In the seaside neighborhood of Falmouth Foreside, the Dockside Grill enjoys a stunning perch on Casco Bay at the foot of the Handy Boat Marina off Foreside Road. That the restaurant also serves well-prepared food makes for a wicked good combination: stylishly prepared dishes served in the gleaming wood first- and second-floor (winter) dining rooms with their dramatic waterfront setting and views.
Your first bite, in fact, into the restaurant’s bread offering will attest to the good fare that follows. Here a French style baguette is baked daily, sliced and presented on a wooden board and served with a cunningly delicious confit of roasted garlic and mixed olives accompanied by a fragrant dipping sauce of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
My first visit occurred when it opened last fall as the new iteration of the long-running Falmouth Sea Grill, which had leased the space for 15 years from the Marr family, owners of Handy Boat. Now the Marrs are back in the restaurant business with daughter Andrea managing the re-christened Dockside Grill.
On that visit, I thought the food had promise under the direction of chef Jeremy Donovan, who built his reputation at the much-admired country-inn restaurant, 76 Pleasant Street in Norway, before moving to Dockside.
Donovan, however, has since left, leaving his two assistants behind to man the stove. It begs the question, now what? The menu is still as Donovan created it, with the sous chefs maintaining the status quo. It will, however, be modified soon to reflect a more seasonal menu.
The bar has an impressive list of craft cocktails, and we began our dinner with an unusual drink called the Bay Blossom ($11), a martini made with Mandarin and jasmine green tea-infused vodka with lemon and honey. It was a stunning, flavorful and potent cocktail.
We started off with an intriguing salad of crispy Maine oysters ($12). Lightly battered and deep-fried, they were assembled on a bed of baby spinach mingling with refreshing trimmings of red grapefruit segments, crispy cubes of pancetta and pine nuts bathed in a delicious mustard vinaigrette with a hint of maple syrup. My guest and I loved this salad because it was different, delicious and multi-textured.
Entrees are presented in a somewhat confusing format, with two lists from which to choose. The first is composed of dishes with sides on the plate. Some examples include pan-seared local scallops chimichurri ($26) served with crispy stuffed poblano peppers; sesame-crusted yellowfin tuna ($28) with herbed risotto, roasted cabbage and carrots in a honey-soy sauce with fried leeks; and duck breast ($26) with a pomegranate molasses demi-glace, gorgonzola and yam gratin and asparagus.
The second list features individual servings of meat, poultry or fish whereby you can also choose two sides and choice of sauce. We liked the option of creating our own meal. Some of the a la carte choices include filet of beef ($32); grilled Statler chicken breast ($22); and pan-seared scallops ($26).
The list of sauces includes lobster veloute, beurre blanc, espresso barbecue, veal demi-glace and romesco. Vegetable sides are asparagus, corn and bacon fritters and mushroom risotto, among others.
My guest had pan-seared Atlantic salmon ($25) paired with new potatoes in garlic and oil and sautéed spinach. For the sauce she chose the lobster veloute, a good choice for the fish. The elements of the dish were beautifully arranged on the plate, but the salmon, with its crisp skin, was slightly overcooked and dry. The spinach was done perfectly, sautéed with judicious amounts of garlic. The new potatoes were served quartered and crispy from being pan-seared. These were less successful, though, and could have used a few more turns in the sauté pan.
I enjoyed my dish of haddock baked with an herb-crumb topping ($24). I often order this classic New England dish to see how a restaurant pulls it off. The fish was moist and flakey, and the crumb topping buttery and flavorful. My two sides – cauliflower puree and asparagus – couldn’t have been better. I, too, chose the lobster veloute sauce. It had the intensity of a lobster emulsion, though the color was more mahogany-toned than pinkish, indicating that too much tomato paste was used and burnished beyond the point of tasting fresh.
Service is generally efficiently tended to by an experienced wait staff. Our waitress, though, seemed new on the job and committed a faux pas: The first occurred when our starter-plates were merely pushed aside to make room for the entrees when they should have been removed. I had to ask for the dishes to be cleared. In the process, silverware was not replaced, and I was left to pick at my entree with a small salad fork, which is like trying to dig a ditch with a teaspoon.
We moved on to ponder the dessert choices from a list of preparations that are all made in-house. The rum cake appealed to us, and I asked our waitress how it was done.
She seemed perplexed by my question but answered, “It’s a slice.” We skipped dessert and got our check.
But I was determined to try that rum cake and returned for lunch several days later. I enjoyed a cup of excellent seafood chowder ($9). And then I finally had my “slice” of rum cake ($8). The tender-crumbed yellow cake was bathed in a delicious rum sauce, with candied nuts on top and whipped cream. It was great.
Dockside is one of the best options for waterside dining in greater Portland, especially when the restaurant opens its downstairs dining room and spectacular outdoor dining deck on Mother’s Day. The garage-door style windows are lifted up to let the outside air in, so even inside feels like you’re outdoors. On a beautiful summer’s day or evening, this is definitely the place to be.
John Golden, who lives in Portland, writes about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for local and national publications. He can be reached at: