Ski East: A Winter's Tail

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Sometime between schussing the headwall on Narrow Gauge and bouncing off the moguls on Gondy Line, Cindi Giroux decided she had to have lobster for dinner. After attending a long conference in Boston, the Wilmington, S.C., resident was spending a few days skiing at Sugarloaf/USA, Maine. The fact that it was midwinter and she was miles from the coast didn't deter her. Maine is synonymous with lobster, and she wanted one. She didn't have to look far. While she was riding up the Superquad chairlift, a lift tower sign announced: "Lobster every night at the Sugarloaf Inn Resort." That night, Giroux feasted.

While Maine-iacs may roll their eyes at the idea of eating lobster inland, the truth is, much of Maine and New Hampshire ski country is just an hour or two from the coast. In fact, a lobster could be swimming the frigid waters of the Gulf of Maine in the morning and be on your dinner plate that night.

Today, lobsters are caught in traps, or pots, year round. (The terms are interchangeable; what they're called depends upon where along Maine's 3,478-mile coastline you are.) Full-time lobstermen fish from a few hundred to a couple of thousand traps, hauling at least two or three times a week. "On a good day," says lobsterman Buddy Poland, "you get one 'keepah' per trap, but that doesn't happen often." A "keeper" in Maine usually weighs between 1 and 5.5 pounds.

Prices vary with the season and usually soar in winter, reflecting reduced availability due to more difficult trapping conditions and fewer lobster men and women out hauling. "Most haul their boats in summer only and do something else, shrimping or sea urchining, during winter," says Poland, who owns Round Pond Lobster, a dockside eatery in Round Pond, Maine, and has lobstered since he was 12. "It's more dangerous in winter. The wind and the cold make it a pretty rough business and you have to go farther offshore to get the lobsters."

Because fewer people are trapping lobsters in winter, much of what is consumed comes from lobster pounds. Pounded lobsters are caught in the fall, then stored in sea ponds until needed. Their shells are dull, not bright.

Though lobster has a reputation for being high in calories and cholesterol, in truth, it is lower in fat, cholesterol and calories than the white meat of chicken or turkey. The real culprit is butter. "Personally, I don't like to disguise or cloud up the taste of succulent, sweet, beautiful lobster with butter," says Wilfred Beriau, a member of the American Academy of Chefs, who judges Maine's annual lobster recipe contest for restaurant chefs. "Lobster can stand on its own. It's mouth-watering, tender and juicy as is."

And if you've gone to the trouble and expense to order lobster, drink a beverage that complements rather than competes with it. Paul Mrozinski, owner of Treats, a specialty food and wine store in Wiscasset, Maine, recommends dry white wines, such as Vouvray, Muscadet or Sauvignon Blanc. "These wines offer a nice balance against the lobster. They have big flavor but are dry and not overly fruity," he says.

Back at the Sugarloaf Inn, Cindi Giroux focused on the lobster feast before her. Before popping the last morsel in her mouth, she paused and said, "If this is what skiing in Maine is about, I'm coming back every winter."

You can find lobster at ski resorts throughout Maine and New Hampshire. Here are a few of our favorite spots:

Maine
(All area codes are 207.)

Sugarloaf
Two on-mountain restaurants offer lobster. At the Sugarloaf Inn Resort (237-6834) ski right to the pub for lunch and order a creamy lobster bisque before your boiled lobster dinner. Shuck's (237-2040), located in the base village, has lobster cakes, which are pan-fried and served with a fresh tomato salsa, on its light dinner menu.

Sunday River
On mountain, the Walsh & Hill Trading Company (824-3000) offers a 1 1/4 lb. steamed lobster served with drawn butter as well as a 5 oz. terriyaki sirloin topped with fried onions and a steamed Maine lobster. Legends at the Summit Hotel (824-3000) has steamed lobster as well as a lobster roll on the menu.

In nearby Bethel, The Bethel Inn and Country Club (824-2175) has a citrus-marinated lobster tail chargrilled and served with a seafood and pasta with alfredo sauce. The menu also features a 1 1/4 lb. live Maine lobster boiled and served with drawn butter and lemon. The specialty at the Sudbury Inn (824-2174) is roasted Maine lobster, shelled and presented on a bed of spinach fettuccine with a lobster cream sauce.

Camden Snow Bowl
If you must see the ocean when you eat lobster, then spend the day skiing, snowboarding or tobogganing at this small community-owned area overlooking Penobscot Bay. Follow your day up with a dinner at the Sail Loft Restaurant (236-2330), which overlooks nearby Rockport Harbor.

New Hampshire
(All area codes are 603.)

Mt. Washington Valley
The Mount Washington Valley resorts of Attitash Bear Peak, Black Mountain, Mt. Cranmore, King Pine and Wildcat are just over an hour from the Portland coast. Lobster is available at restaurants in Conway, North Conway, Intervale and Jackson.

Jonathon's Seafood Restaurant and Fish Market in Conway (447-3838) comes as close to lobster shack atmosphere as you'll get in the mountains. The menu offers an array of lobster dinners: Get yours boiled, baked, stuffed, lazy man-style or in a pie. In North Conway, Fandangle's (356-2741) serves fresh boiled lobster from its tank. At the 1785 Inn (356-9025), which has an award-winning wine list, begin with the lobster crêpe appetizer and end with the veal and lobster sautéed in a light basil beurre blanc sauce. The White Mountain Hotel and Resort (356-7100) offers lobster imperial (fresh Maine lobster sautéed and served with a sherried cream sauce over a pastry shell). Head to Bellini's (356-7000) for lobster ravioli. Diners at Stonehurst Manor (356-3113) can choose from lobster spring rolls (lobster meat sautéed with bok choy, red peppers, scallions, mushrooms, cilantro, ginger root, chestnuts and white soy sauce, wrapped in wonton, then fried in peanut oil and served with hot mustard and Oriental duck sauce) or lobster capellini (lobster meat sautéed in olive oil with mushrooms, artichoke hearts, scallions, tomatoes, fresh herbs and white wine and served over angel hair pasta). For a traditional New England dinner, head to The New England Inn in Intervale (356-5541) for lobster casserole.

At the Wildcat Inn and Tavern in Jackson (383-4245), try the lobster Benedict (sautéed lobster meat on an English muffin topped with poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce) for lunch or brunch. The Eagle Mountain House (383-9111) has Maine lobster pie (lobster, mushrooms and carrots baked in a creamy tarragon sauce in a pie shell). At The Dana Place Inn (383-6822), lobster Alfredo (sautéed with prosciutto, parmesan, garlic, white wine and cream served over egg fettuccine) is a specialty. The highly recommended candlelit dining room at the Inn at Thorn Hill (383-4242) serves sautéed lobster on vegetable noodles with a lemon verbena and black pepper shellfish essence.

If your travels don't take you to Maine or New Hampshire this winter, you can still get the taste of fresh Maine lobster. The Maine Lobster Promotion Council has a list of companies that will ship lobster direct. Contact: 382 Harlow St., Bangor, Maine 04401; (207) 947-2966; Fax (207) 947-3191.