Wednesday March 06, 2013 | 01:00 AM

In the whirlwind of this year’s Maine Restaurant Week, it’s been SRO practically everywhere.  Because of that I’ve decided to forego my usual food and recipe contribution on Wednesdays and  today report  on  where I went and what I ate as this essential dining event unfolds through Sunday.

Every restaurant has special prix-fixe menus in addition to their regular offerings.  At $22, $32 and $42 for each three-course meal at participating restaurants, diners were out en masse, with hardly a spare seat anywhere.  It makes me wonder why these price points aren’t offered year-round.   At the very least it would add a critical mass of diners when restaurateurs shuffle empty seats during our quieter winter dining season.

Nevertheless, I started out at the Salt Exchange ($32 prix fixe) on Friday night, the first day of Restaurant Week, which coincided with First Friday Art Walk.  That the streets were packed and the eateries hopping added great fun and frolic to an otherwise cold night. 

The jazz ensemble at the Salt Exchange played on throughout the evening

As it gets more difficult to find street parking—day or night—in the Old Port, the Salt Exchange conveniently offers free dinner-hour parking next door in a lot used during the day by the adjacent office building.  This perk is available throughout the year.

I've always liked the space with its brick walls, changing art exhibition, lively bar and the eye-popping  accents of bright green painted walls and ceiling.  The room is also very gracious with spacious tables set well apart. 

That evening it was festive indeed with the crush of patrons dining to the beat of a very good jazz ensemble performing in the bar room. 

Girls night out

The three courses offered were a good sampling of the stylish American bistro fare that the restaurant does so well. The prix fixe presented such dishes as a novel take on shrimp cocktail, to a classic frisee salad with poached egg, to such satisfying main courses as braised short ribs; lobster in a luscious cream sauce and roast pork loin.

Desserts were priced separately and we enjoyed house-made ice creams and a deliciously sweet caramel-coated almond cake.

Take a look at what you miight also enjoy.

This is a beautifully crafted salad of roasted local beets in a  gorgonzola cream sauce, arugula and frisee

An intirguing twist on fresh Maine "shrimp cocktail" was very successful in a bracing assemblage of avocado aioli and cocktail sauce

A "cup" of cioppino stew with local mussels in a spicy lobster broth with sourdough crostini

Chef Adam White's signature lobster dish with bacon, carrots, potato and lobster-infused cream

A soulful dish of tender roast pork loin with brussel's sprouts, butternut squash and apple

This beautifully sweet brown-butter almond cake with bourbon custard and burnt almond syrup was a great ending to a fine meal

Up next: The Madding Crowd at Walter's



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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.

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