brooklin, which is OK: better than Rusticator; and at Brooklin Inn, which is definitely just touristy. We haven't sampled the delights of Blue Hill in recent years, and perhaps there's hope there.

        1. re: mainemal

          Missed the Fine Dining wording. Is the Whale rib still open at the Pilgrim Inn?
          How about Marlintini in Blue Hill? Right now I'm missing the Strawberry &
          Rubarb, Blueberry pie from Merrill& Hinckley Store in Blue Hill.
          I'm not going to Sedgwick this year so I'm little jealous of you, My parents
          are spenting sometime up there until October I will report their findings.

          1. re: brucekc

            Bruce, you didn't "miss" the fine dining wording - it wasn't there:

            "Too bad, as the Blue Hill peninsula doesn't exactly abound in decent chow in the summer, even though you'd think it would given the volume of flatlanders coming to visit."

            Bagaduce Lunch is far more than "decent chow" - it is, by any definition that I understand, excellent chow.
            "Decent chow" does not equal "fine dining" unless your idea of "decent chow" includes fine linens, Baccarat and Limoges, and hollandaise, in which case, I'm in the wrong place!

      2. I stayed at the Oakland House's Shore Oaks Inn in mid July with family, so we dined at The Rusticator two nights, and our experiences were far different than yours. My only complaint, and a minor one at that, was that the salads were under dressed for my taste. One night I had the halibut, which was perfectly cooked, the other night, lamb, again, delicious. For desert, the lavender custard was so good, I had it both nights. I posted a full review on my blog.

        As for Blue Hill, we had a fine lunch at Wescott Forge. I'd been hearing mixed reviews, but lunch was fine. I loved the salad presentation--in a "bowl "made of cucumbers sliced lengthwise. Arborvine still earns raves from everyone I chatted with; we didn't get there this trip, but previous times we've dined in both the casual bar and the fine dining restaurant.

        In Stonington, we dined at the Cockatoo 2 (at the old Goose Cove Lodge), spectacular setting. We were warned that service could be frustratingly slow to dreadful (friends had reported waiting hours for the meal). While the pace was leisurely, it was tolerable, and the paella for two easily could have fed four (actually, with the leftovers, it did). I also love Lily's Bistro, but it's quite casual, and only serves dinner on Friday nights.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Mainegal

          We were at the Rusticator last Fri. and the Cockatoo this past week. At the Rusticator the BF had the mentioned Elk Tartare with quail egg. He liked the presentation with the egg shell, the crackers served with it didn't compete with the flavor, and the elk itself was gamey in a good way but not overpowering. I had the crab dip thing. Not much crab flavor but the melted cheese and herbs was fine. (note-I'm pretty happy with any kind of cheese you put in front of me.) Bf also had the grilled buffalo. Slightly undercooked, but good flavor. Came with maybe a pureed pepper sauce. I had swordfish and it was cooked perfect; crackely browned on the outside, soft and flaky on the inside. I was looking for that lavender custard but it wasn't on that night, so passed on desserts. I wished they had cocktails but the wine was ok and the BF enjoyed his Stella Artois. We were at the 5:15 seating and there was only one other table being served in the peaceful setting next to the garden. Families were as noted seated elsewhere. Left us plenty of time to scoot over to the High School and catch Richie Havens where we scored front row seats. Terrific!

          At the Cockatoo we had no service issues at all. Had a rum drink with lots of local cut up fruit at the cute little bar. The waiter was young, sweet, and attentive. We had clams in Mozambique sauce. My comparison is Antonio's in New Bedford and Cockatoo's was better. Lots of garlic with a kick. Overdid my bread quota lapping up that stuff. As Maingal says, the portion of paella is way too much for 2. What I liked is that all the seafood including an entire lobster was cooked right on the money. If I was in the area I would definitely go back.

          We stayed in Stonington and hit the Friendly Fisherman 1st night. Had the fried seafood sampler for app. Good fry job but clams were small. Crab roll ok. A lobster coop was right down the street from where we stayed, so had several meals of that on the deck. With the exception of the rain, it was near perfect on the harbor there.

          Other places we tried in the area-

          Dennett's Wharf in Castine. Nice view and pleasant atmosphere but crab roll and fried clams meh. Would not go back except for drinks.

          Cleonice in Ellsworth. Had excellent Dark and Stormy; rum, ginger juice, and lime. gin and tonic for him. Tried a dozen clams on the half shell with red and green sauces.- Great! Escargot- not quite enough garlic for me. Melted kasseri cheese with chorizo and toasts. -right up my alley. Tenderloins on toast with bernaise sauce.-very very good. I thought the prices were very reasonable for what you got and loved the atmosphere. The bread was memorable but not on sale that night because they were afraid of running out.

          Further finds- Sow's Ear Winery- Rt. 176, Brooksville. When we got there, it was just an old barn by the road but after ringing the bell, the owner I think came an offered us tastes of 4 different wines. I'm not the greatest judge of wine but we ended up buying a rhubarb, a sparkling rhubarb, and a blueberry- all dry. These'll probably work for Thanksgiving. Cool place.

          Ice Cream Lady ice cream purchased at Burnt Cove Market. Madagascar Vanilla- very good but texture almost like soft serve. Ginger- candied pieces throughout but my comparison is Rancatore's in Belmont. Mango was the best. Creamy with dense mango flavor.

          Stonington Farmers Market, Friday 10AM -12 at the Community Center. Lot's of great looking veggies, crafts, jewelry etc. Got some outstanding summer sausage and a pepperoni combo. Don't remember the vendor name.

          Spencer Pies and Gifts, Sunset Rd. Sunset. (Go past Burnt Cove Market a few miles on the left. Ask at the market; they'll tell you) We bought Medley pie (blueberries, razz, and strawberries) It was OMG amazing! We went back a few days later and got rhubarb. Also amazing. She has blueberry, rhubarb/strawberry and other types. All $16. If you are in the area, go get one of these pies. Unreal!

          Many thanks to Passadumkeg, Scargod, and other posters for your help.

          1. re: mimish

            Loved the Report!

            1. re: brucekc

              Thanks, I left out we had a lunch at your mentioned Bagaduce Lunch. The crab rolls were some of the better we had, and the ice tea and lemonade weren't from a mix. We passed the Mexican place several times but we were there for only a week and as we were so busy wolfing down all that seafood and homemade pies..