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The Algonquin – A Grand Hotel Updated

The Algonquin sits on a hilltop overlooking the historic town of St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, in the Canadian province of New Brunswick. While St. Andrews is in Canada, you can see Maine just across the bay, and it’s an easy (and scenic) drive from Portland and mid-coast Maine.

The Algonquin oozes history. Since its opening in 1889 it has welcomed nearly every Canadian Prime Minister and three American presidents, as well as Prince Charles and Princess Diana. We had stayed at the Algonquin several times when it was a Fairmont Hotel, but this is the first time since its reopening from a two-year restoration and updating. No longer a Fairmont, it is now part of the Marriott group.

We noticed some changes immediately. For one thing it’s more casual: no doorman greeted us, and no bellman stepped up to help with our luggage. But when we arrived at our corner suite on the third floor, the changes were more dramatic. Rooms have been completely redecorated, with a smart but not flashy décor replacing the old-fashioned hotel-by-the-sea atmosphere we had remembered.

The lush architectural features – large rooms, tall deep-set windows with wide sills, high ceilings and deep moldings – were still there, and complimented by oyster walls, white wood trim and sage carpeting throughout the suite. In the sitting room was a long sofa, a velour-covered wing chair and a long desk with an upholstered chair, all with good reading lamps. A full-length mirror was framed in panels of beveled mirror, adding an Art Deco flourish to the room.

The bedroom was small but supremely comfortable, with a full wall of windows and waist-high sills deep enough to serve as a luggage rack. The queen-sized bed was dressed in high-count sheets and the marble-topped nightstands had good reading lamps – along with multiple outlets and usb ports. Room-darkening shades and well-insulated walls, added to the comfortable bed, made sleep easy.

The roomy closet held the expected iron and board, extra blankets and two robes, plus a set of pool towels. The large bathroom had a rain shower, but I missed the old hotel’s spacious bathtubs. I did appreciate, however, the large marble vanity and the Aveda bath soap and lotion. Face soap, shampoo and body wash were by Pharmacopia.

The main level of the hotel – the reception area, the grand high-ceilinged central lobby, the dining rooms and the long verandah that stretches the length of the half-timbered façade – sparkled with renovations but maintains its air of Belle Epoch grandeur. On this summer afternoon families and couples filled the cushioned chairs along the wide verandah, many enjoying afternoon tea, others just enjoying the fresh sea air. In the morning the verandah is bathed in warming sunshine, so we opted to eat breakfast there.

As we had fairly early reservations at Braxton’s, the Algonquin’s signature restaurant, we decided to forgo afternoon tea, and we were glad we’d left every bit of room for dinner.

It began well, with an amuse bouche of chilled bay scallop with carrot puree. Fork-tender and flavorful New Brunswick lamb chops were served with slightly crisped triangles of cheddar polenta, and the cucumber sour cream was a surprisingly good accompaniment to both. A creamy pea risotto was exceptionally good with an entrée of butte-poached Atlantic seafood – halibut, shrimp and sea scallops. The risotto was one of the best we’ve tasted (and that from people who lived in Italy), creamy, richly flavored and tender but still slightly chewy, with the delicate flavor of peas coming through well.

The décor and arrangement of the dining room, as well as the expert and well-informed service, added to the menu to perfect the experience. Tables are well spaced, and the long, narrow shape of the room means there is no noisy center, so the noise level is controlled even when there are large tables of people talking. The dramatic silver-on-black walls are broken with antiqued glass mirrors set in nine-paned squares like windows, which make the narrowest parts of the room seem wider.

From the amuse bouche to the clafouti (not over-sweetened and served piping hot with the ice cream in a separate dish instead of melting on top), dinner was outstanding. It’s nice to see that a change in ownership hasn’t changed the standards that made The Algonquin a legend.

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