New England Regional | Tastes and Tables
Arrows sits on a wooded country road about half a mile from the coastal town of Ogunquit. Eighty percent of the food served is grown in gardens out back; the greenhouse is a giant pantry. Yet the menu offers a multiplicity of flavors from locales throughout Asia and Europe.
The owners, Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier, are also the chefs. “Arrows has always been a very personal expression of Mark and myself,” says Frasier, who lived in Beijing in the early 1980s. “We’ve had fun making some of the foods that we’ve found while traveling grow here, like lemon grass and the Thai peppers and eggplant. These are not hardy, Yankee ingredients.”
The men came to Maine in 1988 from San Francisco, where they were accustomed to cooking with fresh food year-round, and soon determined that in the Northeast they’d have to grow their own. “We pick during the day and literally the food is on the plate a few hours later,” Frasier adds. “And it does make a difference: you can see the colors better, see the shapes, the textures, and taste the fresh flavors.” They can also experiment with the best-tasting or more exotic varieties; six kinds of carrots are found in the garden, including the marble-shaped “Thumbelina” served with a Thai coconut curry.
Open from April through mid December, the restaurant’s main dining room has a wall of windows looking out over the flower gardens and an expansive lawn. Plan to arrive early or stay late to tour the grounds. The night we were there, the place had the air of a Renaissance fair. Coming up the stone path to the entrance, we saw to the left an industrious young man pitch a bucket of oysters into a roaring outdoor fire; through windows to the right, several cooks in white were bustling about cleaning, chopping, and mixing. “Being here is a whole experience,” Frasier reports.
The food is dazzling. Each “dish” offers many sub-ensembles of surprising flavors that are tucked together like a never-ending set of nesting dolls. The lobster appetizer ($21.95) was presented on a Thai celadon platter and cooked in three ways: wrapped in a slight piece of wood veneer with pine needles (for flavoring only!) and a creamy, juniper-butter sauce; sautéed on a bed of warm stones with apple slices; and deep-fried with scallions and a mirin (Japanese sweet wine) dipping sauce.
A pool of sweet-tart gooseberry sauce surrounded the foie gras ($19.95), which also came with a disc of pommes Anna and a savory pumpkin spice cake with gooseberry-glaze ice cream. “Some people may say those chefs are getting loony, serving ice cream with foie gras,” Frasier says with a laugh. “If you think about it, it’s not a hot egg and cream sauce, but a cold one. So it’s not that weird.” In fact, the hot, the cold, and the sweet combined marvelously with the juicy pâté. And a delicious line of hazelnut shavings brought the palate back down to earth.
Equally sensational were the warm “Thumbelina” carrots ($16.95) with cilantro and a thick sprig of basil. On the same platter was a hill of half-moon-shaped cucumber slices in a salad with ginger, sharp chives, and sweet grape tomatoes, and a spicy fried-noodle cake in a Malaysian sauce made with red chilies and garlic. A stack of delicate leggy greens—carrot shoots and mizuna (a Japanese variety)—was dressed with champagne vinaigrette made with puréed nasturtiums.
The entrées were decidedly less Asian than the appetizers, but just as carefully executed. Although it was deer season in Maine, Arrows venison ($41.95) is flown in from New Zealand; guests prefer it. The cut was served with roasted chestnuts, Michigan wild rice, and an airy apple-hazelnut bread pudding. A petite roasted lady apple added a smoky taste with just a hint of sweetness to the rich meat. The John Dory—a slightly sweet, thick white fish from Portugal—was flanked by silky spinach greens and a slow-cooked mélange of Tuscan beans, black olives, and tomatoes ($42.95). Farro dumplings in a wild-mushroom coulis provided a comfortingly mealy, homey texture after so many flavors had tickled the taste buds. “This dish is all things medieval: the farro, beans, apples, all cooked in their essences, so the flavors evolve,” Frasier reports.
|The post-and-beam farmhouse is flanked by gardens|
|Courtesy of Arrows|
At the height of the summer season, the restaurant’s wine list offers 700 selections, with bottles ranging from $42 to $2,200— that’s for the Screaming Eagle Cabernet from Napa Valley. (Foodies without super-fat wallets can always daydream.)
The desserts ($10 each) are little pockets of sweet and flowery treats. The Middle Eastern-inspired almond and date cake with orange-blossom sabayon came with two cinnamon-dusted Turkish delights and a tiny pitcher of a deeply tangy grape honey. A trio of tartlets—chocolate, pecan, and lemon-balm curd—each came with cookies and sauces: orange and brown butter, huckleberry, and caramel, respectively. Herbal-infused tea—sage and apple—closed the meal.
Arrows is unabashedly expensive. But for those seeking a singular experience encompassing food, wine, and an eighteenth-century gentleman’s-farm ambiance, the money—and the trip to Maine—are worth it. “We’ve done it the old-fashioned way,” Frasier puts it. “And every year we just try to make it more beautiful.”