Falling in love is all about fateful timing: being in the right place at the right time.
Like most native New Englanders, I suspect, I’ve always enjoyed visiting Kennebunkport in the summer. (Warm days and fresh lobster on the Maine coast — how can you not swoon?) But as anyone in a relationship can tell you, it’s during life’s little storms – not under its fair skies – when love really reveals itself. Kennebunkport was walloped with a winter storm this Valentine’s Day, while me and my other-half were celebrating with an off-season weekend getaway. It could have been a disaster — but as fate would have it, it was just what we needed: a reason to slow down and soak in the sweet charm of a quintessential New England resort town. The place has a lot of heart.
If you haven’t bothered to visit Kennebunkport in its quieter season, now’s a good time. (In fact, during the weekend of Friday, March 13, the town is hosting a series of “Valentine’s Do-Over” promotions and events. More on that momentarily.) Kennebunkport in the off-season is quiet — very quiet. That’s part of the appeal, of course, though we didn’t expect it would be entering such serious hibernation mode when we checked in to the Kennebunkport Inn on Friday, February 13. As unluckiness would have it, a major winter storm – predicted to dump about two feet of snow amid hurricane-strength winds – was swiftly moving in, scheduled to hit Saturday night. The inn was ready to receive overnight lovebirds: a sparkling red “Valentine’s” tree (more tasteful than it sounds) glowed in the parlor, and a stack of souvenir pins reading “Love KPT” awaited at check-in. But several guests had already cancelled their stay, said the front desk clerk as she processed our arrival; hopefully, she added, we won’t lose power.
The good news was: if there was a place to be snowed in – it was here. The Kennebunkport Inn is part of the Kennebunkport Resort Collection, a portfolio of properties with distinct identities but a common, contemporary sheen that runs throughout. The Kennebunkport Inn is housed in a stately, rambling structure built in the 1890s but recently renovated. Our room – 214, perhaps not coincidentally for a Valentine’s getaway – had a casual elegance, as though Ralph Lauren had signed on board for an HGTV-aired interiors makeover show.
A vibrant palette of reds, white and blues made it a warm and welcoming space to nest after a filling dinner at One Dock, the inn’s restaurant and lounge housed in what feels like an ample living room. We dug in to contemporary American plates of mussels, bourbon-glazed pork belly and red wine-braised short ribs as a fireplace flickered to one side and a pianist tickled ivories to the other. After fighting Friday evening traffic out of Boston, this is just the right way to unwind.
Winter might be overstaying its welcome, but at least that allows for extended opportunity to enjoy some of New England’s snow-filled fun — and the Kennebunkport Inn can help guests make arrangements for everything from snowshoeing to sleigh rides. With a blizzard about to bear down, we weren’t in the position to take advantage. But there’s plenty to do and see even while keeping it low-key, from ducking into adorable art galleries and shops that line Dock Square (check out Minka and Abacus in particular for art, fashion accessories and gifts) to taking a sip from the area’s craft brew scene: upstairs from the Kennebunkport Brewing Company is Federal Jack’s, a casual neighborhood eatery for grabbing topnotch chowder and clam rolls alongside a pint of suds. Afterwards we took a quick drive to neighboring Kennebunk for treatments at The Spa at River’s Edge. I wouldn’t exactly call myself a spa snob, but I indulge often enough to offer strong context — and I was pleasantly surprised to find that my facial was one of the best I’ve had, period, in or outside of Boston’s higher-end Back Bay spots. (And at a predictably lower price point too, even if you add on the extra eye treatment. You should, by the way.)
By the time we slipped out of our robes and back into street clothes, the storm was starting to pick up the pace. So it was back to the Inn for a quick sip of bubbly before our dinner reservations at David’s KPT, the sleek, modern American at sibling property The Boathouse Waterfront Hotel, just across the Dock Square.
The three-minute trudge through swirling snowflakes was just long enough for a laugh before battening down in the window-lined riverside dining room that bustled with cocktailing couples (younger, compared to some of the other restaurants) for the standout meal of the weekend. The New England-inspired fare included a tender filet mignon with a perfect cauliflower-parmesan mash, skewers of citrus- and truffle-inflected shrimp and scallops, and plenty of fresh oysters from the raw bar. Outside the window, inches accumulated on a docked ship; it looked like something phantom Arctic pirates might hijack. But inside we were warm, rosy from wine and five years of Valentine’s Days. We hadn’t been counting on this interfering snowstorm, but in a world of constant digital connection – buzzing phones, rapidly refilling email inboxes – we were suddenly grateful for Mother Nature imposing upon us a moment to stop, slow down, and appreciate what was right in front of us. The timing was just right, and I found myself in love with Kennebunkport in a whole new way.
