Finding “{the} Lost Kitchen” in Freedom, Maine

The Lost Kitchen

cowsIn late March, on a quiet Wednesday morning an Estia breakfast customer overheard me describing my daughters summer job in Maine. As I moved back toward the kitchen he quietly suggested I look into a far away dining room in Freedom, Maine called {the} Lost Kitchen, “it’ll be well worth the effort” he said.

Freedom, Maine

If you passed the Post Office in Freedom, Main you missed the sign to the Lost Kitchen

So I did. That night, on the internet I read a story in Food & Wine about a sharp woman named  Erin French who followed her dream back to the town she grew up in. A few weeks later my new breakfast customer was back, again as I passed him at the counter he whispered ” Time to call Lost Kitchen”, and I did. It was early April and Erin had started reserving seats for her 2016 season, after a few exchanged calls I secured a table for 3, Wednesday July 13. Planned in tandem with our visit to catch up with Mansell, our 19 year old camp counselor.

Lost Kitchen outside

{the} Lost Kitchen

It’s not easy to find Freedom, Maine, GPS is strongly advised. After leaving our hotel in Camden we drove past gorgeous lakes, through pine forests and over hills that crested to views of farm fields that went on for miles. The nice thing about being on vacation in Maine is that you must slow down, in some ways I felt forced to. We didn’t need to hurry either as the reservation was set for 6pm. That is the time they start and there’s only one nightly seating at “Lost Kitchen”.

On arrival into Freedom we passed the Post office, having overshot the turn we swung around and took a right, down the hill and over a small bridge. Another right into the parking lot, followed by a short walk across a foot bridge and down a lane toward the basement door where our first “Lost Kitchen” experience began—in the wine shop.

table-setting

Erin French does not have a liquor license, neither does anyone else in the town of Freedom. She does however have a license to run a wine shop.  On review of the evenings menu, I chose a half bottle of Chablis.

the Lost Kitchen interior

Erin’s charming dining room

The dining room is magical. Late afternoon light bounces off the bridge and fills the room with soft copper light. Erin’s dining room is full of 19th century beams and large pulleys that I assume once drew power from the mill and somehow turned large mill stones. As we passed through the room I was pleased to see it full of happy, comfortable, casually dressed guests. Voices at each table were boisterous and content. First courses had been placed onto most. It included a lovely cheese board with hard, sharp cheese, soft butter and radishes of 3 varieties,  olives and popovers—all delicious.

Cheese Board

Cheese board with olive, popover, pickle & more

In the time it took to settle into the room we were told that bubbly water was available, but another trip to the basement was required. For some reason the old laws of Freedom kept all bottled beverages in a separate room. Perhaps a legal effort over the winter of ’16 – ’17 will change that, but then again it’s not too much trouble. A little fresh air is welcome on warm nights at the old mill, however I’m not sure it would be the same on a cold, snowy eve in November.

Oysters in Mignonette

Oysters in Mignonette

Returning to the table our second course was arriving. A surprise platter of oysters, sweet and briny, finished with mignonette, heavy in freshly diced shallots. I found them delightful and fun for slurping, 2 for each of us a—wonderful treat. Shortly after the oysters another unexpected gift from the kitchen: a skillet filled with locally cultivated mussels, steamed in white wine and finished with lavender and lime. A chunk of bread with an appropriate tooth for dipping in the broth, placed directly on top to complete the mussels experience.

Mussels

Prior to our start of the published portion of the meal, chef French took a few minutes to address the room. She encouraged her guests to relax and feel at home “put your elbows on the table and enjoy your meal as if you might be in a friends dining room” — I think we all felt that way already. Her soup was perfect for a warm evening, cool sweet pea puree poured over a few slices of  lobster meat with a dollop of creme fraiche and a dusting of chilled, poached peas, the soup puree was poured table side.

Cool sweet peas soup with lobster & Creme fraiche

Cool sweet peas soup with lobster & Creme fraiche

 

lobster-drop

A salad course followed with a variety of crisp local lettuces finished in a simple vinaigrette that coated every leaf but otherwise seemed non existent. Supported by a dusting of sunflower sprouts (my favorite) and a few marigold blossoms, finally crumbles of smoked ricotta cheese. A wonderful salad that needed nothing else. Served towering high over the plate and easily finished with a last pinch from the service plate with our fingers. As we might do at home, on the chefs suggestion.

Local greens with marigold, fennel flowers, carrots & smoked ricotta cheese

Local greens with marigold, fennel flowers, carrots & smoked ricotta cheese

The fish course was sublime. A “buttered black sea bass” with tiny diced cucumbers, sliced cherry tomatoes, first of the season new potatoes and capers. Hot fish, cool veg. a fine presentation for a main course on one of the seasons hottest evenings. This is another of the chefs messages on her introduction, “its warm tonight so let’s eat cool.”

Black Sea Bass, cool baby potato , cucumber, crouton, pea sprouts & capers

Black Sea Bass, cool baby potato , cucumber, crouton, pea sprouts & capers

Finally we finished with a dish my mother might call freezer cake, the chef called it a vanilla terrine. The middle layer of salted brittle provided a fine crunch that balanced a spark of color from a sprinkle of locally harvested raspberries. The plate was beautiful, tasty and a wonderful counterpoint to the French press coffee we enjoyed prior to departing for the hour long drive home.

Vanilla Terrine with home made brittle and first of the year raspberries

Vanilla Terrine with home made brittle and first of the year raspberries

 

 

 

 

 

 

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