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Camden ME--Natalie's or Francine?

BF and I have just one, midweek, night to dine in Camden. We're hoping for a romantic evening with fantastic food. Francine seems to fit the bill for the latter, but I'm concerned about tight quarters and noise level. Porch tables look a little more promising...?

Natalie's is the obvious choice for ambience, and the a la carte menu has many items of interest. Are the food and service really all that? Don't mind spending the money, but want a very special experience.

BTW, checked menu for Hartstone that night and it's not appealing. Am open to other suggestions but must be in downtown Camden; driving is not an option.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. We have the same question. Would greatly appreciare any thoughts. Thanks

    1. You can't go wrong food-wise with either. Natalie's has a fancier presentation, it's a white-tablecloth dining room and yet casual--no dress code, nothing frou frou or pretentious; jazz (usually) in the background. Francine is more bistro like; it's boisterous, fun, and tables are tight. Can seem like everybody knows each other, and cross-table chatter can increase the volume.

      1 Reply
      1. If I focus on the romance angle, I'll have to go with Natalie's. I've had a couple very special evenings there. The place is smartly designed, and still kind of funky. And the food is just incredibly well prepared. Very impressive, that place.

        1. Natalies defnitely has the larger, more imaginative menu....and I think a more "romantic " ambience. Does larger and more imaginative mean better food...not necessarily...but I don't think you'll go wrong at either place on that front.

          1. Thanks, everyone! I've reserved at Natalie's. Looking forward to it and will report back.

            1. We ended up choosing Natalie's. The Beet salad was outstanding. The Lobster soup with curry was amazing. The lobster entree was good but not great. Didn't seem to come together. Overall a very nice dinner. Probably try Francine next time. Hugo's in Portland was quite good. White Barn was otherworldly. SO makes things from French Laundry cookbook for fun and we've dined at a lot of the better restaurants in this country and she said it might have been the best meal she's ever had.

              3 Replies
              1. re: ElizabethReed

                Glad you enjoyed yourselves.

                On Natalie's, I just went to their website and see that the chef who was there both times I was Lawrence Klang, is not mentioned in any of the materials. This leaves me to believe he's no longer at the restaurant. Anybody have info?

                1. re: Mister Meatball

                  Chef Klang just departed for New York's brighter lights. New highly qualified sous chef now in house, and i've been told the restaurant will soon announce a new executive chef. Big shoes to fill.

              2. Sorry it's taken so long to report back. Frankly, our experience at Natalie's was so bad that after writing an Open Table review I didn't want to think about it again for a good long while. At $200 for what was supposed to be a romantic fine-dining experience, I'm still feeling pretty ripped off, mainly because of the disastrous service, the worst I've experienced in years. Before going into detail, to give you a sense of where I'm coming from, earlier that week we had dinner at Fore Street in Portland, which although zero for romance is in every other way my idea of a perfect restaurant. The entire staff was friendly yet utterly efficient and professional. The room was attractive and lively without being too loud; the seating was comfortable, with well-spaced tables. The meal was perfectly paced, and best of all, the food itself was sophisticated yet unfussy: outstanding fresh, local ingredients cooked simply and presented in satisfying portions. Also, a fine selection of wines by the glass. Spent about $180 and it was worth every penny. On the other hand...Natalie's midweek was half empty, yet our waitress was AWOL for long stretches and generally clueless and unprofessional. ("Hi, my name is .... " has no place in a restaurant of this supposed caliber.) We ordered wine by the glass, which didn't arrive till after our appetizers, which were so small that we ordered a third. (How do two scallops constitute a serving?) When asked after wine, waitress told us the bartender was overwhelmed. When asked for bread, which still hadn't shown after all our apps, waitress told us she hadn't served any because it was still baking! The busboy then brought a basket of cold bread. When pointed this out, waitress told us the busboy was new. The wine that was supposed to accompany our entress arrived, of course, after the food. The duck I ordered medium was served rare and tepid, accompanied by a tablespoonful of vegetables, some squiggles of sauce, and a melon ball's worth of cold garlic flan. When hot bread finally arrived, I filled up on that. Waitress apologized a lot but did nothing to make amends, for example, comping our single dessert. (If things had been going well, we'd each have ordered dessert as well as after-dinner drinks.) When we told the matire d' upon leaving (not that he asked us how everything was), he offered no apology or gesture of compensation. Instead, when our waitress walked by, he proceeded to chew her out in front of us. We got out of there pronto, never to return.

                Fore Street
                288 Fore Street, Portland, ME 04101

                3 Replies
                1. re: stanwyck

                  Wow, I'm so sorry. This isn't the experience I had either time.

                  As noted in comment above, the chef has moved on. Wonder what's going on there. Nothing good judging by your experience.

                  Again, apologies.

                  1. re: stanwyck

                    I only ate at Natalies once, mid-week, off season, bar menu--so felt it wasn't enough upon which to base a review. However, my food was barely adequate, and my companion's meal was cold in the middle and, by my estimation, inedible. She's a local and was chatting with the manager but is uncomfortable returning food. Instead, will never go again.

                    1. re: stanwyck

                      I had one of the most romantic nights of my life at Fore Street, just a few months ago, so atmosphere isn't everything! Never had a disappointing meal there. I've been eating Sam Hayward's cooking for a quarter century now.
                      My favorite restaurant in the Camden-Rockport-Rockland area is Primo in Rockland. Worth the drive. The food is excellent, lovely atmosphere.

                      Fore Street
                      288 Fore Street, Portland, ME 04101