Visit DestinationKennebunkport.com to check out winter packages and special rates. Try to make it up for the “Valentine’s Do-Over” weekend on March 13-14, which also coincides with Maine Restaurant Week.
Billy Porter, Tony-winning star of the colorful musical “Kinky Boots,” trades his drag gown for the director’s chair with Huntington Theatre Company’s production of “The Colored Museum,” a scathing comedy that cycles through nearly a dozen vignettes that explore slavery, modern gender roles, beauty standards, and other issues as they relate to the African-American culture. Each theatrical exhibits offers a chance to comment, critique, and frequently satirize — as any good “Museum” would.
WHERE: Avenue of the Arts/BU Theatre
WHEN: March 6 — April 5
WHEN THE STARS BEGIN TO FALL: IMAGINATION AND THE AMERICAN SOUTH
Marginalized and “outsider” artists dominate the 35 talents represented in this showcase of photography, paintings, and sculpture produced mainly between the 1960s and today — from people of faith to people in prison. But each unique piece is a brush stroke in a larger depiction of the sultry fable that is America’s Deep South. And if some of them happen to involve eerie photographs of semi-humanoid creatures in kitschy wood-paneled dens — well then, color this true blue Yankee heart intrigued.
WHERE: The Institute of Contemporary Art
WHEN: February 4 — May 10
Newsflash: your hobby is boring. Because with all due respect, it probably doesn’t compare to the long, arduous hours that sculptor Ian Schneller put into this project, an installation of over 30 colorful horn speakers he made from strange odds and ends like dryer lint and baking soda. What do they play? Why, composer Andrew Bird’s 50-minute whistle- and violin-driven composition “Echolocations,” originally recorded in a canyon to capture unique reverberations. Sorry, but your decoupage project pales in comparison.
WHERE: The Institute of Contemporary Art
WHEN: February 4 — May 10
Pianist Olga Kern joins the famed soprano for this Celebrity Series performance. Fleming’s powerhouse vocals will be front and center for a recital tour that includes operatic arias alongside favorite classics from the Great American Songbook. We’re crossing our fingers for a few selections from “Dark Hope,” the diva’s genre-defying album that offered sultry, jazz-inflected covers of songs as disparate as Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” and Tears for Fears’ “Mad World.”
WHERE: Symphony Hall
WHEN: February 8
GREEN PORNO, LIVE ON STAGE
Mercifully, this has nothing to do with a new sustainability campaign from Kim Kardashian. (Exhale, everyone.) Rather, it’s a one-woman show from Isabella Rossellini, based on a series of short films that the actress-model created for the Sundance Channel. Armed with an arsenal of whimsical props and cheeky costumes, Rossellini offers a zoology class on the bizarre mating rituals of insects and marine life, sort of like “Sesame Street” for the kinky set. Sex-based provocation is nothing new to Rossellini, who made a curious cameo in Madonna’s infamous 1992 coffee table book, “Sex,” and this uproarious, oddity-filled evening sounds like the perfect Valentine’s Day surprise for irreverent lovebirds.
WHERE: Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre
WHEN: February 13 — 15
It’s a brand new year. And if one of your resolutions is to be a truly well rounded culture vulture, you’re in luck. We looked ahead to the first quarter of 2015, assembling a flock of diverse art outings that range from glossy, big-budget Broadway tours to edgier fringe theater, photographic exhibitions from pioneering artists to curious installations from under-the-radar names. This year, spread your wings — and open your mind — to encompass a greater swath of all that Boston’s impressive arts scene has to offer.
Born within the 60s counter-culture movement, this Vermont-based theater troupe is known for its avant-garde use of progressive politicking puppetry: think oversized effigies of animals, Wall Street fat cats, and Uncle Sam used alongside song and dance to create curious — okay, often strange — spectacles that comment on everything from international wars to nuclear power. Bread & Puppet Theater’s run at the Cyclorama will feature two live shows: “Captain Boycott” and “The Nothing is Not Ready Circus,” both of which tackle themes of populist uprising. No matter where you fall on the left-right spectrum, you have to love such wonderfully wacky yet interminably heartfelt art.
WHEN: January 24 — February 1
Not all jukebox musicals are created equal. And “Motown” has met with mixed reviews since its Broadway premiere in 2013, with some critics irked by its overstuffed songbook of 60+ recognizable hits — many reduced to only partial versions. But the story of Berry Gordy’s Detroit-based Motown record label, famous for churning out era-defining records by black artists like Diana Ross, The Four Tops, and the Jackson 5, feels especially relevant in 2015, when the popular music industry is finally beginning to have important conversations about cultural appropriation. (It’s been a bad year for Iggy Azalea.) Don’t want to think that hard? Kick back and enjoy the tunes. There’s a lot.
