We would dine at The Tiller Restaurant just for the view. It’s stunning: crashing waves against granite cliffs and open ocean as far as the eye can see. This contemporary restaurant at the luxurious Cliff House resort in Cape Neddick, Maine, takes full advantage of its perch on rocky Bald Head Cliff. Gray-blue banquettes and wooden tables face a wall of windows overlooking the Atlantic; a fieldstone fireplace warms a corner. The good news is that Executive Chef Rick Shell also takes full advantage of the location, working closely with local farms, dairies, ranchers, and fishermen and women to create equally stunning dishes, with deep ties to New England culinary traditions.
Settle in and soak up the view while you enjoy a craft cocktail like a Manhattan or a glass of wine. There’s a selection of more than 20 wines by the glass and 120 or so bottles of Old and New World wines on the list, perfect for sipping while you watch the waves roll in.
Start by sharing the seasonal tartine. One of our recent favorites was the Honeycup Squash Tartine, with creamy ricotta, pickled shiitake mushrooms, and a chipotle maple glaze, offering great depth and sweetness. “We spice-roast the squash with cinnamon, honey, sage, coriander, and mace,” Shell explains. “This spice blend works well with the hand-dipped ricotta.”
The Lobster and Corn Chowder is also a popular starter. While the menu is updated frequently, this multi-layered soup with a base of house-made lobster broth, is offered year-round. The White Bean Soup, with a spicy lamb sausage and winter greens, is another favorite. “Beans are a vital part of New England cooking, so it is an easy fit in our menu,” Shell says. It’s the ideal soul-soothing comfort dish on a cold winter’s night.
If the unique Finnan Haddie Pâté is on the menu, consider it as a great starter nosh. “We take house-smoked local haddock and make a pâté,” Shell explains. “When spread on the grilled bread, the texture is a perfect match, and pickled vegetables add enough acid to balance the dish out.”
There’s a selection of creative salads, including the Wild Arugula & Organic Spinach Salad, with basil vinaigrette, pine nut brittle, roasted peppers, and sheep’s milk feta. For winter, Shell adds a Cabbage Salad. “Cabbage is such a great canvas to play with,” he says. “It works well with many flavors, and the texture adds depth.”
Seafood takes top billing when it comes to entrées (called “Maines” on the menu), and Shell, who is nicknamed the “Seafood Sommelier” (living up to his name, perhaps?) is a master at sourcing and preparation. “I have always loved working with seafood, seeing what flavor components work together,” he says. Shell has been known to accompany hotel guests on lobstering trips or on 5a.m. excursions to the Portland fish market. It’s oceanside in Maine, so Whole Boiled Lobster (fresh off local lobster boats) is on the menu year-round. “Most people are funny about their lobster experiences,” Shell says. “We tend to get a lot of purists or first-timers in Maine who want a classical approach for their first true Maine lobster experience.”
The Pan-Seared Arcadian Fish is always ultra-fresh, and varies depending on what’s available, often local haddock or redfish. Shell also likes to use skate wing, East Coast halibut, and red snapper, if it’s fresh-caught and local. No matter what type of fish, it’s simply prepared: salted, peppered, and seared just so. Try it with a side of the Brussels Sprouts, with maple, walnuts, and blue cheese, or the splurge-worthy Lobster Mac n’ Cheese, with truffle oil.
Meat-lovers shouldn’t miss the Spice-Seared Pork, with a flavor-packed crust rubbed with a house-made blend of smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice, paired with local braised greens and a carrot cumin puree. The Hanger Steak comes with a charred onion vinaigrette and a mustard seed potato puree. A true showstopper is the Pan Roasted Local Duck, tender and crispy, served with a warm grain salad.
Chef Shell loves grains, and almost always offers at least one preparation on the menu. The Heritage Stone Ground Polenta, made with local flint corn, and served with winter squash, kale, and foraged mushrooms is delicious—and gluten free.
You’ve saved room for dessert, right? The Dark Chocolate Soufflé is a nostalgic favorite, and guaranteed to satisfy your chocolate cravings. The rich and creamy Chia Crème Brûlée, with a crackly topping, and the Vanilla Bean Cheesecake, topped with blueberry compote, are winners. There will be some kind of crisp or cobbler on the menu, too. “You can’t go wrong sitting in front of the fireplace watching a storm roll in, and eating a local apple-berry crisp with ice cream,” Shell says. Delicious, no matter what the season.
The Tiller Restaurant
591 Shore Road
Cape Neddick, Maine