At some point during the summer, the Accidental Locavore and Frank drive up to Maine to visit the parents and help deplete the lobster population. Along the way, there's usually a stop or two for fried clams, crab-meat rolls and Frank’s favorite restaurant this side of the Cote d'Azure, Cafe Miranda. Miranda is a unique place to eat for many reasons, probably mostly because of its owner and chef, Kerry Alteiro whose stamp is on everything and without "that crazy bastard" the restaurant, while still good, loses something in translation.
What also makes Cafe Miranda unique is an extensive menu, consisting of about 50 small dishes (and I use the term small, only to distinguish what might be considered an appetizer from a main course) and the same number of entrees. If that's not enough, there's a separate hamburger menu, with another dozen or so burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches. And each menu item has multiple components. Even an ear of corn is dressed with cheese, cilantro and finished with a blow torch.
The centerpiece of the restaurant is a wood burning oven in which almost everything is cooked. If you're cool enough to score a seat at the bar, you get to watch Kerry and his crew in their frenetic ballet, juggling dishes in and out of the oven, prepping plates, adding sauces, garnishing and, if he thinks you're not paying enough attention, squirting a stream of oil over his shoulder and landing it exactly in the middle of the bowl of greens he's dressing.
But what if you're just there to eat and don't have a view of the show? How can anyone possibly have a menu with so much on it and not have a bunch of so-so food? And in Maine, of all places, not have lobster featured front and center? Well he does, the food is great and you won't hardly miss the lobster (although it has been slowly making its presence felt on the menu).
For all the meals the Accidental Locavore and family have had there (and Frank could eat there every night), there's never been a dud. Usually it's quite the opposite. From the aforementioned torched corn (makes it taste like popcorn) to his riff on kimchi (some of the best you'll ever taste) to a steak perfectly cooked in the fire and topped with blue cheese, this is just good solid cooking...only better! Even something as mundane as nachos gets deconstructed: cheese, chiles and peppers popped into the oven, chips on the side (they kept catching on fire in the oven), with homemade salsa and made into something wonderful, a "fat delivery system at it's best. A recent special was monkfish chowder with corn and potato "croutons" (yes, they do look like fries, don't they?)...as good as it looks!
If there's a downside, it's that portions are big, huge in some cases, and the selection can be daunting...everything just sounds so intriguing. Sitting at the bar just makes it worse because you get to see all the dishes being made and they all look delicious. What it takes to prep for service...no never mind...what it takes to remember all the dishes and what goes into them, is one amazing feat! And for years Kerry has sourced his ingredients locally as much as he can.
Cafe Miranda is a restaurant that's a little off the beaten track, for its cuisine as well as the location, that should be consistently on everyone's list of best Maine restaurants. It's certainly on ours! If you're in Rockland for the annual Maine Lobster Festival make sure to check it out.