Second in a series of dining reviews in conjunction with Maine Restaurant Week running from March 1 – 14.
In planning my first trip to Portland, Maine, this restaurant came up on my radar. From reviews on various web sites, it seemed worthy of a visit. Reservations are pretty much a requirement, especially on weekends and tourist season.
Located in the Old Port on Wharf Street sandwiched between Commercial and Fore Streets, it’s not easy to find it you don’t know the area and it’s dark. After a few wrong turns and asking directions, we found it tucked on a cobblestone alley
The Old Port is an area of historic 19th century buildings. This was once a bustling waterfront with fishermen bringing in the day’s catch, as well as merchants handling goods to be used all over New England. What were once warehouses and fishmongers have found new life as trendy shops, restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Upper floors house pricey remodeled condos and apartments, some retaining old architecture details. If you want character, this area has it by the boatload.
The interior is old-fashioned and cozy – original brick walls and wood beams. Even though we had a reservation, we were directed to the bar area to wait. The bar area has a few mismatched chairs and an old sofa for seating as well as a few stools at the bar.
Because this is a retro-fitted 19th century building, seating in the dining areas is cramped. We were seated at a tiny copper topped table next to a service table with my face inches from a dusty and dirty back of a coffee/tea machine. Yuck! I could see steam coming from the machine when in use and I was overly warm and had visions of being scalded by hot water if a hose should come loose. Not the kind of dining experience most of us want.
Bread and butter was brought in a wire basket and noted the basket was caked in bread crumbs and flour – crud from countless loaves served during the evening. More yuck! Highly recommend for sanitary reasons that them to either wash the baskets between uses or use a cloth or paper liner. The bread was crusty outside and soft inside, but not warm, which to me usually means not fresh. Turns out the bread is baked at Standard Baking Company, one of its sister properties.
Fortunately, the variety of fish and seafood does not disappoint. There is a nice selection of wines – I select a Prosecco to go with seafood, while my hubby orders a Chardonnay from Burgundy. His appetizer was grilled sardine and for the main course whole grilled Branzino, (celeb chef Mario Batalis’ favorite) with small roasted potatoes, which he loved. Being a small appetite person, I ordered one of their interesting and always changing “based on available ingredients” salads and an appetizer portion of mussels. I had planned to order the scallops in Pernod sauce, one of their best known dishes, but since I don’t like the licorice taste of anise, I passed this time.
The best part of the meal was dessert – Panne Cotta with blackberry sauce (one of my personal favorites). Creamy and delicious to the very last bite. Depending on what fruit is seasonally available, the Panne Cotta can come with currant or blueberry sauce. All sauces have a good amount of whole berries in them.
Don’t miss the open kitchen. That’s where the show is. Take a few minutes to watch the cooking staff deftly pan sautéing, dodging leaping flames from the burners, pulling roasting skillets from ovens. It is a performance to watch as various dishes are prepared. These cooks are what make this restaurant truly a great place to dine.