A few months ago, our friends April and Doug had us for dinner and described for us a recent meal they had experienced at a private dinner club in Bar Harbor. It needs a bit of explanation, so stay with me.
This guy, Frankie, is an Italian chef who started cooking dinners in his home for small groups of people, and then through word of mouth, his cooking created a high demand, and now he makes his living by booking multi-course dinners for groups of 6-12.
When we heard April and Doug describing his food, we knew we had to try it out, and booked a dinner for the last night Liesel was here. Because we were friends of April and Doug, and because they were joining us, we could get a reservation. He doesn't book a dinner unless he knows you or you are "highly recommended." More on that later.
Frankie and his wife grow all of their own vegetables, and these zucchini plants greeted us as we walked up his driveway.
As soon as we walked into this beautiful, warm space infused with roasted garlic, we knew we were in for a treat. Here is Frankie teaching us about the ingredients used in the first course.
He is part chef, part teacher, part historian, and part showman. He had a lot to say about this food and where it came from. He made it pretty clear from the get go that he was the star of the show, and not to ask questions. Sam didn't really take the hint, and provided us some very funny moments. More on that later.
First course included: Imported Italian olives, meats and cheeses, roasted red peppers and baked garlic served with homemade bread and estate bottled extra-virgin olive oil. Caprese salad with fresh mozarella, basil, and (NO JOKE) the best tomatoes I've ever, ever eaten. Stuffed zucchini, and applewood smoked salmon (that he proudly smokes himself). It was truly amazing.
Good gravy! I can still taste that salad if I look at this picture.
During the first course, Sam innocently asked Frankie if he smoked his own prosciutto.
Frank said: "That's not prosciutto. And you never, ever smoke proscuitto. You cure it."
Then Sam pointed to a huge jar on the counter filled with a golden liquid that had inches of an unidentified white substance at the bottom.
Sam said: "Is this olive oil with parmesan at the bottom?"
Frankie said: "No."
We moved over here for the remaining courses: Arugula and cherry tomato salad with beef tenderloin, Bucatini all' Amatriciana, "a famous Roman dish from the town of Amatrice; bucatini pasta made with oven-roasted tomatoes and guanciale," and roasted pork tenderloin with braised fennel and figs and port wine sauce. Unbelievable, every bite.
Sam asked about the olive oil and parmesan AGAIN half way through the dinner, and I started to kick him under the table. We had been told that Frankie didn't decide if a party of new folks would be invited back until the end of the dinner. I thought Sam was surely going to do us in.
Frankie told us again about prosciutto during the meal, and reminded us (Sam) that "it is never, ever, ever smoked, only cured." This was intense!
When Frankie came to clear the plates from the pasta course, I said that I hadn't eaten it all because I was saving room for the tenderloin course.
Frankie was not pleased: "No No! During each course, you only think about that course, not what is to come! A lot of love and work goes into every course!"
Sam, who had a clean plate, smiled. "That's what I'm talking about," he said to Sam when he took his plate. Sam was back in Frankie's good graces.
For 10 seconds.
Sam: "I've been fasting for a few days to get ready for this!" lied Sam
Frankie: "No, No! That's not what you should do! You don't fast! The more you eat, the more your stomach expands, and then you can eat more!"
At this point, we started to giggle at the seemingly impossible challenge of saying just the right thing to Frankie.
Good thing we didn't have to talk much. We just had to eat his perfect food. We oohed and aahed through the whole meal.
After dinner, Sam got his answer to the olive oil question. It wasn't olive oil, but home-made grain alcohol with inches of lemon zest at the bottom, from which he makes his own limoncello. He brought out shots for everyone at the table in frosted glasses. It was so cold and lemony and sweet. And strong! I drank half of it and gave the rest to Sam.
And dessert? Oh good lord. Vanilla panacotta with this ridiculous reduced port sauce that was so delicious. Sam had to round out the evening with one more question (!) about the port sauce, and we knew it wasn't a good question when Frankie started: "Like I told you earlier..."
We had some seriously good laughs about some of the things we could have said during dinner. Like, "this is just like what I had at the Olive Garden!" After dessert, we had a five minute argument over who was going to ask Frank for coffee while he was busy cleaning up.
Frank and all of his entertaining and passionate food lessons, plus the truly authentic, fresh, organic, genuinely good food made for an unforgettable evening. At the end of the night,
Frank said to us: "You are all invited to come back for dinner anytime."
YES! and PHEW!