Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Walter’s, the quintessence of stylish dining in downtown Portland, didn’t need the surge from Maine Restaurant Week’s dining horde to fill its tables.
The great glass windows fronting the street and flooding the room with natural light lend a dramatic touch to the interior space
That this restaurant has a huge following for Chef Jeff Buerhaus’s temperate take on global cuisine (Asian, Mediterranean and Caribbean) is not surprising since, for the most part, the food has wow factor even if the mélange is old hat.
But why, I ask, do I feel like I’ve entered a vintage stage set for Hawaii Five-0 to dine in a commissary of disparate third-world earthly delights culled from Taiwan to Timbuktu?
Is it because I’ve had it so many times before? Or is it that Buerhaus’s cooking style hasn’t changed a bit since he’s been in the business of chefdom?
From his days at his quaint spot on Exchange Street to this swellegant hangout at 2 Portland Square his food is predictable yet, at times, also exceptional— moments that are divinely cunning with complex flavors that is his batterie de cuisine.
For example, when I stopped in for lunch the other day I ordered one of the blackboard specials: an intricately composed dish of Thai-style Maine mussels and Maine shrimp poached in coconut milk and red curry with bok choy and basil topped with two sweet potato fritters that were as addictive as the best bag of potato chips.
I had to keep myself from lapping the bowl clean.
A deliciously creamy bath of coconut milk and red curry were the underpinnings of this marvelous luncheon entree of mussels and Maine shrimp; but it was the sweet potato fritters that really stole the show
When he’s good he’s great. So I suppose my complaint is that each dish might be just another iteration of the last as though such a chef was prone to put vanilla extract in everything.
As for his swank new digs, the décor is interior designer heaven to the hilt. It’s got all the looks--sleek, smooth polished dark woods (though modernists are going more for white and beige, these days). And by Portland standards, it’s our incarnation of Mies van de Rohe’s, masterpiece of 60s chic, the Four Season’s in New York (sill a gorgeous room, however).
Maybe it's a stretch to say that one could be reminded of the Four Season, where coats, unless mink or sable, would not be allowed to hang over the chairs; still it's an atractive bar room about as good as it gets in our city
The real deal at the Four Season's
Still, it’s hats off to Buerhaus all the way. He’s kept pace with Portland’s many restaurant divergences with grace and style, and there are certain dishes coming from the kitchen that you couldn’t get anywhere else in town.
Dining there on Monday night of restaurant week was hardly far from the madding crowd. It was packed with diners in controlled pandemonium mode, from country folk in casual garb to slicker urbanites—all to enjoy the $32 prixe fixe. The wait staff, however, handled it very well. And the kitchen at full throttle didn’t miss a beat.
The stylish main dining room at Wlater's was a sea of diners on Monday night
Our meal for two, however, was a mixed bag. Some dishes were successful and others didn’t quite make it.
Sweet, spicy and savory, this is one of those "wow" dishes--crispy Asian ravioli withi lemongrass, spinach, peppers, ginger and a sweet chili sauce-- that keeps Walter's devotees coming back for more
Japanese Caesar salad, typically devised with romaine, cashews,edame, miso wasabi and wonton crisps
Called "bistro fish" it was a tamely prepared fillet of white fish with sun-dried tomatoes, fennel, yukon gold potatoes and olives in a butter enriched lobster broth
On a night when the kitchen was less hectic, this dish of grilled lobster tail and knuckle mash (potato puree with lobster) would have come off better than the overcooked state in which it was served
The orange lavender creme brulee was perfectly done
The choclate olive oil cake with espresso ice cream and caramel was rich and very satisfying
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.