Eight years ago, Boston’s famed chef and restaurateur Ken Oringer collaborated with the opening of Earth at Hidden Pond Resort in Kennebunkport, Maine, combining a rustic, natural setting with sophisticated, beautifully-plated food. Diners and critics were wowed.
Fast forward: Oringer is no longer involved, but chef Joseph Schafer, after stints in high-ranked restaurants around the world, has returned home to helm Earth.
“My wife, a native of Kennebunkport, and I met here and we always knew we wanted to come back to raise our children in Maine,” says Schafer. “When the opportunity at Earth arose, it seemed like a natural fit.”
The bewitching natural setting, far from the hustle and bustle of downtown Kennebunkport, remains the same. The restaurant, part of the luxury Hidden Pond glamping resort, is tucked down a long back road, and nestled in the woods overlooking a pond. The dining room is warm and inviting, with natural wood walls made from trees cut to clear the site, a large stone fireplace, and rustic wood tables. An accent wall near the bar is made from cross-sections of logs, adding texture and dimension. An upside-down apple tree trunk, strung with tiny white lights, hangs from the ceiling, serving as a rustic chandelier.
The “farm-to-fork” menu changes weekly and highlights Schafer’s talent for showcasing local ingredients in unexpected ways, often with internationally-inspired flavors. On our summer visit, we tried the salmon sashimi served with white miso and bok choy kimchi; an ultra-fresh kale salad with goat cheese, almonds, and blueberries, drizzled with a miso vinaigrette; wood-fired carrots flavored with pungent Middle Eastern spices and served with beet hummus and fresh-snipped garden herbs. The braised short ribs were plated with a summer vegetable ratatouille and a creamy polenta made with Maine grains. The wood-fired prosciutto pizza had grilled peaches, arugula, and squash blossoms. The fresh-baked breads were earthy, made with sourdough started from grape leaves and apples from the restaurant’s own gardens.
“The inspiration for the menu is a combination of our collective experiences and backgrounds, seasonality, and, quite honestly, my latest whim,” says Schafer. “It’s hard to define, much like Earth, we have an eclectic approach to how we create our cuisine with the caveat that it must be fresh, local, and delicious.”
Schafer’s favorite dish on the menu reminds him of somewhere else.
“I love the lamb tagine. It reminds me of the first time I ate at a Moroccan restaurant in Paris,” he says. “The meal was transformative and opened my taste buds to a whole new world of flavors I had never experienced. I hope that when guests try the lamb tagine, they have a similar experience.”
For us, we were happy to be at Earth, finishing our Maine blueberry crostata, being reminded why this back-to-nature, upscale restaurant remains one of New England’s must-visit dining venues.
Earth at Hidden Pond, 354 Goose Rocks Road, Kennebunkport, Maine, 207-967-6550, www.earthathiddenpond.com; starters, small plates, and pizza $14-$22; entrees $22-$42; wood-fired entrees for two $65-$110.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org