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March 14, 2013

TRAVELIN' MAINE(RS): Argentine chef + Argentine wine = fabulous dinner by the sea

George and Linda Smith

When Chef Mitchell Kaldrovich, a native of Argentina, offers his annual Argentine Wine Dinner, the 60 seats sell out quickly with a lot of repeat customers. This year, on the spur of the moment, the Inn by the Sea scheduled an afternoon wine seminar for those who were disappointed when they couldn't get reservations for the dinner. Proceeds from the seminar were donated to Maine Audubon, whose Executive Director Ted Koffman joined us for the event.

George

When Chef Mitchell Kaldrovich, a native of Argentina, offers his annual Argentine Wine Dinner, the 60 seats sell out quickly with a lot of repeat customers. This year, on the spur of the moment, the Inn by the Sea scheduled an afternoon wine seminar for those who were disappointed when they couldn't get reservations for the dinner. Proceeds from the seminar were donated to Maine Audubon, whose Executive Director Ted Koffman joined us for the event.

Knowing little about wine, other than that we enjoy it, we learned a lot at the seminar. Pablo Piccolo, of Catena Zapata in the mountainous region of Mendoza, entertained us for nearly two hours with wonderful stories, fascinating information about Catena's history, grapes and methods, with an opportunity to taste 13 flights of wine. I will be watching to see if his prediction -- that Bonardo will overtake Malbec in popularity in the next 10 years -- comes true.

Knowing that the Sea Glass Restaurant's Chef Kaldrovich is very creative with Maine ingredients, we couldn't wait to see what he would cook up for this special dinner.

The eating adventure began with an amuse of fresh crab and apple salad on endive -- a heavenly start to the meal. The first course, Italian-inspired baked Serrano ham and blue cheese-stuffed dates provided a wonderful sweet and sour combination, delivered with a Catena Malbec that had a strong hint of strawberries. OK, so now I'm becoming a wine snob!

Pan-roasted scallops were next, with a lobster risotto. I saw a lot of happy faces in the room as we enjoyed this course. I especially liked the finely chopped and crispy haricot verts (green beans), the tasty tarragon emulsion and the perfectly paired Catena Chardonnay.

At any dinner like this, the scallops are usually my favorite. But I have to say the next course of Slow Braised Lamb Shank stole the show. As each course was delivered Chef Kaldrovich, a very personable guy, and Pablo Piccolo explained the food and wine.

When I heard that the lamb was braised for 10 hours, I said to Linda, "There's really something to this slow braising." She replied, "It just means its cooked on low, not on high like you do all the time." I'm learning so much at these dinners!

The lamb was meaty and pulled away easily from the bone, and the accompanying mint chimichurri was both creative and tasty. A young man nearby said, "The lamb shank is unbelievable," and I agreed. My favorite wine of the night, Catena Alta Malbec, was served with this course. And sure enough, it was also the most expensive wine served at the dinner.

We dined for two hours before we had dessert, but we didn't notice the time flying by. The housemade dessert, grilled chocolate and olive oil cake, came with a goat cheese gelato, poached figs, Marcona almonds and fudge sauce. Yes, it was as good as it sounds.

The white linen tablecloths and napkins, candlelight, soft music and superior service all added to the experience. Chef Kaldrovich spent time after dinner talking with people at each table. When we raved about the lamb, he told us it came from New Zealand and was milder than local lamb. The music played on and people lingered, not wanting to end this delightful evening.

Lucky for us, we had just a short walk. Soon after checking into our beautiful two-story room -- with a bathroom almost as big as our bedroom at home, with huge double windows offering a view out over Crescent Beach to the ocean -- there was a knock on the door and two chocolate-covered marshmallows rolled in graham cracker crumbs were delivered on a beautiful dish with a personal note from inn manager Carrie Dyer welcoming us back. This is great customer service!

Mornings here are very special, too. In my silky robe (provided by the inn), sun splashing on the carpet, coffee brewing in our full kitchen, the morning newspaper hanging in a fancy bag on the door handle -- well, it was just like my mornings at home!

Linda

We've visited the Inn By The Sea a few times now, and each time we drive up I got this feeling that I'd been here a long time ago. The mystery was solved last week while talking with my sister-in-law. It turns out she and my brother had their wedding there many years ago when it was the Crescent Beach Inn.

Our recent visit for the Argentine Wine Dinner was the highlight of my February school break. The Inn By The Sea is an impressive place during any season, and I look forward to a stay here no matter how brief.

Pablo Piccolo was an entertaining teacher for our afternoon wine seminar. He was afraid we couldn't understand his English, but it wasn't a problem. Pablo educated us about many things, from how the grapes are grown in Argentina to the nuances of wine tasting.

Armed with a little knowledge, we headed to the wine dinner that evening. Chef Kaldrovitch informed us that these weren't necessarily Argentine dishes, but ones chosen to highlight the wines.

I could have made a meal of their first offering, an amuse bouche of crab on endive. But the courses kept coming and each and every one was special. The salad came with Serrano ham and blue cheese stuffed dates, served warm. Those dates sparked considerable debate at our table! They were combined with brightly colored beets, arugula and endive lending a balance of textures and flavors. And, of course, all this paired perfectly with the wine.

The standout of the meal was the main course -- braised lamb shanks with a mint chimichurri sauce. When the chef explained he slow-cooked the lamb for 10 hours, the whole room went "Ahhhh!" We hadn't tasted it but already knew we would love it.

This was melt-in-your mouth lamb. It was so tender and the chimichurri (typical of Argentine cuisine) was incredible. All of this was served over creamy polenta that I love.

Appropriate pours of wine were offered, which probably added up to a little more than two full glasses for the evening.

The room was buzzing with conversation as we enjoyed spectacular food and great wine together.

Other wine dinners we've attended ended quickly after the final course. But people here lingered as the chef made a point to go to each table and talk with them. He's not just a talented chef, he's a class act.

IF YOU GO . . .

WHERE:
Inn by the Sea
Sea Glass Restaurant
40 Bowery Beach Road, Cape Elizabeth
PHONE: 799-3134, 866-619-2128 for reservations
ON THE WEB: innbythesea.com

Visit George's website: www.georgesmithmaine.com for travel tips, book reviews, outdoor news and more.





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