I had an extraordinary meal a few nights ago at a secret restaurant called appropriately enough The Lost Kitchen, hidden away on a side street in Belfast, Maine. There’s no sign outside so you have to know where to go, up a discreet flight of stairs and there, as if at the entrance to a speak-easy, stands a young woman dressed in classic wait staff black and white, with a list of who is to be allowed in for the evening.
And if your name is not on the list, sorry (with a smile), no entry.
The Lost Kitchen has a Facebook page but very little else in the way of information. It’s what’s called an underground supper club, except that this one is very much above ground, in an austerely handsome space, the tables lit by low candles and set with pale linens. The cook is a woman who is passionate about food but as far as I know has no professional training. In a sense, we’re all guests in her own private dining room, though we each pay $40 to be members of the club for the evening. Oh, and we bring our own booze.
The menu is in the photo, but just allow me a little space and I’ll be profligate about the meal we were served:
a starter of fritto misto, lightly battered, deep-fried Maine shrimps and strips of fennel (anyone who knows anything about sweet, little Maine shrimp knows how delicate they are, how difficult to cook just right—and these were cooked just right);
a sensational granita of grapefruit juice and Campari, pale peach in color and served on a section of grapefruit rind that had been dipped in the same bitter-sweet mixture, then frozen;
a bagna cauda, the northern Italian “salad” of raw vegetables with a warm olive-oil-garlic-anchovy dip (and these vegetables were from Four Season Farm, where the almost legendary Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch grow spectacular produce);
a main course (I almost said Maine course) of braised Caldwell Farms short rib, served with a dollop of creamy potatoes, crisp kale, and a section of cauliflower, sliced right down through the head and quickly seared;
finally a lovely semifreddo, an Italian partially frozen dessert—only with a brittle of salted almonds to offset the sweetness. Not quite final, though, because that was followed by a plate of cheeses with some crisply delicious hazelnut cookies—again, not sweet at all and perfect with the cheeses.
It was an all-Italian night but it used almost 100% Maine ingredients—demonstrating my favorite mantra: We have terrific materia prima, as the Italians call it, good stuff right here in Maine even in the wintertime—we just need talented hands to prepare it. And at The Lost Kitchen, the hands are talented indeed.