Our reservations at Arrows were four months in the making. I called at the end of March, and then we spent the spring and early summer preparing. Money was set aside from extra shifts and overtime hours. Special clothes were purchased. The countdown was on.
Short background on Arrows: It’s the flagship restaurant for James Beard Award-winning chef/owners Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, who also own the more casual MC Perkins Cove in town and Summer/Winter in Burlington, Mass. The restaurant is located in an old farmhouse, with much of its produce grown in the sprawling, lush on-site gardens. It’s a stunning spot, worth a visit just for the scenery. (Despite torrential rain the evening of our visit, we still took some time to walk the property and saw just how beautiful it was.)
We’d already decided we were going all out. Full six-course tasting, wine pairings, the whole nine. I just wanted plates to arrive in front of me. But where other high-end restaurants dictate their tasting menus without room for substitution, Arrows is much more flexible. From the “Chef’s Collection,” you’re allowed to create your own tasting experience. This customization option is really fantastic, and in hindsight, I wish I’d taken advantage of it.
Bread service began the meal, with a choice of carb goodness: soft grissini, cornbread, focaccia and other assorted homemade choices.
The oyster course, to start:
“Oysters in green.” From left: poached in cream with spinach and shallot; chilled with green garlic and chive; fried with green goddess dressing. I could have taken an entire platter of the poached oysters and been happy for the rest of the evening.
Here we had our first substitution of the night: Rob opted for the creamy corn chowder with corn, bacon, yam ragout and ancho chili puree.
Fish course: Striped bass with (here my notes fail me – I remember it had farm cheese and shaved carrot)
Kat chose the scallops instead of the bass, and her plate was a thing of beauty:
And here’s where things got a little wacky. The duck course:
Grilled duck breast with rhubarb chips and garden salad (ruby streaks/mizzuna); duck confit “cube” with strawberry gelee and port wine sauce; duck saussion with pickled rhubarb, strawberry-tarragon mustard and potato pancake. On the side: a mimosa of strawberry and sparkling sake.
After this course, we asked to take a stroll through the garden, and the staff obliged, even pointing us toward a collection of umbrellas by the door.
Final course before dessert: Lamb trio, one of the highlights.
And dessert, a Thai-inspired box of sweets:
The dessert fell completely flat for me – flatter than my hair in a July rainstorm. The tamarind only livened it up so far. I wonder if I could have replaced that course with another round of poached oysters.
At the end of the meal, Clark Frasier himself came out of the kitchen in his chefs’ whites (it’s hard to miss that trademark blond ‘do) and inquired about our experience. He was kind and gracious, and later signed our menus as a memento.
Which makes me feel bad about my final thoughts. While everything tasted great, and the service was impeccable (if a little clinical) we weren’t wowed. And certainly not for that price tag. With tip, our bill was in the high three figures. And save for some true highlights, none of us were dancing to the car in a blissed-out food coma.
But it’s hard to discount a night out with close friends during a whirlwind, delicious few days in Vacationland. Next time, though, we’ll take that cash and spend it in Portland.