"You won't need a culinary dictionary to read the menu," says chef Rick Shell, referring to the straightforward approach he's taking at The Tiller, Cliff House's formal restaurant, and Nubb's Lobster Shack, the hotel's authentic recreation of the Maine classic.
The 132-room Cliff House in Ogunquit, easily the most luxurious hotel on this stretch of southern Maine coast (only 60 minutes from Boston and 40 from Portland), is of course exploiting the bounty of the ocean—"we have some lobstermen who phone when they get in," says Shell— for its restaurants, but also a network of local foragers and farmers to create seasonal menus.
Image courtesy of Maplebrook Farm
Shell cites The Milkhouse, an organic goat farm in South China, Maine, as indicative of his suppliers. "The yogurt is mind-blowing." The maple version goes into the fruit plate at breakfast and the unflavored version for chicken marinades. There's also burrata, the traditional Italian cheese that consists of a mozzarella shell housing a core of stracciatella and cream. Shell obtains it from Maplebrook Farm in Bennington, Vermont, and he uses it in a tartine and on pasta "to add a fresh, light note."
Shell is also giving traditional ingredients a new spin. Golden beets are salted and roasted in their entirety—"we use the leaf down to the root," he says. Smoked haddock is the basis for a paté with an asparagus salad. When Nubb's debuts next year, it will offer lobster rolls with Thai and other Asian flavors in addition to the classic: "lightly dressed and seasoned with lemon zest and freshly picked parsley and tarragon," he says.
Cliff House occupies the site of the original hotel that went back to 1872 (inaugural prices: $6 per week per person with three meals), and Shell has mined the hotel archives for recipes, such as the clam chowder. "I just added some weight to it, as it was very brothy. I put in bacon for smokiness and fresh herbs." And that braised short ribs recipe? It comes from the sous-chef's grandmother and is redolent of the fall menu, which launches in October. According to Shell, the menu will showcase: “The iconic flavors and aromas of fall, which remind me of comfort and childhood."