I thought I was quite knowledgeable about food. But that was before having dinner in a restaurant in Camden, Maine: Natalie’s, which we discovered on vacation this summer.
The decor was beautiful, and a far cry from the usual boat scenes, crashing ocean waves scenes, and lobster trap themes we had seen so far. When we entered, strains of Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” welcomed us with its familiar melodic melody. The tables were elegantly set with tablecloths and fine china. Large gracious chandeliers overlooked the dining room.
The waitress, well trained and gracious, seated us and presented us with the menus. At the first look we were stunned; we did not know that dinners were price fixe only, and that the prices were higher than a night’s lodging at the finest hotel. We glanced up at each other simultaneously and I asked, “should we stay?”
The menu had terms I don’t usually see and didn’t understand. Terms such as “Nage” as in “corn nage,” “Foam” as in “Lobster foam,” and my favorite, “Deconstructed potato salad. ” Although most chefs work hard to construct dishes to present, the deviant cook at this restaurant did his best to separate the ingredients and serve the salad in its components rather than mixed together in one unit.
Pretentious? Perhaps. The first thing the waitress brought was a tray of lovely, warm, home made breads. She carried a mysterious rectangular tray containing small pats of home churned butter. With the butter were six small dishes of salt.
“These are flavored salts, she explained. You are welcome to select three.” Among the choices were white truffle, garlic, mushroom, curry, smoked paprika and ginger. She took out a small spoon, which reminded me of heroin spoons I’ve seen in movies, and sprinkled a tiny amount on each mound of butter. Then it was up to us to taste the breads with butter mixed with flavored salt. That initial impression made quite an impression.
The came a gift from the chef, a miniature glass of peach smoothie. This is called an “amuse bouche,” which is a small taste to arouse the palate and prepare it for the meal ahead, the waitress explained.
Between each course was a palate cleanser: something tasty and amazing to make your palate forget everything else it had tasted.
The evening was quite an experience, we enjoyed it, and still talk about it. That dinner was the most unusual experience of our trip to Maine.
We are now back from vacation and content to be experiencing ordinary comfort foods.
Without a palate cleanser between courses!