SHELLFISH WITH PROVENANCE Oyster options at Boone’s.
Due to our stagnant incomes and aging population, we Mainers will rely on seasonal visitors to fuel our economy for the foreseeable future. Our relationship with these guests is inevitably love/hate. Our goal should be to treat them well, but soak them for every dollar they are worth. They don’t even mind it — as elite colleges and escort services know well, when people pay more they feel they have gotten something better. At the new Boone’s restaurant, classic New England cuisine is completely familiar, but elevated too (and priced accordingly). While Boone’s is unlikely to become a true local favorite for dinner, it should be one of the first places folks think of when recommending a classic Maine meal for out-of-towners.
The look of the place reflects its dual ambition to popular appeal and expense. It must have been a pricey renovation, and the way the bar opens onto the deck is terrific. But owner Harding Lee Smith resisted the urge to overdesign, creating a dining room that has an older New England feel — with simple cherry wood tables and counters, and spindle back chairs. With the deck out front looking over the water, and the windows in back facing Harbor Fish Market, Boone’s has a good sense of place.
The menu reflects Boone’s two sides as well. There are plenty of choices familiar from a lobster shack or a chowder house. Other dishes, like the baked stuffed lobster and ribeye steak stuffed with oysters, hearken back to the restaurant’s 19th-century inspirations. But in a nod to contemporary fine dining, the heart of the menu is on a chalkboard over the open kitchen, where the day’s variety of fish is listed. The fish is all market price, and the sides cost extra. There are also a variety of oysters listed by origin, à la Eventide, along with pretty accurate tasting notes. The Basket Island variety, from right here in Casco Bay, were meaty and mellow flavored, while the Pemaquid were intensely salty and creamy in texture.
The appetizers are seafood-centered: mussels, crab, calamari, oysters, scallops, sardines, trout, or tuna. The Johnny Cake featured a generous portion of smoked trout piled on top of a cornmeal pancake. The fish was not over-smoked, so its natural sweetness could complement the sugars in the corn, the cream sauce, and the dash of honey. A bit of caviar added some color, salt, and texture. A bowl of fish chowder was more brothy than creamy. It was light on the salt, which allowed you to better appreciate the flavors of butter, herbs, and big pieces of white fish.
An entrée of stuffed haddock was a notably light and fresh interpretation of an old-school dish. There was a generous amount of lobster and scallop, and a nice sauce with the flavors of butter and parsley. A yellowtail entrée was a touch small given the prices. But it was expertly prepared, with a nice sear and flesh that was moist and meaty but not heavy. It worked nicely with a mild béarnaise, resonant of tarragon, which was subtle enough not to overwhelm the fish.