The NY Times visits Maine

Sam Smith
2004

In July, the NYT sent a foreign correspondent to the locale of the Review’s summer headquarters, Casco Bay, Maine, proving once again that the paper is not to be trusted abroad. Daisann McLane was, in best Manhattan fashion, so busy reading menus and price tags that she never actually got to see the place. Here, for example, is her description of one of the most beautiful stretches of water in America:

“The Atlantic Ocean was out there, beyond the boats, but it was a rough, industrial Atlantic, not a vista you’d want to put on a postcard.”

She goes on a tour of Portland and ends up eating cheesecake with her guide:

“‘Izzy’s cheesecake is the best in Portland,’ he said, but quickly cautioned me that, as a New Yorker, I might have ‘issues.’ And I did: it had a good flavor, not too sweet, but it was overly creamy.”

Our sophisticated correspondent also found the clam chowder too creamy and referred to Maine’s classic as “the old-fashioned side of Portland cuisine.”

On the other hand, “the more contemporary restaurants, like David’s take standards like crab cakes and rework them into delicate light meditations on the classic theme. My endive salad, appetizer and char-grilled salmon betrayed an intelligent hand in the kitchen of the sort that you find at the better New York restaurants, for half as much as in New York.”

While she says a cruise around the islands is essential it apparently isn’t as interesting as the cost of a hotel room or the amount of cream in the chowder. She skips lightly over the subject, referring in passing to the “quirky gardens” on one island she visited.

The only person ever to go to Maine for its endive salad next visited Freeport, never leaving the main street’s notorious outlet strip for nearby attractions including one of the best protected harbors on the coast and a highly popular waterfront eatery where the lobsters travel only feet from boat to plate. Still she declared that Freeport a town where the food was “awful” and “there were no fishermen, no docks, no lobsters …. and no trace of ocean smell.” This didn’t bother her too much for, after all, not only had she found a New York quality restaurant but she had “washed up in a safe harbor, where the sheets were clean and discounts deep.”

Transfer this sort of uninformed and jingoistic reportage to Kosovo and one has a serious problem. Maine, of course, takes it in stride. A Mainer, when told that “you sure have a lot of characters up here,” replied, “Yup, but most of them go home around Labor Day.”

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