The Press Herald's Maine Sunday Telegram announced its new Dine Out Maine restaurant reviewer yesterday: James Schwartz.
Schwartz has covered food, travel and architecture for The Washington Post, Downeast, Coastal Living and Southern Living magazines for more than 30 years. Long a commuter between Portland and Washington, D.C., he retired from his job as vice president at the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2013 and relocated to Maine. He lives in Cape Elizabeth and Brooklin.
In his first review, the critic takes on Artemisia Cafe's dinner service (Artemisia has a separate dinner chef, which may not be common but isn't unheard of - Hot Suppa also tends to have separate chefs in charge of different meals). It's a straightforward piece with no real gimmicks, focusing on the food and ambiance of the restaurant in question. According to Schwartz, his preconceived notions were less than charitable, as the West End eatery looks "ordinary," has a reputation for slow service, and has no "feints toward elegance."
Artemisia fares well in the end, though, as the service is speedy and all three diners "raved" about chef Guy Frenette's "short, seasonal menu" with plenty of "Italian roots." Schwartz hands out four stars for supper.
The dishes may have changed by the time readers make it to the cafe, but for the record, Schwartz praises everything from appetizers of braised octopus crostone ("an eye-opening stew of complex flavor") and Maine crab in a halved avocado ("elevated" by pickled ginger and a "satisfying whiff of spice") to entrees of roasted Casco Bay cod as well as grilled chicken ("often a yawner," but "paired with a vivid arugula pesto, which added an irresistible peppery bite to the plain breast meat").
It wasn't a win across the board, however, as "the sweets paled in comparison to the rest of the meal." The zeppoli were "heavy," the gelato "store-bought from Talenti" (a particularly odd choice for a restaurant big on "fresh, local ingredients" whose chef could easily walk down the street to any number of locally-loved gelato producers). The takeaway: Just fill up on starters and main courses and skip dessert.
Will the slings and arrows remain sheathed or do readers already have a bone to pick with the latest writer to take up the daunting role of premier restaurant critic in Maine?