Primo opened in 2000 and quickly developed a buzz as one of northern New England’s top eats; it still is. The restaurant occupies two nicely decorated floors of a century-old home, a short drive south of Rockland’s downtown. Owner/chef Melissa Kelly graduated first in her class at the Culinary Institute of America and won a James Beard Foundation award for “best chef in the Northeast” in the 1990s and again in 2013. Her Italian-inflected menu reflects the seasons and draws from local products wherever available (much of the meat and produce the kitchen’s working with comes off the restaurant’s expansive farm). Start with an appetizer such as wood-fired pizza with artisanal mushrooms, planked octopus with chickpea salad, seared foie gras over poached strawberries, antipasti, or fried and roasted local oysters paired with rémoulade sauce and house-cured Tasso ham. Entrees might run to seared diver scallops with fettuccine, local halibut over a white bean puree, monkfish medallions with peekytoe crab-risotto cakes, grilled steak or duck, tuna au poivre, or chicken with lavender-and-honey roasted figs and a sweet ricotta gnocchi. Finish with one of co-owner/pastry chef Price Kushner’s inventive desserts: warm Belgian chocolate cake, an espresso float, a rhubarb-strawberry tartlet with vanilla gelato and strawberry sauce, homemade cannoli, a bowl of hot zeppole (small Italian doughnuts) tossed in cinnamon and sugar, or an apple crostata sided with pine-nut-and-caramel ice cream. The wine list is outstanding. It’s hard to get a last-minute table here during summer; failing that, order off the menu from the cozy upstairs bar.
- Brian Kevin