We had read about Michele Ragussis, a contestant on the Next Food Network Star’s current season, was spending her summer as the chef of The Pearl in Rockland, ME. (Randomly, we wound up here for a beer before our dinner at Primo 2 years ago).
I think they updated it since then, but it is still a very picturesque location out on the water. No matter what angle, every photo of it looks like a postcard.
We started with our customary raw oysters. These were great and nice and fresh. (And you can’t beat $1 oysters!)
Mike then tried the Lobster with Lemon Cream over linguini. I was worried this would be too lemony or too creamy, but instead it was a perfect balance of both. Very nice dish.
I got the special fish of the day, which was a red snapper with a peach saffron sauce and a potato cake. The fish had a slight crisp and the sauce was sweet and a perfect compliment. The potato cake was like a giant, gourmet tater tot with perfect seasoning. Comfort food but more refined. And that sauce… oh that sauce. I asked the waitress to explain the sauce to me, and she said that she could just go get the chef… Well ALRIGHT!
Chef Ragussis came by a bit later and was more than happy to talk to us. She was beyond welcoming, friendly, and genuinely excited to be there. She told me that the sauce was actually made with peaches that she just received from Martie Duncan, another contestant on the show. And let me tell you, they were special peaches!
We talked to Chef Ragussis about the show and why she decided to go to Maine. Turns out she knew the owner from a previous job and was excited to spend a summer in Maine before the results of the show. The restaurant gave her the flexibility to return to the show when she’s needed. This season has a twist, where audience vote will decide the winner for the first time.
As we were leaving, Chef invited us back the following night when they would be screening the show live and doing a tasting. We were planning on heading out of town directly after a sunset schooner cruise that night from Camden, but we had to pass Rockland anyway, so we said “what the hell!” How often do you get the chance to watch a show with a contestant and sample their food?
The secret ingredient on the show that night was chicken liver, so we got a chance to sample the version she made on crostini.
And eat her clam chowder. This clam chowder was quintessentially New England. Big chunks of clam and great flavor and texture.
We then had the Pearl Stuffies which were clamsstuffed with Michele’s private recipe. I talked with Chef Michele for a bit about whether they had peppers, and she said they did but just a little bit. I asked her if they were worth having an itchy mouth for, and she said yes, they were. So I tried it. It was very good but my mouth was VERY itchy.
We ended with a brownie that had homemade whipped cream and butterscotch sauce on top. Turns out, Michele only made the cream and sauce, which is funny since I liked both of those but didn’t think the brownie was anything special.
We had a lot of fun talking with Chef Ragussis and then watching the show. The food was really great, and that peach sauce will be a thing of my dreams for years to come. The bites during the screening weren’t as good as the meal the night before, but it was fun to be able to sample what was being cooked on the screen. I know I have thought to myself about a million times that I wish we had taste-o-vision. Well this was as close as you can get!
I was entirely impressed with how much she interacted with the customers, answered questions, and was generally just a cool person to hang around with.
She has my vote!
As does The Pearl.
Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10