I love wine, but if there's something I love more than wine it's wine paired with complementary dishes and peoplewith which to share the experience. When Aragosta in Stonington emailed me on a Wednesday to ask if I'd host a French wine dinner on Friday: I said yes. I wasn't sure how I'd fit it into my schedule, but I knew it would be worth it.
Aragosta is in a beautiful little shingle building right on the water in Stonington and they actually have a deck built out into the harbor. Stonington is a bit of a unique place in that it's at the very southern tip of Deer Isle looking out towards Isle au Haut. It's not on the way to anywhere else and the remoteness gives it a feel of the end of the earth. Aragosta was created by Devin Finigan 2 years ago; this was their second season. I'd heard high praise from people in the area, but I'd only eaten at Aragosta once earlier this summer and I hadn't met Devin prior to the dinner.
Getting to the restaurant in time for dinner was a bit of a mad rush, but Aragosta has such a calm feel that once I was there and setting up I immedeatly relaxed. A lot of the credit for how freindly Aragosta feels goes to Claire, Devin's front of the house manager who is exceptionally out going and welcoming. Claire has an rare gift for connecting and putting people at ease; it's invaluable in a host.
A wine dinner is much like a theatrical play or musical performance: there's tension and worry before the thing gets under way. staff is checking and re-checking, second guessing and fidgetting, waiting for the guests and audience to arrive so that the script can start moving. A performance event with so many steps and people is like a ship: when not moving it has no power of it's own and all kinds of possiblilities threaten it. Once it starts moving, though, it has momentum and steerage way. As soon as the first glass of wine is poured there's a releif, the tension releases, and everyone has purpose.
The food was stunning beginning with the amuse that came out right at the start: sea urchin flavored egg custard served in the egg shell and presented in a classic French champagne glass with two oysters. The oysters were flavored with a champagne sauce and while I usually poo poo adding anything to oysters as ruining their purity the flavors of these oysters were perfectly done. The dishes were great. The combinations of flavors were creative, artful, and most importantly delicious. The food Devin made wasn't just delicious and satisfying though; there was a rare thoroughness and presicion in all the dishes and balances of flavors. The food tasted like days of thought and work had been put into them, and in fact it had. Sometimes there's just no substitute for hard work and time. The food Devin made Friday night was pretty exceptional, showed seroius talent, and I count myself lucky to have experienced it all. Below are pictures and quick descriptions:
oysters with champagne sauce
Sea Urchin infused egg custard, black trufﬂe conﬁt and nasturtium
butter poached lobster tail, cockles, mussels and tarragon
Caramelized Foie Gras
apple compote, pea shoot salad and hazelnut crumb
gratin dauphinois, red wine reduction, and cracked peppercorn
Gran Marnier Caneles
bittersweet chocolate, raspberry mousse and almond nougat