While fine dining might not be your first thought about coastal Maine, Kennebunkport is home to several exquisite restaurants. The Kennebunks abound with excellent eateries, but two of the area’s heavy-weights are The White Barn Inn and The Cape Arundel Inn. A recent guest inquiring about the best dining experience forced me to compare the two greatest meals of my life. First up – The White Barn.
While my evening at The White Barn dates back a few years, it remains a flashbulb memory – so vivid and rich it could have been yesterday. I was fortunate enough to dine in a large party, and, when our meals were about to be served, waiters clad in identical uniforms of crisp white button-downs and sharp black slacks approached like birds of prey, encircling the table. Then, precisely in unison, our dishes were set before us. A single plate might as well have hit the table instead of seven. The wait staff served beverages with towels over their forearms, just like in the movies! Looking around, you will see no sneakers or flip flops and all men clad in jackets and most in ties (jackets are required – if you don’t have one, they have one to lend you), something most of us rarely encounter in the 21st century. The human landscape fits perfectly with the restaurant’s atmosphere. Impeccable, with just the right amount candle light supplemented by modern halogen spotlights. Rough-hewn floors and beamed ceilings are the only hints of the inn’s age. And the food! The fact that The White Barn is New England’s only five star (by Mobil Travel) and five diamond restaurant (by AAA Travel) pretty much says it all. The food is the very definition of perfect – completely flawless.
Meet the Challenger – The Cape Arundel Inn
Like most of the area’s other inns, the Cape Arundel has been through its share of owners, but few innkeepers anywhere can boast accolades like Jack Nahil. You could say he is the man who made the White Barn Inn famous, shepherding it into the nation’s top-tier restaurants. Not so easy to do anywhere, let alone in Maine. Jack, and his accompanying chef, Rich Lamoine, can take credit for many culinary achievements at the White Barn and the Salt Marsh Tavern. And they have certainly not lost any of their momentum here at the Cape Arundel Inn. Like their former haunt (hi, White Barn) the cuisine is spectacular. Here the plates don’t come down simultaneously, but what’s on them makes up for that. My Grilled Romaine Salad with Wild Blueberry Dressing was to die for. If I could eat just one thing for the rest of my life, it might just be that. How they can whip out a warm, mildly charred, but not wilted salad is a mystery – but I guess that just means I will have to keep going back! The rest of the meal was every bit as incredible, down to their margarita and creme brulee. I knew ahead of time what culinary delights were in store for me, but I was not prepared for the truly breathtaking view from the dining room. The Cape Arundel Inn is Kenebunkport’s only seaside Inn and Restaurant – but that doesn’t do it justice. Offering panoramic views of the Atlantic, waves crashing on rocky bluffs, and unobstructed sights of Walker’s Point, the Cape Arundel experience is unparalleled.
So after all that, which is better? Honestly, it is completely subjective and circumstantial. I would rather go to the Cape Arundel Inn, because I love watching the ocean. And the ability to ask for my date’s jacket in the event that I got cold, instead of shivering so he would not be chastised by the maitre’ d is always nice. But a candle-lit dinner for two, surrounded by other sharply dressed couples appeals to the romantic in me. All in all, The White Barn Inn is a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience not to be missed, albeit one that I have experienced and don’t need to again, but the Cape Arundel, with its ethereal dining room, stellar hospitality, and heavenly food, is truly out of this world.
Point by Point:
Cuisine: tie (either way, no other restaurant will compare – unless you eat at both!)
Service: White Barn Inn (totally unreal – you’ll have to see it to believe it)
Hospitality: Cape Arundel Inn (much more laid back and catered to ensuring your dining pleasure)
Reputation: White Barn Inn (you can’t beat those credentials! but look out, Cape Arundel is on its way)
Dress Code: Cape Arundel Inn (much more relaxed, and some handsome gentleman could lend me his jacket…)
Views: Cape Arundel Inn (who wouldn’t want to eat by the ocean?)