I go to Maine looking forward to hiking, biking, and kayaking in Acadia.
I leave remembering the restaurants.
We just returned from two great weeks on Mount Desert Island. We didn’t get rained out a single day and the island was busy, but not crowded. Since this is our fourth summer there, we have our favorite restaurants that we check in on – Town Hill Bistro, Red Sky, and, of course, Thurston’s Lobster Pound.
But we also tried two spots new to us.
When we arrived at XYZ in Manset, the place was packed. The conversation of happy diners, red wainscoting, and colorful floral placemats ignited a buzz that was contagious. Then I noticed another possible source of the excitement. Just about every table was covered with the same elegant stemware – margaritas.
In addition to a standard margarita, XYZ serves a special one that is made with higher quality tequila and Grand Marnier rather than Triple Sec. (We tried both to validate the $2 price increment and can vouch for why everyone at the bar was ordering the “especial.”)
We ended up sitting at the bar because the diners who had our table lingered so long over dessert. Owner Janet Strong graciously helped push me and the comfy, upholstered bar seat into position. Then the fun really began. Seated on each side of us were XYZ veterans – a well-traveled couple who had been coming to XYZ for fifteen years and the restaurant’s former bartender whose wife and children were out of town.
We spied on what they were eating, consulted with the bartender, and conferred with each other to maximize the tasting opportunities. We decided to start with an exquisite garlic soup and a pepper stuffed with cheese, both good enough to impress Rick Bayless. We chose a shrimp entrée that featured another stuffed pepper and little tortillas – and got tips from the ex-bartender on how to compose something truly delicious. Our other entrée was braised goat, deeply flavorful. It wasn’t on the menu, a special dish chef Bob Hoyt had prepared for a large group. When I asked about it, the owner brought my a little dish to try, which sealed the deal.
Two warnings about XYZ: you need a reservation and you won’t find your Tex-Mex favorites here. The name of the restaurant is the key. XYZ stands for Xalapa, Yucatan, and Zacatecas – localities of Mexico’s interior and coast.
The cuisine here is authentic and memorable, just like the name.
We also ended up sitting at the bar at Mache Bistro in Bar Harbor. I love sitting at the bar, but the clear message for you is that the restaurant scene on MDI is lively, and you need reservations at the best places to eat.
Mache Bistro has a new chef, Kyle Yarborough, who taps his experience from Jordan Pond House, Seasons, and Havana, to deliver “a fresh approach to French bistro cuisine.” You get wonderful local produce and seafood, prepared with flair, as evidenced by our choices. We started with Maine crab and lobster cakes – made even more interesting with an olive and sun-dried tomato drizzle – and mussels prepared in a delectable chorizo, saffron, tomato, and wine sauce. Yes, dip that bread.
Entrée selections further illustrate Chef Kyle’s gastronomic schizophrenia. A duck breast was served over a cassoulet of white beans and topped with smoked duck and a duck confit. I think my scallops were among the best I have ever had, not only because they were so fresh, but I am guessing they were marinated in rosemary and pepper to produce such wonderful flavor. They were served over rosemary polenta and topped with arugula and caramelized onions.
For dessert we ordered the pain perdu, which was more of a bread pudding than French toast. Guess what the topping was? Blueberries, of course.
In contrast to XYZ’s high-energy atmosphere, Mache Bistro is hushed. I counted only eight tables and three couples at the bar. Ceiling fans whir as couples whisper in the high-ceilinged room with pale green walls and burgundy accents. With only a single accent of a pitcher of garden flowers on the bar, it’s almost ascetic.
I wish I could drop by Mache Bistro’s bar often before a movie or a lecture for a glass of wine and grilled flat bread with crab, Manchego cheese and arugula. The wine list, including a good selection of wines by the glass, is well chosen and fairly priced. There were also a range of ports and dessert wines, and coffee was only $2.
For more ideas on where to eat when you visit Bar Harbor, check out OUR ACADIA to read about our favorite lobster pounds, casual spots, and restaurants for a special night out. There are also itineraries and tips for guides, kayaking tours, activities for kids, and places to stay.