I know, awful title. But fitting after a birthday weekend in beautiful, coastal Camden with the King-o-Puns, my Handsome Chef Boyfriend. That happened weekend before last, a birthday gift HCB planned and handed to me with the admonition to put away my wallet. We had to move heaven and earth to make our little jaunt happen at all, what with tricky work schedules, other logistical hurdles, and always–always–the need to lead a frugal life during challenging fiscal times.
I had never been that far up the East Coast, nor to Maine, before last weekend. And it was really the first time the two of us could escape our lives and travel without some other agenda or pressing deadline, our time together seemingly always secondary to that. We had no schedule to keep. Just three delicious, sunny, breezy glorious days.
We stayed at the home of HCB’s longtime friends, Chef Ken Paquin and his wife Del who also happens to come originally from the South, like moi. Ken comes from Massachusetts; I could listen to him for days and still not know how to pahk the cah. HCB has a long past with them about which I’ve heard so much over the course of the last two years. They own a fantastic and highly successful bistro called Atlantica tucked on the water’s edge at Bayview Landing in historic downtown Camden. Del works tirelessly in the front of the house, and also behind the scenes making sure the restaurant is stocked with the most beautiful of fresh ingredients. Ken is an executive chef whose proprietary creativity transcends the kitchen to include his talented staff, many of them young European students already with complex and varied life stories.
We insinuated ourselves in their lovely home during the height of the season, which meant we saw very little of them, a not-so-subtle reminder that the food industry–and especially its service leg–demands so much of its purveyors. I still can’t help drawing parallels between professional cuisine and professional ballet, where you’ve also got to commit fully to enjoy success–you can’t just kinda want to do it. There is no rest for the weary. But I digress.
On Saturday night the restaurant was slammed so HCB and I ventured a little ways north to Lincolnville for dinner at casual place Ken suggested, also right on the water. McLaughlin’s Lobster Shack is the kind of iconic place where you get succulent lobster on a hot dog roll, with corn bread (the sweet kind that we call Yankee corn bread down South) and corn on the cob, or other traditional sides. We sat outside at the water’s edge and watched the harried staff snap live lobsters from their holding tanks, tossing them directly into the boiling pots with the corn. It’s an unassuming place with a big following and a matching price tag. Ken later explained this has not been an especially good lobster season, ergo the prices. Still, when in Maine….
Sunday was my birthday, officially. and we had Atlantica dinner reservations. During the day we were left to our own devices and managed some exploring in spite of the fact that my chronic foot injury continues to make it difficult for me to do normal people things like, say, stand and walk (to say nothing of teaching classical ballet).
We found our way first to Rockport Harbor, where we had a near-perfect Cuban sandwich at the Fox on the Run food truck. My Knoxville friends may remember a place in Homberg called Alex’s Havana Café, where you could get the real deal. This was a close approximation; the only thing that struck me as a bit inauthentic was the bread, but it satisfied our cravings, hoagie-style bun notwithstanding. After a longish wait for our food we sat on a bench and ate, watching people with unimaginable fortunes maneuvering their mightily expensive (and beautiful) sailboats in and out of the harbor. (We also witnessed an elderly man being rescued from a brush with death after his questionable decision to board an unstable dinghy life jacket-less left him partially immersed in the hahbah.)
Thence to the Rockland Harbor Lighthouse, which sounded like a fun out-and-back, just an eight-tenths of a mile walk on the breakwater each way. Easy peasy, right? Funny how the closer we came to the lighthouse itself, the further into the horizon it seemed to shrink. It was a beautiful day, and I had my sweetheart’s hand in my own the entire time. And my foot hurt so badly by the time we finished I wanted to kill somebody. Yep, there’s a lighthouse out there. Way, way, way out there.
After a brief chance to rest at home we headed back into Camden for the emphatic highlight of our weekend, Atlantica dinner. Ken was incredibly gracious and gave us a perfect table on the water. Photographic evidence of brilliant cuisine follows (and yes, it was as amazing as the pictures suggest):
Afterwards Ken served us too-generous portions of a chocolate velvet cake my own handsome chef had made for me; we left the balance of it for the young restaurant staff to polish off (they were visibly elated).
There was more to our trip–a fun stop in Bath, where I missed seeing a friend from my ballet school days, but where we walked the historic district and enjoyed the sights. And also an evening in Belfast where we did more of the same. On Monday we spent a while in Camden’s trendy shops looking for things to take home to our kids. And then we said goodbye to our hosts, ’til next time. Ken and HCB posed for a photo, but because I am still sworn to maintaining boyfriend privacy, I had to crop him right out of it. I give you (ahem) Chef Ken Paquin and HCB’s right ear. Nice, huh?
Yesterday was HCB’s birthday, and I had made plans to fix him birthday dinner Saturday night, schlepping a cookbook with me to his house. But during one of our epic, silly conversations we got back onto the subject of lobstah, and before we knew it were looking up Lobster Thermidor, an out-of-fashion dish with an interesting past. HCB was determined to make it, so we changed our Saturday plans. The happy results:
And while a single serving would typically include an entire lobster, as HCB explained, we decided that since we had so many beautiful veggies growing outside the door and from a local farm stand, a big ‘un would suffice for the two of us.
I still say Lobster Thermidor sounds like a refrigerator. I am not complaining. Visit Maine if you have not (or even if you have), and bon appétit!