Two weeks, two very different dining experiences for Press Herald Dine Out Maine critic James Schwartz, who bounces from a five star review of The Lost Kitchen in Freedom to a one and a half star blast of The Chef and the Gardener in Saco.
Eater Maine Chef of the Year Erin French dazzles Schwartz with The Lost Kitchen's rotating menu of fresh, seasonal dishes, from a starter skillet of "deeply satisfying" thyme-infused mussels to a climax of spring-dug parsnip cake with hazelnuts, mascarpone, and salted caramel. The atmosphere, like the food, "is deceptively simple but delightfully soothing," and the restaurant "feels like a home." Make the 90 minute trip from Portland, the 50 minute trip from Bangor, Schwartz exhorts: "Dinner at The Lost Kitchen is well worth the journey."
The trip to Saco, though? Not so much, Schwartz says, calling dinner at The Chef and the Gardener "a downer," "with cooking that ranges from mediocre to disappointing." The restaurant's focus on scratch cooking to accommodate dietary preferences or restrictions made him "sit up and take notice," the critic notes. But he finds chef David Glidden's dishes generally overcooked (a diver scallop special was a "calamity" and the Tuscan chicken was "marginally better") or flavorless (a baguette, the cauliflower soup). If you go, Schwartz recommends sticking to a few appetizers or desserts, "solid bets" like The Maine Pie Co.'s strawberry rhubarb pie — and don't expect to run into the disappointed critic while you're there.