New England

 Latitudes at Wentworth by the Sea

This is a fish story about Latitudes at the Wentworth Hotel. It starts with a beach tour so I get to learn about the real New Hampshire since what I know is negligible. We are driving the coast at a leisurely pace. Most New England coasts are remarkably similar and this reminds me of the Cape with busy beaches and of Maine's isolated coves.

As a guest at a seaside grand hotel, chefs know you're captive since who wants to drive around who knows where looking for who knows what? In my experience, these hotels are good dining. I was in Kennebunkport years ago at a place overlooking the water. We're checking in and someone asks: "Do you have lobster?" And the desk man, who must hear this 100 times a week, says: "Ma'am, you can have lobster three times a day." (Ma'am, even a zillion years ago.) The food was very good.

Latitudes is on a dock, so cruise up to the marina on the Piscataqua River that runs from Maine to the ocean in nearby Portsmouth. It's as scenic as you expect. Some tables have umbrellas but they're taken so we're inside and we don't mind since they're genuinely happy to see us. Roseanna's having California A by Acacia chardonnay, the least oaky she can find. Our server wants to know if we want bread. Yes, if we must and of course it's warm rosemary focaccia. With butter. This is so, so unfair. If bread is verboten, this is the place to inhale at length. We assure each other one bite does not count and can be taken sitting down.

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Surf 6Our boogie boards are home but we're amped at Piscataqua's harbor. After hours on red brick, the idea of dinner is is looking good so we tube into a high top in the bar. For openers, Jim's got a pomegranate martini. It looks like a Cosmospolitan but that comes with cranberry juice. Who knew all you have to do to a martini is add fruit to make it a health drink? One taste and I want one but I know better.

We can't get seats near the shucker but that's okay. We get it: busy is busy. We opt out of appetizers but not before we give some thought to the lobster corn dogs and lobster brie nachos. I've never had either one, I mean, have you? There's all that proximity to Maine. Still, if you had lobsters, would you be burying them in cornmeal and frying? No, I wouldn't but they look good going by. And if I had brie, the queen of cheeses, and nacho chips with cheddar, salsa, jalapeño and lobster, how would it go? I think it would have to go with a big pitcher of beer or margaritas is what I think. We pass. Instead, Roseanna's having Sonoma-Cutrer's Russian River Ranches creamy Chardonnay. Our server, Laura, knows her wine this Saturday night dodging a cheerful crowd that's, like us, out to party.

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berkshire1The road to John Andrews Restaurant twists and turns through woods and farmlands. We arrived at dusk while there was enough light to sit outside on the wooden deck that backed up against a grassy hill.

What looks like the decayed remnant of a hundred year old shed leans perilously to one side. Inside, the restaurant has the cozy feeling of an English road house. The floor to ceiling windows in the dining room open out onto the deck and hill in back.

Visitors come to the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts to escape the heat and congestion of the city. Offering opportunities to relax and catch up on your reading, a string of small towns with B&Bs cuts through the expanses of woods and farmlands.

With music at Tanglewood and dance at Jacob's Pillow, historical sites like Edith Wharton's home, the Mount, the Berkshire Botanical Garden and innovative exhibits at MASS MoCa in North Adams, there's plenty to keep you occupied.

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maggiesfamrToday's adventure begins as I leave Boston over the Tobin Bridge to Route 1 North to Middleton. I go by giant box stores and chain restaurants I've only read about. Although people drive fast in the city, outside the city they're worse. When you slow down to pull off, you're lucky they don't take you out although sometimes they do. People love shopping here, I can tell, and it's enchanting because parking is free and there's so much of it.

It's hard not to notice that the word "eatery" is big along Route 1 and we're not being snippy. As I pull in to Maggie's Farm parking lot, I see the Sol Bean Café next door and yes, here's another sign that says not just eatery, but 'healthy eatery.' Anyway, I've arrived much too early. Sadly, there's no bookstore, no market, no place to window shop, so I drive back a couple of miles to Home Depot. I manage not to buy anything. The parking is intoxicating.

Maggie's Farm: Bob Dylan wrote a song by this name in 1965. While I like '60s tunes too, the surfing ones like 26 Miles and Surfer Girl, the lyrics to Maggie's Farm describe a sad worker scrubbing floors, underpaid and fined. I'm sure Maggie's owner Mark McDonough knows something I don't. Anyway, I thought it might be farm-ish if not an actual farm but it's not, although their logo has a sheep wearing sunglasses. On their site it says they purchased "a classic 1953 International Harvester tractor to become the icon of the restaurant" but I didn't see it. What is certain, however, is that I'm very, very near a farm.

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atriamarthasMartha’s Vineyard in the Fall is the secret treasure of Vineyarders. The “summer people (some are not)” have returned to their sophisticated rat races, leaving perfect weather and fabulous restaurants to the people who really love the Vineyard – those whose families have been living in Martha’s Vineyard since, well, the 17th Century.

It is a time of weddings, fishing tournaments, sunny days and starry nights.

My favorite Vineyard restaurant, Atria, centers its activities, neither in its elegant upstairs restaurant nor its garden pavilion, but in the basement pub with its naked Marilyn Monroe photo by the bar. Now we know winter is nearby and the robust clam chowders and slow braised potpies begin to appear on the menu.

While this restaurant is local, its owner chef isn’t! Trained by our wonderful Wolfie – Wolfgang Puck, Chef Christian Thornton and his gorgeous wife, Greer Thornton have made Christian’s gourmet training and the Vineyards fresh local flavors and organic produce a marriage of perfection.

However, in the basement pub with its cool jazz on the weekends, “gourmet” is hidden among what at first glance seems ordinary comfort food – The Burger!

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