Bruce Andrews rarely answers his cell phone at work. But two weeks ago while helping a customer at his and wife Liz’s fantabulous Kennebunkport shop, Farm+Table, he noticed his mobile was buzzing. “Oh, what the heck, I’ll take this call,” he said to himself.
“Hello, this is Erin French from the Lost Kitchen restaurant, and we have had a cancellation. Are you available to come next Thursday?”
OH MY GOD! YES WE CAN!
LIZ, YOU’RE NOT GONNA BELIEVE THIS!
A few days later, the Andrews drove two-plus hours to Freedom, Maine, dressed casually (Liz in black sweater cape and knee-high leather boots, Bruce all in black) to enjoy what Bruce describes as “the best dining experience of my life.” Liz confirmed, “Ten out of ten.”
Tucked away in an unpretentious non-coastal section of rural Maine, the Lost Kitchen was opened four years ago by chef Erin French who grew up in Freedom (population 719). As a young girl, she discovered the joy of cooking (burgers! omelets!) at her father’s local diner, the Ridge Top.
In her 20s, she catered dinner parties around Maine. As her culinary instincts, prowess and reputation galvanized, she began inviting friends to dine on Saturday nights in her Freedom apartment which she nicknamed “The Lost Kitchen.” When the opportunity arose to buy a restored 1834 gristmill and open a restaurant there, Erin pounced, enlisting her female friends to be staff and crew at the newly christened Lost Kitchen.
To make a reservation at this 40-seat restaurant that is open only four nights a week, with just one sitting, hopeful diners must mail a 3x5 card in an envelope postmarked during the first week in April. Nothing dated before April 1 or after April 8 is accepted. This year more than 20,000 requests from 47 states, plus Hong Kong and cities across Europe were received. Less than 5,000 lucky diners selected at random were able to actually book a table during the Lost Kitchen’s season that runs from May to New Year’s Eve.
Ironically, indeed fittingly, the Farm+Table owners from Kennebunkport discovered that the Lost Kitchen is as close to “farm plus table” dining as it gets. French taps nearby farmers for veggies, meat, herbs and edible flowers for every meal. She says, “It’s all about using what’s around and making it taste like the best version of itself.”
Since the Lost Kitchen doesn’t have a liquor license, the Andrews’ dining experience began at 5:30 with a trip downstairs in the mill to the wine cellar. Diners consult their carte, then select and buy their beverage of choice which is delivered in a wicker basket to their table upstairs, chilled and ready to sip.
After sitting down, guests freshen up with heated towels wrapped with a sprig of lavender.
Prior to their four course meal, Liz and Bruce first sampled a charcuterie of assorted cheeses, pate, olives and almonds, served with a basket of crostini.
Because they don’t eat or like oysters, which happened to be on the menu that evening, chef French presented them instead with a faux “land oyster,” a lightly-cooked egg topped with macerated pickled shallots and edible flowers. “To die for,” Liz swooned.
When the fresh herbaceous sorbet arrived as a palate cleanser, the Andrews knew their four course dinner was about to be served.
The roasted mushroom soup included smoked ricotta topped with flowering fennel and dill. The Napa wedge salad featured fall radish, bacon and shallots doused with buttermilk dressing.
Then, voila! the piece de resistance: “Last of the season” bluefin tuna served over soft polenta. And finally, the diet-defying vanilla custard dessert topped with whipped cream and golden raspberries.
In all, the three and a half hour candle-lit dinner cost $125 per person with 20% gratuity, paid in advance. When asked for a one-word description of their trip to the Lost Kitchen, Liz said, “WOW!”
My 3x5 card is going in the mail to Freedom, Maine next April!
For more information about the Lost Kitchen and how to make a reservation, go to www.findthelostkitchen.com