Friday May 03, 2013 | 05:30 AM

In Portland’s veritable hothouse of new restaurant openings, certain events conspire  to make or break these newcomers.  But the recently opened Outliers Eatery perched atop York Street shows every sign of making it.

Outliers is at once a  neighborhood hang-out and a fine-dining establishment

The first time I dined there I was immediately impressed by the congeniality of the room: the luxuriously appointed leather banquettes, the spacious tables, and even the fine flatware, table settings and stemware were strikingly good. 

Inside it's stylish and cool

Then there’s the view.  What a charmingly dramatic vista overlooking the harbor, the bridge and the grassy esplanade of Memorial Harbor Park. 

The tables in front of the windows are a prominent spot that diners already  covet 

From the dining room looking into the bar area where there are also two large banquettes

There’s no question that Portland is awash with restaurants serving distinctive locally sourced fare, a kind of American fusion made conspiratorially delicious by such practitioners of the genre at other places in town.

Following his own style at Outliers, however, is Chef Jonathan Dexter who hails from many years at Street & Co. as far back as Chef Abby Harmon’s day before she moved on to open Caiola’s.

Case in point are such dishes as crispy pig ears over a wild lettuce and arugula salad;  blue cheese custard over a spinach salad or sweet and spicy duck drumettes—imaginative first courses indeed.

Here are those pig's ears--an acquired taste

On my first visit, I stopped in for a drink at the bar and nibbled on a  dish of pig ears.  The meatier ones are an acquired taste, perhaps, but with the hoisin dipping sauce spiked with a red chili reduction they’re a divine mouthful.

At last night’s dinner this time I ordered the duck drumettes to start my meal.  These are cooked sous vide and finished off in a maple syrup and chili glaze.    They’re tender, hot, spicy, sweet, and gamey.  Served with sautéed radishes, it’s a convincing dish.

Chef Dexter's duck drumettes--a great first course

My dinner mate, a food world maven, opted for the blue cheese custard served on a spinach salad.  Basically a kind of flan, it was delicately textured and robustly flavored, a compelling first course too.   

The blue cheese custard is a very satisfying first course 

The service is excellent and our waitress could explain everything on the menu knowledgeably.  Since the dish descriptions are a little vague, her assistance helped, especially since the brevity on the menu is anything but simplicity on the plate. 


Main courses cover all the bases: pasta, duck, lamb, lobster, chicken, fish and even the essential grass-fed burger with hand-cut fries. 

My friend chose the grilled halibut, which she deemed “glorious.”  White as snow, the fish was perfectly prepared and served under a canopy of gingered beet relish with quinoa and fiddleheads on the side. 

 

 This is a great grilled halibut preparation

My entrée, described simply as beef shoulder tender, was another kitchen triumph.  The beef was rendered absolutely soft and succulent by its sous vide process, producing intense flavor while keeping it buttery soft, juicy and lean.  Served in a wine reduction, with fingerling potatoes, this was another very satisfying dish.

This is an engaging dish of beef shoulder elevated to a fine tenderness by its sous vide preparation

The bread service and wine list are top-notch too. Though the bread is not baked in-house it’s from the bakers at Café 158, whose sour-dough bread is very distinctive and good.  The dipping oil is a  full-bodied  extra virgin Italian olive oil from Marconi, mixed with balsamic, doing justice to the delicious, crusty bread.

The wine list  is well  represented by European and American labels, with many of the bottles available by the glass.  I enjoyed an excellent Malbec from Argentina and my companion enjoyed a distinctive vinho verde.

In subsequent visits I want to explore the dessert offerings more because what I had was a nice teaser of sweets.  Called fried dough it was filled with blueberries  and served with a ginger gelato, which was not house-made but good enough from Maple's Gelato.

Fried dough filled with an apple puree with maple gelato

If I can find one fault with Outliers (and this isn’t easy to do) it’s their reservation policy. There is none, and it’s on a walk-in basis. By 7:30 last night every table was taken.  In such an ambitious and beautiful restaurant the casual do-drop-in style of no reservations doesn’t always work for those who like to plan ahead.
 

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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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