The Food Network has a show (not among my favorites, to be frank) called “The Best Food I Ever Ate.” Given that this month’s NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) theme is “best,” I thought I might reach back in time more than a quarter century to the best meal I’d ever eaten to that point–and perhaps the best meal I’ve had since then. The restaurant was Snow Squall in Portland, Maine. The day was close to perfect.
I was wrapping up my college career, and my old roommate and I decided we had had enough of senior booze cruises and wanted to see things in New England that we had never seen. You see, we were both Southern peaches out of the orchard. I started reading places to her from a road atlas from Cape Cod to Maine, and she would reply, “Oh, that sounds nice!” As we took off in my old car (newly brought to college because plane tickets had gone up so much), I asked her to pull out the Maine map and asked for an interstate number. She said, “I have the main map, but I don’t see that number.” A few frustrating minutes and missed exits later, she realized we were going to Maine, not Cape Cod, and we were heading the right direction. Even though it was 27 years ago, I still remember the day. We went horseback riding on Old Orchard Beach. Then we changed out of our horsy jeans and went swimming (oh so cold!) in Lake Sabago (is that the name?) and then rented paddle boats. Finally, we found a quiet place to change into skirts and sweaters and reported to the maitre de at Snow Squall.
Of course, the wonderful day full of surprises, picking our next destination out of a hat of brochures we’d picked up at the state line, made dinner that night even more special. The day felt like first love, although it was the love of adventure that had us feeling so giddy. This was also the most I’d ever spent on a meal before, although the cost doesn’t seem so bad now. We started with a bottle of wine and the most delicate calamari I’ve ever had. It was so thinly sliced and delicately prepared that it had none of the rubberiness of standard calamari. We also selected salads, which had a homemade dressing and came with several tiny bento box-style bowls of toppers, like poppy seed. Our main dish: stuffed lobster. No stuffed lobster I’ve had since then has ever been so good, so I quit ordering them. The lobster meat dominated the dish, with just enough crumbs to serve as a binder. I know what was best about it was not only the light hand of the chef but the sheer freshness of the lobster. It tasted like the ocean we’d been playing next to all day. It was perfect. I’m sure we had dessert too (it was one of those days), but it was that heavenly ocean-infused lobster that will always stay with me. It made me understand why Maine lobster is really only worth it if enjoyed in Maine.
I looked up the Snow Squall tonight and was excited at first to see that it’s still open. The menu revealed it is not the place I remember so fondly. I saw little of that truly fresh-caught seafood, so I did a bit more digging and found out that David Gooch, who owned the restaurant for 23 years (including when I visited), sold it in 2004. It closed shortly thereafter and just recently re-opened. What is my advice for Heather LaRou, Snow Squall’s latest lessee? Get back to the seafood roots of the place. You’re on the water, with those fragrant ocean breezes all around you. Where is that delectable, local Maine lobster? And, Mr. Gooch, thank you for that meal. I will always treasure it.
Readers, what has been your favorite local seafood?