Friday, March 7, 2014
Portland is awash with new restaurants in the offing and with such a hubbub of postings on foodie sites regarding the opening of the Portland and Rochester Public House one would think that the likes of the Connaught Bar had landed in our fair city.
But the press always needs titillations of news items to hawk, and the blogosphere and local dispatches (including, regrettably, yours truly) latched on to this like lemmings in the ring.
For those not in the know, this new restaurant is in the former digs of G&R DiMmillo’s, the raunchy watering hole that occupied an ignominious patch of Bayside’s erstwhile entertainment district. The “Rochester” (nothing to do with the old Jack Benny show character) refers to an old rail line, which I don’t think was local to Portland.
When you walk in the first space you see is the bar
The refurbished dining room is spacious and upbeat
That said I’ve been to P&RPH on two occasions for dinner. The first time a group of us trundled over on the second day they were in business, a bad time to judge even the best restaurant.
The new proprietorship, however, has done a nice job in cleaning up the place to make it look less fringe and more of a respectable neighborhood pub serving bistro fare. At this early stage, however, they're fraught with the usual growing pains such as a badly stocked bar, a faulty air conditioning system (not good for a steamy summer) and a kitchen that was painstakingly slow.
Diners get a glimpse into the partially open kitchen, though it's not visible enough to become part of the dining scene
On my second visit earlier this week, the place was in somewhat better shape. But one fact remained on both occasions--the food was good and some of it terrific.
The chef is a young man named Chris Clark, with a varied background cooking here and in Boston eateries. He probably needs more help in the kitchen, which is still as slow as an old rig to China. But once the food arrives you’re happy with it—and at reasonable prices to boot.
The tables are large and comfortable; in fact, they are all tables for four, giving twosomes plenty of elbow room. There are several booths that could seat six or more, and the bar is still a long, dark chamber that when the drinking crowd starts coming in it will be a popular rumpus room serving this ascendant neighborhood.
The pub-bistro style menu has some nice dishes. Such starters as Scotch eggs, skillet mussels, salmon tartare and lobster cake appear on the list. The entrées are varied with a list of six items from which to choose. At this juncture, though, the menu is a bit heavy for summer dining.
The Scotch eggs starter help define this pub-style menu
The lobster cakes are a good variation on a popular theme
Witness a delicious roast chicken—with it come house-made spaetzle and Brussels sprouts--great in November, not July. When I pointed this out to the chef he said he loves cooking these dishes, and for now they’re easy to do. Regardless it’s a stand-out dish.
Another winner is homemade pretzels. These are more like crunchy, doughy chunks of burnished dough. They're addictively delicious, great with cocktails, and the dipping sauces of mustard and cheddar are a nice accompaniment.
They're called pretzels but are far from what you'd expect; but they are fantastic!
We also tried the Scotch eggs, which are lamb sausage wrapped around quail eggs, in the British manner. They were well seasoned but needed a dipping sauce (like mustard) other than a bed of greens on which they were placed. Another good starter is the lobster cake served as a square cake under a mildly spicy harissa sauce garnished with pickled shallots
For entrees we were blown away by the poached salmon. It’s braised in white grape juice and served with intensely crunchy peeky toe crab fritters. The salmon was exceedingly delicate, a soft melt-in-your-mouth morsel of fish.
This is a great dish of roast chicken with fixings more appropiate on a winter menu
The brined pork was another hearty offering; the chop was very flavorful and tender
At another time I had the brined pork chop. It was very tender served alongside mustard greens and a surprise of smoked new potatoes that were a knock out
For now there’s only one dessert on the menu. It’s an amusing version of beignets filled with peanut butter alongside a dish of house-made strawberry jam. It works for sweet-tooth cravings, but I hope the kitchen expands its repertoire. That and a few other factors put the Portland and Rochester Public House into a work-in-progress zone, and time needs to take care of that.
Called PB & J on the menu, these are a heavy, rich dessert and for peanut butter and jelly fans you won't be disappointed
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.