WHERE: Boston Opera House
WHEN: January 27 — February 15
Born in 1912 in the small Midwest city of Fort Scott, Kansas, Gordon Parks had a childhood of hardships: from the death of his mother, who left behind 15 struggling children, to the pervasive racial discrimination that accompanied life for an African-American man. But in 1948, he became the first African-American photographer to be hired full-time by “LIFE” magazine, and soon after returned home to capture a visual essay that reconnects the shutterbug artist to his hometown — full of pleasant memories, and many painful ones too.
WHERE: Museum of Fine Arts
WHEN: January 17 — September 13
Your childhood memories of Barnum & Bailey this is not. The Harvard Square performance space turns into a jumping jive where guests tipple cocktails while beholding the gravity-defying antics of The Boston Circus Guild. From aerialists to jugglers, sassy burlesque dancers to a live band, the multi-sensory experience brings a bit of vaudevillian spectacle to modern-day Cambridge — and exposes audiences to new and unusual art forms.
WHEN: January 14 — 17
Now for part 2 of our series on Top Chef alums: Boston’s dining scene has always been a vibrant one. With such easy access to an abundance of farm-raised, season-changing ingredients, our region has always been much more than the “land of bean and cod.” Our corner of the country has always been quietly pushing culinary boundaries. (Thanksgiving? Totally America’s first dinner party.)
Faison placed runner-up on the very first season of “Top Chef,” and earlier this month she scored the number two spot again on the inaugural season of “Top Chef Duels,” a spin-off that pits popular alums in culinary face-offs. (She also competed in a special “Top Chef All Stars” season.) When she’s not in front of the camera, you’ll find her in the kitchen at Sweet Cheeks Q, her popular barbecue restaurant steps from Fenway Park. With its smartly sourced meats, house made sauces and creative, bourbon-drenched cocktails served in mason jars, there’s a slightly elevated touch to her down-home fare.
Pro Tip: Chilly out? Fear not. Sweet Cheeks’ popular beer garden has a retractable roof, so you can still drink outside (sort of) when the cool weather comes.
Mark Gaier & Clark Frasier
This culinary power couple competed together on “Top Chef Masters.” But they first made their mark at Arrows, an Ogunquit icon that introduced locals to “farm to table” dining long before the phrase became ubiquitous. They still operate a slightly more casual restaurant, M.C. Perkins Cove, up in that resort town. But earlier this year they opened their first Boston spot: M.C. Spiedo, at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel, a glitzy option for historic Italian cooking based on the traditions of – what else? – Renaissance-era cuisine.
Pro Tip: How down to detail are the recipes? Check out “Leonardo’s Salad,” is comprised of a list of ingredients found in Da Vinci’s notebooks.
Kish was chef de cuisine at Barbara Lynch’s fine dining destination Menton when she won the 10th season of “Top Chef.” Since then, she’s moved on and parlayed her fame into a number of opportunities: from roving the country for special cooking engagement to scoring an endorsement deal with Rembrandt toothpaste. She hasn’t yet settled into a new permanent home, so keep an eye on her Twitter account (@KristenLKish) to see where she’s cooking next.
Pro Tip: In this case, tip your hat. Kish made “Top Chef” history by being the first contestant to win after being (temporarily eliminated). She made a comeback in the show’s “Last Chance Kitchen” and wound up only the second female winner to date.
He may not have won the inaugural season of “Top Chef Masters,” but the star chef behind Via Matta, Tico, and Alta Strada says he would “absolutely” return to reality TV again. “Although it’s really stressful and demanding, I’m competitive and seek vindication,” says Schlow. “I understand the challenges a little better and hope that given the opportunity I would fair a little better on the show.”
Pro Tip: Traveling? Good news. Schlow recently opened some new restuarants outside the Hub: Cavatina at the Sunset Marquis in West Hollywood, and a Washington, DC brand of Tico.
Another “Top Chef Masters” alum, Sortun is the major talent behind Oleana, a Turkish and Eastern Mediterranean restaurant that earns its recurring recognition as one of the area’s best restaurants. But late last year she also opened Sarma in Somerville, a hip destination for cocktails and small plates. And her Sofra Bakery continues to satisfy sweet teeth, specifically.
Pro Tip: Want to try your hand at the plates that this James Beard-winning chef puts together? Sortun is also the author of a cookbook, “Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean.”
Hey, food TV fans! Here’s where to find “Top Chef” alums around Boston.
Boston’s dining scene has always been a vibrant one. With such easy access to an abundance of farm-raised, season-changing ingredients, our region has always been much more than the “land of bean and cod.” Our corner of the country has always been quietly pushing culinary boundaries. (Thanksgiving? Totally America’s first dinner party.)
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