At Beast + Bottle, servers love to tell the story of Bangs Island mussels nearly as much as people like to eat them. I'm glad I listened to the story: Just a few days after chef and co-owner Paul Reilly told me how he'd braved Maine's chilly November temps to work on a barge in Casco Bay to haul in those mussels, I found myself looking at the very waters they come from. See also: Review of Beast + Bottle
I have roots in Maine, so every year we fly back to reconnect with dozens of aunts, uncles and cousins. This year I snuck away for a day and headed to Portland, to a restaurant where Reilly had said I would likely find the oversized mussels. I'd made a mental note to track down the place, especially since he'd eaten there repeatedly while on his James Beard Foundation grant to study responsibly-harvested seafood.
And that's how I found myself at Eventide, an acclaimed oyster bar where the prime seats are at the counter with views of nubby-shelled oysters on ice. My favorites were the briny local pemaquids and the sweeter beau soleils from New Brunswick, both so tasty I left off the granita-like horseradish ice. Next came a lobster roll with nuggets of sweet meat tossed in brown butter and heaped on a steamed bun, a side of sesame-spiked broccoli and a mixed green salad with pickled vegetables and nori vinaigrette. It was a perfect meal, except for one thing: the Bangs Island mussels that we'd gone there for were smoked, fried and served atop a salad, a preparation that wouldn't let me appreciate their flavor.
So instead of ordering the peach pie I'd had my eye on (it was listed on the blackboard, along with the twenty or so varieties of oysters), my sister-in-law and I headed to another spot known for Bangs Island mussels. At In'finiti, a new craft brewery on the wharf, we found classic moules frites, a heaping mound of shells hiding the same sweet flesh I'd had in Denver, only here they were bathed in a classic white wine sauce rather than Reilly's celery root puree.
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It wasn't the dessert most diners would choose, but for me, it was a sweet ending to a story that had begun weeks earlier and two thousand miles away.