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March 12, 2012

Belfast’s Lost Kitchen

Floral decor, fabulous cheeses, great food, cocktails and service at the Lost Kitchen, Belfast.

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Sustainable, seasonal, and creative. These three words embody my dining experience at Belfast’s Lost Kitchen. It’s my kind of place: small, beautiful, and humming like a hive of bees that get along and have a plan. A commonality of purpose seems to suffuse the place along with a painterly touch evident in the flower arrangements as much as in the plating and pairing of the food. The wine list is concise and well-chosen. Cocktails looked great, with some of the herbal elixirs now trending in evidence on other dining tables.

The food is “of the moment”, utterly fresh and thoughtfully prepared. Mussels with rosemary? I wasn’t sure…but it really worked. Oranges with watercress, dates and mascarpone cheese? Why not, it was delicious. The young chef, Erin French, has instincts at work worth trusting. Her husband, Todd, is a boat builder and the fine floors and shiny wooden table tops spoke to his craft. The Lost Kitchen began as a sort of mysterious “pop up” supper club with a cult following, but now is at home as a bar and upscale dining in the beautiful Gothic building. And they are packing the house.

The menu is small, which I rather like, since there can be stressful moments when deciding on a larger menu. But small though it was, I still couldn’t fit in everything that I wanted to try, such as a cheese course. They feature Hahn’s End and Lakin’s cheeses which you can combine on a plate as a single, double, triple, or quad. Local honey, preserves, and the popular “Tinder Hearth” bread is presented along with the cheese.

I was thrilled to see a winter watermelon radish paired with “a taste of winter carrots” doused in garlicky bagna cauda , or a “hot bath” offered as an appetizer. Salads were gorgeous, ample, and perfectly dressed. My dining companion and I shared mussels as a first course, and they could not have been better. Offered too were Maine shrimp crudo, or shrimp in the shell sautéed with chili and lemon, local rock crab claws.

A nice looking Caldwell farm cheeseburger, duck, chicken under a brick, and Scottish salmon were among the main dishes that evening. The main dish portions were really generous and could stand alone, as they were offered with a starch and vegetable. No need to order all sorts of sides, which I really appreciate in today’s world. Prices should be sustainable for the dining public as well, right?

Desserts were nicely done, if on the homey side. Given the choice, I’ll take the cheese! I am absolutely going back for more of Erin’s sublime and intelligent cooking.
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BAGNA CAUDA

This Italian dip evolved from the Piedmontese peasants need to eat something hearty during their long day of vineyard work. Essentially, it is intended as a dip for raw or cooked vegetables and is made of olive oil slowly infused with ample amounts of garlic and anchovy. Some recipes use butter and cream, but I will offer you a very simple and satisfying recipe.

1/2 cup good quality olive oil
10 cloves garlic, chopped
4 ounces of anchovy filets, drained
A few chili flakes, optional
A sprinkle of finely chopped parsley at the end

Combine all in a heavy pot and cook it “low and slow” until the garlicky goodness infuses the oil and the anchovies dissolve. Place it in a small bowl and surround by interesting winter vegetables such as endives, travisio, celery, carrots, radish, and crusty bread.

Laura Cabot is an MF&L columnist and blogger, a French trained chef with a long career as a chef/restaurant owner, and president of Laura Cabot Catering in Waldoboro.

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