Wednesday, March 12, 2014
If you can actually find your way to the front door of the Dockside Grill--the new iteration of the former Falmouth Sea Grill at the Handy Boatyard on Casco Bay--you’ll be in for a nice surprise. The food has a lot of promise.
Coming off the elevator you enter a very serious hallway that leads to the restaurant
Dockside's upstairs bar
Some details need to be explained. First and foremost the long-running Falmouth Sea Grill is no longer with us by name, management or menu. The owner has decamped to her Portland outpost to concentrate on her city holding, the Old Port Sea Grill. I’ve spoken with both propietors of these two enterprises and it was an amicable split. The Sea Grill’s Laura Argitis wanted to free up her time to run the Portland restaurant, and when her lease was up at Handy Boat she decided the time was right to move on.
Andrea Marr, manager of the Dockside, and her parents, Jacob and Rebecca Marr, who own the boatyard complex, wanted to get their prized possession, the restaurant, back into family hands. It had had been leased to the Sea Grill for nearly 15 years.
As for the front door debacle it kind of got lost in the shuffle when the restaurant and buildings were painstakingly renovated a few years ago.
To get to the second floor dining room (the first floor space closes after Columbus Day and re-opens in warmer weather) here's the drill: If you’re at the lower parking lot look for the sign over the Dockside door, go to the elevator, press 2R and you’re there. If you’re coming from the upper parking lot, walk across the bridge that takes you to the entryway to the second floor landing and restaurant.
The dining room that flanks the bar has both banquettes and high top tables; there's a second dining room, lighter and brighter, that adjoins this room
The Dockside’s chef is Jeremy Donovan, who made a name for himself at the very picturesque country dining boite, 76 Pleasant Street, in Norway, Maine. Donovan actually grew up in the neighborhood, though his roots are from New Hampshire.
On Monday night I convinced a friend to take the 10 minute trip from Portland to try out the new restaurant. After my one and only meal at Dockside I can tell you that some good food is being prepared in this kitchen.
Our first hint of tasty goodness was with the bread service. On a bread board were 6 slices of very crusty baguette accompanied by an absolutely delicious spread of roasted garlic and olives. This was so good, we could have easily had a second helping.
The bread course with that fabulous spread of roasted garlic and olives alongside a dipping bowl of balsamic-infused olive oil
We didn’t order first courses but went straight to the main selections. It’s a very appealing menu, offering some old-fashioned dishes along with newfangled fare.
The menu presentation, however, is confusing. It’s divided between Dockside entrees and a la carte choices. They are virtually the same except that the entrees get full side-dish accompaniments. The a la carte section allows you to choose 2 side dishes from a list of 13 choices. You also get to pick from a list of 6 sauces to go over your a la carte entrée. These include Madeira demi, port glace, salsa verde, espresso BBQ, romesco and lobster veloute to match a la carte entrees like filet of beef, hanger steak, chicken, duck, halibut, haddock and steamed lobster.
Talk about a convoluted menu! It took us a few minutes comparing the entrees with the single dishes.
Just so we could see the difference between entrée and a la carte, my dinner mate chose one of the all-inclusive entrees and I went a la carte. Her pick was a roast duck ($24), crisp and pressed, served with a sauce of golden raisins, Madeira demi-glace and accompanied by mashed maple molasses yams and frisee.
The duck, a leg and thigh, was tender, juicy and delicous with the Madeira raisin sauce
I chose an a la carte dish of baked haddock with an herbed buttery crumb topping. For my sides I had bacon corn fritters and cauliflower steak, the latter turning out to be a very clever preparation. The chef cuts the cauliflower into a steak-like wedge by slicing across the width of the whole head. It’s then roasted with truffle oil.
The duck had a beautifully burnished crisp skin glistening under a sauce of raisins and Madeira. The accompanying mashed yams with maple molasses were delicious. What we didn’t understand was the pile of frisee sitting like a lump on the plate. Was it a garnish or a side dish? It had no dressing. Frisee on its own, no matter how pretty it looks, is a sharp and off-tasting green when served unadorned.
I wasn’t crazy about the corn fritters because they were too dry, though tasty, but my haddock was nicely prepared. We ended our meal by sharing a very good apple turnover (the menu, however, calls it a tart, which it’s not).
A New England classic done very well at Dockside: haddock with buttered crumbs and a lobster veloute sauce; the corn fritters and roasted cauliflower accompanied
All the desserts are made in-house and this apple tart (aka turnover) was very nicely done
There was one fatal flaw to an otherwise good meal. The food was lukewarm. However, the restaurant is in operation for only one month, the kitchen is getting its sea legs and I look forward to going there again when surer hands are at the stove.
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.