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Dinner at Camden, Maine's Hartstone Inn


Hartsone Inn delivers excellent food and service.
If you fantasize running a small inn and preparing gourmet meals to admiring fans then someone’s beat you to it.  Meet Mary Jo and Michael Salmon, the owners, hosts, chefs, buss boys, maître d's, and overall nice folks that make this fantasy a reality…at least for them.

My wife and I were drawn to Hartstone by the overwhelmingly positive reviews.  We did not stay at the inn, we were there for the food.  Overall it was an extremely pleasant experience and one I highly recommend, especially given the quality of the food for the price ($45 per person – food only) and the friendly and attentive service.

Our reservation was easily executed via email. When I received a confirmation I was also asked if my wife and I had any dietary restrictions. We did not but I thought this a thoughtful gesture given the prix fixe nature of their restaurant.  It demonstrates their willingness, and no doubt their ability, to accommodate special requests – as long as you tell them in advance.

The dinning room (and at least some of the guest rooms) are housed in an old home on the main road through quaint Camden, ME.  We arrived 20 minutes before the 7 o’clock dinner time. There are two sitting rooms where you can enjoy one of the inn’s specialty cocktails or anything from their full bar before moving into the dinning area.

Dinner is served in two small rooms. One is probably the original dinning room of the old house and the second room felt like a converted sun porch. Combined they seat a about 36. The rooms were comfortable and quaint – it’s Camden after all – and contributed to a relaxed experience.

The table was appointed very well.  It included a full set of silverware for every course to come. My wife and I were especially fond of the knife rest at every place setting. A touch one rarely sees in restaurants. We’ve already begun a search for our own. One missing element that struck us as odd was bread plates. We were uncomfortable using the chargers but we had no choice. The manners I was taught dictate that you do not dip into the butter dish every time you want to put it on your bread. You take all the butter you will need and place it on your bread plate. A small matter to be sure but one that was out of place with the completeness of everything else about the restaurant.

The menu changes nightly. On this night we were served:

  • Pork and Artichoke Pâté with Pickled Red Onions and Brandied Apricots
  • Mixed Baby Greens with a Mango-Peppercorn Dressing and local Goat Cheese
  • Maine Blueberry Sorbet
  • Cumin-Grilled Halibut with Creamed Corn and Leeks. Roasted Purple Potatoes
  • Grand Marnier Soufflé with an Orange Crème Anglaise

The wine list was plentiful enough for most tastes.  Conveniently, many selections were available in half-bottles (or splits) so that two diners can better match wine with the courses.  In our case, a pinot noir for the pâté and a full-bodied chardonnay for the halibut. Both were informed recommendations from the chef’s wife, Mary Jo.

The pâté was country-esque – the pork was ground coursely so it had texture and bite. The artichoke, actually a baby artichoke, was ensconced by the seasoned pork.  When sliced and served on the plate it presented beautifully. The accompaniments added an expected and nice contrast.

The salad was light, refreshing and simple. The mango added a bright sweetness to the dressing. The goat cheese was thinly spread on a equally thin slice of toasted bread.  I would have preferred a bit more goat cheese but perhaps the chef was measured in his serving amount as too much could have thrown the salad out of balance.

The intermezzo was a small portion of Maine blueberry sorbet. If you like blueberries and sorbet you’ll love this sweet intrusion to your meal. Another small but thoughtful element to their presentation was that it came with a chilled spoon. And, of course, the sorbet was served in a chilled port glass.  A nice touch.

The halibut was wonderful.  Perfectly cooked - moist, tender and flakey. The cumin crust was a surprise, and a bit worrisome, treatment to my dinner-mate as she is forced too often to my (over?) use of it at home. But both of us thought it was nice compliment to the mild fish.

The mound of creamed corn and leeks underneath the halibut was fresh and tasty.  It struck me as more sautéed than creamed. A sauce surrounded the corn and perhaps this was the chef’s riff on the ‘creamed’ of creamed corn. It was an ethereal sauce of reduced white wine, shallots, cream and butter – strained and emulsified in a blender (I learned this from the chef himself when he made his rounds through the dining room).  The result was fluffy and unctuous.

Roasted purple potatoes, roasted carrots and perfectly steamed asparagus were served with the halibut - simply and elegantly prepared.

The desert, a soufflé, was what you should expect. Light, sweet, hot and delicious.  Every soufflé I saw delivered around us looked the same, each one rising almost a full inch out of their dish.  It is placed in front of you and then the waiter (either Mary Jo, the chef, or their hotel and restaurant management intern from Hungary) come to gently puncture the center and pour in a generous serving of flavored crème anglaise. More please!

Our overall experience was wonderful. Michael and Mary Jo are executing almost perfectly on every aspect of this dining experience. It is one I heartily recommend and would like to repeat some day.

For more info: Hartstone Inn 41 Elm Street  Camden, ME 04843
Reservations: 800-788-4823
Local Phone: 207-236-4259
Email: info@hartstoneinn.com

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