The view from the cabin deck takes in the sandy crescent of Goose Cove, bounded by a boreal forest on either end. A sea breeze, passing through the evergreens, picks up the sweet scent of pine balsam. A necklace of seaweed traces the tide’s high-water mark. The deep pink flowers of Rosa rugosa peep out from the shrubbery that covers the dunes. Shafts of sunlight spill onto the silvery expanse of Penobscot Bay and its archipelago of rock-bound islands.
Just offshore, a million-dollar Hinckley Picnic Boat rides at anchor. Next to it, a weathered commercial-fishing boat off-loads some of the day’s catch for chef Devin Finigan’s tasting menu. She will serve it that night at Aragosta, Finigan’s fine-dining restaurant that also lends its name to the forested 21-acre property in Deer Isle, Maine. There are a dozen guest cottages and suites among the spruces leading up from the cove.
Finigan, 39, lives on-site at Aragosta with her two young daughters. Her cuisine is an alloy of New American cooking with European and Asian inflections that she has accrued in the course of her impressive restaurant career.
Hers has been a steady progression that began with flipping blueberry pancakes at a local café in nearby Stonington, Maine. Over the last two decades she has moved, rung by rung, up the culinary ladder as an increasingly skilled chef who could satisfy the desires of a summer clientele that has grown accustomed to the gastronomic thrills of the big cities to the south.
Finigan honed her skills in a series of off-season stages, including at Per Se, in Manhattan; Blue Hill at Stone Barns, in the Hudson Valley; and SingleThread Farms, in Healdsburg, California. Last year, as soon as she closed up shop, in late October—Aragosta’s restaurant and lodgings are shut in the winters, and reopen in May—she took her children and key staff on a month-long European-dining tour from Paris to Lyon, to Alba, and to Rome. The experience of Alain Passard’s all-vegetable menu at Arpège in Paris was, for Finigan, an epiphany that echoes in Aragosta’s many vegetable dishes this year.
Deer Isle is the home of the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts and has attracted ceramists, painters, weavers, woodworkers, and sculptors for decades. Local artwork is on display at Aragosta—oil paintings on the walls, ceramic plates and bowls for the restaurant, plus a communal table made of 16-foot planks from an ash tree that once grew in Augusta, Maine.
In the airy, light-filled dining room with windows looking out on the seascape, barman Dan Marchese serves a menu of cocktails, including a summery and psychedelic combination of white rum, absinthe, fennel, lime, and agave that he calls Oscillate Wildly.
The multi-course tasting menu always begins with small plates—say, oysters from a nearby cove with bracing mignonettes, a tater tot–size crispy polenta with frizzled nori on top, or Penobscot Bay–scallop ceviche served in its shell and garnished with nasturtium flowers. It is noteworthy that Finigan became a certified master gardener to supplement the modest wages of her early back-of-the house restaurant jobs. Edible flowers naturally find their way onto many of her plates. Be sure to taste them.
Next up, An Ode to the Season, featuring just-harvested ingredients. A lightly dressed green salad with sugar snap peas is so sweet and fresh you can almost hear them photosynthesizing, and a Caesar salad that substitutes mackerel for anchovies in the dressing makes good gastronomic use of this under-appreciated fish.
Moving on to main courses: Halibut in Tidal Broth will clear up any confusion you may have about the mysterious taste of umami. Finigan’s rich and delicate broth combines dashi with lobster stock. Taste it. That’s umami.
The menu always includes a version of Finigan’s signature lobster dish, an homage to the Maine staple and also the name of the restaurant. (“Aragosta” means “lobster” in Italian.) My favorite comes with a single lobster claw accompanied by a lobster-stuffed raviolo in beurre blanc. Succulent, wood-fired duck breast is served in a bowl with a dollop of creamy polenta and an aioli of cold-smoked egg yolk.
A bit of showbiz precedes the dessert: a server pours water over dry ice in a pottery bowl, creating the effect of a coastal fog. As it clears, it reveals a scoop of seasonal sorbet nestled in a diorama of spruce tips and rocks. Desserts are often surprising, showcasing complex flavors. Case in point: a cheesecake made with mildly funky robiola, whey caramel, and scorched, sherry-soaked strawberries.
The wine list is extensive. I’d advise letting the sommelier, Matthew Spector, arrange a wine pairing from a list that skews natural and leans toward burgundy and Barolo styles. I am a sucker for Juras and Mâcons, which deliver a sense of burgundy without the sticker shock of the Côte d’Or. In any event, don’t be bashful about communicating your tastes and your price point if you want to keep the costs moderate.
If you are able to reserve one of Aragosta’s charming cabins, you can park your car and pass a few days without ever putting the key in the ignition. Hanging out on the beach is always a relaxing option. There is also a gorgeous walking loop that takes guests up the unpaved road and into the forest. The ground is covered with pine needles, moss, lichen, and ferns that dampen the sound to a library-like quiet, if libraries had a curlew whistling from time to time.
The walk will take you over a moderately easy rise before descending to Barred Island. At low tide, a sandbar allows your passage to its rocky shore. The kitchen will make a lobster picnic for you, or you can buy Aragosta sandwiches and salads at Finigan’s Piccolo Mercato, next to the restaurant. Homemade garbanzo salad delivers a sprightly taste and crunchy texture—a welcome departure from the paper-towel mouthfeel of salad-bar chickpea salads. After lunch, a short return path to Aragosta hugs the drop-off to the rocky shore on the way back to the cottages.
At day’s end, walk over to Aragosta’s deck for sundowners and pizza from the wood oven. And, for good measure, a dozen oysters.
Aragosta at Goose Cove, in Deer Isle, Maine, is open from May to October
Peter Kaminsky’s Outdoors column has appeared in The New York Times for many years. He is also a cookbook author, most recently with Francis Mallmann, of Green Fire