Tuesday, March 11, 2014
In such a food-mad metropolis as Portland gustatory mediocrity doesn’t go far in this town.
To wit: Eve’s at the Garden, the Portland Harbor Hotel’s signature restaurant, has stumbled along ever since its original chef, Jeff Landry, left to open his own establishment., the Farmer’s Table. Since then there’s been a steady progression of chefs in and out of the kitchen.
Their new chef, Timothy Pierre Labonte, who came on board in June of last year, apparently has respectable credentials. But if I were a hotelier in this city trying to compete in our razor- sharp restaurant scene, I’d put on a better show.
Eve's dining room during the day is a sun-filled space
That’s not to say that Mr. Labonte couldn’t be a contender. But so far I’m not impressed. I’ve visited Eve’s for lunch many times, and the sun-splashed dining room that overlooks the summer garden is very pleasant indeed. The lunch menu is like many other places in town with good, creatively crafted sandwiches, salads and light entrees.
At dinner what I found was a kitchen fairly adept at preparing a jazzy menu. But it’s one that might appeal to the peripatetic traveler passing through rather than locals on the prowl for an exciting evening out.
As for the room, it’s a shattering aftermath, a showcase for Ethan Allan faux fancy. The leatherette- faced chairs are so slippery you might need Velcro to keep from sliding. And the other seating options are these heavily upholstered wing chairs cast so low that you look like Toulouse-Lautrec reaching to sketch at table.
Shrimp bread pudding
Enough with the intangibles. Let me discuss the food.
Witness my dining partner’s first course of Maine shrimp bread pudding that was arranged in a wine glass. It looked so precarious in this portal, one wrong twist of the fork could have sent shards of glass flying. Nonetheless these tiny local shrimp were hardly discernible--overwhelmed by an incongruous glop of beet puree--a mismatched culinary pairing indeed.
My first course was another burping Malaprop. Venison carpaccio was presented with a rather attractive melange of melons that are compressed into squared off shapes looking like lovely candy drops.
When it was presented I wasn’t sure that the free-form brown ooze covering the plate wasn’t a glob of dried blood that one might find in a joke shop for a prank. Alas, this was the venison as flat as if a Mach truck had run it down.. I’ve never had such a gravely unsuccessful dish.
Main courses were better.
My dinner mate ordered parpardelle with vegetables. It was a workmanlike rendition but no food revelation
Duck breast stroganoff
The next assemblage was my entree of duck breast stroganoff. This wasn’t bad. It had the classic mushroom duxelles enriched with a rich veal stock and cream sauce served over pasta. This was well done. But the duck was so tough I thought of asking our waiter for a machete.
Our plates were cleared away, and the next thing I knew our waiter brought us a check. Had he sensed that we wanted to skedaddle immediately or had he not thought to ask if we wanted dessert?
I'll never know.
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.