As you plan for an upcoming visit to Maine, you’ll need to make your dinner reservations early if you want to eat at some of the top restaurants on the Maine coast. You will be well-rewarded if you do. Note that many coastal restaurants do not open for the season until mid-April or May and then shutter for the winter.
Although I’ve already detailed the best lobster rolls on the coast, I wanted to share here some of the best restaurants for dinner. As in many New England towns, the top restaurants are often associated with inns. On our trip, we stayed at B&B and inns that didn’t have their own kitchens, so we had to venture out and explore.
Best fine dining experience: Natalie’s at Camden Harbour Inn
Best lobster: The Reading Room
Most intimate space: Salt and Steel
Best view (tie): Ocean and The Reading Room
Natalie’s at Camden Harbour Inn
Natalie’s ranks as my favorite Maine restaurant, though by only a lobster whisker. Located inside the Camden Harbour Inn, you’ll have to compete with guest parking in the steep lot, but it will be worth it even if you need to walk from the street. The restaurant has a dramatic red-and-white décor with Victorian-style fringe lamps overhead.
Because we had dedicated our week to lobster, we ordered the Maine Lobster Tasting Menu. It could have been run-of-the-mill, except for the lobster, of course. But it wasn’t. The innovative menu used molecular cuisine techniques and fresh local ingredients to highlight the best of the fresh lobster.
The lobster menu changes according to the season and availability of ingredients. I can only assure you that you will encounter excellence in every course.
The Reading Room
Bar Harbor, Maine
The Reading Room inside the Bar Harbor Inn rivals Natalie’s in excellence, although it embraces a more traditional New England inn culinary preparation and ambience. That said, I had the best lobster of the trip at The Reading Room – and it was only my first dinner. Sometimes you don’t need creative preparation to experience the joy of eating. That’s not to say that The Reading Room is pedestrian. It offers upscale dining in a comfortable yet elegant setting. If you request it when making your reservation, you can sit at a window overlooking the waterfront and inn’s gardens.
We started with local oysters on the half-shell with their clean yet briny flavor.
As we did throughout our trip up and down the Maine coast, we embraced lobster by both ordering the lobster bisque as our next course.
We separated, just a little, with our main courses. I ordered the succulent lobster and asparagus, while my husband got the surf-and-turf. Mine evoked a lobster bake with new potatoes nestled around the drawn butter, asparagus on top of them, and, of course, the star – sweet Maine lobster meat out of the shell.
My husband’s filet of beef was cooked perfectly medium-rare. Both the tenderness and the flavor marked it as top-notch beef. The purple potato croquette added an interesting and delicious touch.
Last, because it was blueberry season in Maine, we shared a piece of blueberry pie à la mode. Although the pie was good, it didn’t have that intensity of flavor I look for in fruit pies.
Parking at Ocean Restaurant, located inside the Cape Arundel Inn and Resort, was a nightmare. You can’t tell where to park and how to enter the restaurant. We had to park in a service vehicle area in a tight, muddy lot. Fortunately, once we figured out how to get inside, the restaurant treated us to an excellent dinner. The long and narrow dining room has the typical New England inn décor with windows overlooking the ocean.
We ordered the Summer Tasting menu to get the full experience of Ocean. Each course allowed one of two choices, and we made sure to select difference items so that we could sample it all. Or most of it. For the first course, I chose a field green salad with nectarines and prosciutto, while my husband picked the foie gras with duck breast. We added oysters as an extra in the middle.
Because we ate our last dinner in Maine at Ocean, I had already had my fill of lobster, and I ordered the halibut with shrimp, scallop, and mussel. My husband, however, still couldn’t get enough lobster and didn’t need to look past the lobster risotto for his main course. Maybe because I didn’t need more lobster, I thought my choice was the better one.
For dessert, we chose the sponge cake with berries and the chocolate mousse cake. Fortunately, neither dessert was overwhelming and instead provided just the right amount of sweetness to end the meal.
Salt and Steel
Bar Harbor, Maine
Out of all the featured top restaurants, Salt and Steel is the least formal, although it still embraces fine dining over casual. It also seems more likely to appeal to a younger clientele. Chef Bobby Will features local, fresh ingredients and even highlights his sources at the bottom of the menu. The intimate dining rooms evoke eating in someone’s home.
The truffle kale Caesar salad had mounds of grated cheese on top. The Hudson Valley Foie Gras Ganache used pickled rhubarb, strawberry chips, and hazelnuts to cut the richness of the liver.
We both ordered the Maine Lobster “Cassoulet”, and while it was good, it didn’t have the complexity of flavor that I expected. I did love the addition of the squid ink crackle placed on top.
If you travel the Maine Coast and your budget allows it, I recommend dining at each of the above restaurants. Foodies will delight in each. Most visitors, however, generally stay put in one place for a week. Because the above restaurants span several towns, you could probably find one of them near you. These all make wonderful special occasion restaurants, and sometimes that special occasion is the vacation you’re on.