James Beard Award-winning chefs Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier will run the restaurant in the Press Hotel, located in the former home of the Portland Press Herald, when it opens next April.
The chefs are best known for their Ogunquit restaurant Arrows, which closed last year after a 25-year run, but they also have two other restaurants – MC Perkins Cove in Ogunquit and MC Spiedo at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel.
Frasier said he and Gaier have long toyed with the idea of having a restaurant in Portland, but “nothing just jumped at us the way that this did.”
“Mark and I really love the fact that they’re restoring the Herald building – it’s such a neat building and such a great part of the city – and then to take it and make it into a really cool, hip hotel is very exciting,” Frasier said. “It seems like a perfect niche thing for Portland.”
The former Press Herald building, located across from Portland City Hall at 390 Congress St., was built in 1923 and 1948. It’s been vacant since the newspaper staff relocated to One City Center in 2010, but the developer, Jim Brady, has been renovating it into a newspaper-themed, 110-room boutique hotel with a 100-seat restaurant.
The hotel will be managed by Trust Hospitality LLC, a boutique-hotel management firm, but Frasier and Gaier have been handed the reins to the restaurant. “Our vision and their vision is very consistent and very close,” Frasier said.
Frasier said the restaurant will have a separate identity from the hotel and will be less influenced by the newspaper theme. The chefs are using a separate designer to help them choose the decor and design the kitchen. They will also be in charge of every aspect of the hotel’s food and beverage operations, from mini-bars and room service to full-blown banquets, and will select and train key members of the staff.
Frasier was cryptic about the menu, saying they are “keeping it a little bit under wraps,” but said it will be “a personal expression of who we are.” While seafood will be well represented, for example, Frasier said he wouldn’t call it a seafood restaurant. And it won’t be Arrows-style fine dining, with white tablecloths and crystal.
“Our favorites are going to feature prominently in the menu – things that we’ve just loved over the years and are really reflective of our backgrounds both in Maine and California,” he said. “And, as you know, we love to travel. There may be a little bit of rivalry – Mark’s favorite and Clark’s favorite – on the menu as well.”
Frasier and Gaier have traveled all over Asia and Europe seeking inspiration for new dishes. Last winter, they went to China.
Frasier said the couple’s 2011 cookbook, “Maine Classics,” would be a good guide to what they envision for the menu. The trout dish is a favorite, Frasier said, as is the recipe for “Mark’s mom’s cornbread.”
“Some of the way that the food will be presented will be quite novel for Portland, and I’m not going to divulge that,” he said, laughing.
Frasier was just as enigmatic about the name of the new restaurant. He said everyone involved has been working on choosing a name and there are several in the running, but the only thing that’s been agreed upon so far is that it will begin with the chefs’ initials, MC, like their other restaurants. (MC Scoop? MC Extra Extra?)
The chefs say they aren’t worried about competition from Portland’s many other restaurants since “having a great culinary scene is a great draw.”
“I think a lot of the chefs in Portland are super talented,” Frasier said. “We love going out in Portland. But I think Mark and I have a certain level of maturity in our cooking. It’s wonderful to have that young exuberance, and you see a lot of that in Portland, and I think that’s very exciting, and I also think it’s exciting to see chefs who are a little more mature in their approach. Neither one is better, let me just underline that.”
The couple will be spending a lot of time at MC… whatever, especially after it first opens, to make sure the restaurant gets all the nurturing it needs. They live just 45 minutes away in Ogunquit.