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Hitting the road for a Three Lobster Day 'Lobster is meant to be eaten in old clothes with a bottle of beer next to you.'

You've heard of a Three Dog Night -- Sunday was a Three Lobster Day.

We were in Portland, Maine, last weekend to celebrate a grandson's 14th birthday. We drove to Damariscotta for an early lunch of lobsters on a deck overlooking the ocean and a few historic lighthouses.

These were small crustaceans (1 1/4 pounds) served uncracked on paper plates, with a side of a coleslaw. Paper towels served as napkins. The price for this extravaganza: $18.

No melted butter necessary; the meat was so sweet.

The grandkid -- a growing boy -- restores my faith in the youth of America. He picks a lobster like a brain surgeon, extracting every bit of meat. And then he thinks about eating another but settles for a lobster T-shirt instead.

On the way home -- it was 3 p.m. -- we drove through the village of Wiscasset, which is so full of captain's houses and white steeples that it looks like a movie set.

And what should pop up on our right, as we struggle with the Route 1 traffic, but Red's Eats -- a shack that garners praise in just about every restaurant directory in the country. Its Lobster Rolls are said to be the best in the state of Maine. (By extension, that makes them the best Lobster Rolls in the world.)

The power of restaurant criticism! We wait in a very slow line. (The grandson goes across the street and buys two hot dogs in despair.) For under $20, we get our sandwiches, the rolls buttered and toasted and topped with what appears to be at least one pound of extraordinary fresh lobster meat. No celery (thank you, Neptune!); no mayonnaise.
It's a prime example of the "Leave the Really Good Food Alone" rule. (While researching this column, I read a Lobster Roll recipe from some guy on the Internet. He suggests the addition of tarragon. Tarragon! Puh-leez!)

The story is not over. In Portland, we have a late reservation at Fore Street, a favorite restaurant near the harbor. Call it rustic upscale, it specializes in wood-roasted food.

The grandson has left us. And the rest of the party has had it with the fauna of the sea. They order venison (fabulous); they order duck, even better. Not me. This foodie does not know when to quit. I order the lobster, probably because it is accompanied by Hasty Pudding, which I have never tasted. (Turns out to be a Yankee Doodle version of polenta -- think cornmeal gruel.)

The meal is attractively served, shell cracked by a master, but still a small lobster, just over a pound and quarter, maybe -- for 38 bucks.

And was it good? Of course it was good. Fore Street is a fine restaurant; Sam Hayward is a clever chef. But you don't need a fine restaurant or a clever chef for this kind of food. And this meal -- it just didn't sing.

Lobster is meant to be eaten in old clothes with a bottle of beer next to you. (Forget the copper ramekin; forget the expensive wine.) And I should have known better. I'm surprised at myself.

When it comes to lobster, ambience (like hunger), is the best sauce.


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