Monday December 16, 2013 | 06:28 AM

With all the fuss and controversy regarding the Westin Portland Harborview (aka the Eastland)  and its pending encroachment onto Congress Square in  its attempt to buy two-thirds of the moribund plaza, what’s getting lost in the shuffle is the stunningly first-rate hotel that is now a part of Portland’s lodging inventory.  And for $50 million in renovation costs, we should expect nothing less.

Rendering of the Westin Portland Harborview

The unofficial opening occurred on December 12 and according to staffers, there are about 100 rooms available for guests while the hotel still completes the finishing touches on its massive renovation.

A friend and I went there on Saturday night to go to the newly expanded Top of the East rooftop lounge.  As soon as we walked into the lobby, attended by regally clad doormen, we were awestruck at the changes. 

A small private dining room off the restaurant's lounge area

“We’re not in Portland anymore,” my friend Susan said.  Indeed!  It’s world-class or as close as we’ve gotten so far in our local hotel world. 

We wanted to go the rooftop lounge.  But once we got past the liveried doormen who usher you through the gorgeous lobby we saw that a throng of people were waiting at the elevator to go to the lounge. Since Top of the East was filled to capacity, new visitors were not allowed up until others left.  No one was leaving.

A view of the bar at the Congress Square Restaurant

Instead, we repaired to the restaurant.  Getting to the restaurant from the lobby is not graceful as you walk down a long hallway to a door that doesn’t look like a front entrance—and it isn’t.  Farther down the hall is the main entry way that brings you to a reception desk at the back of the bar.  It’s surprising that the designers didn’t create direct access from the lobby. 

The bar loops around the space on three sides

Still, it’s a very attractive space.  At 6:30 in the evening few tables in the dining room were occupied, but the bar was pretty busy.  The bar loops around the entire back part of the lounge space with a wide Corian bar top around which are very comfortable leather-backed high chairs.  For once these chairs were the correct height; there’s been an epidemic of ill-fitting seating at some of our newer restaurants with chairs that are too low for comfort at table or bar. 

The modern dining room at Congress Square Restuarant

We ordered cocktails and perused the bar menu.  The list has some nice options and we settled on the charcuterie platter.  Out came a board with thinly sliced smoked pork, a custard of sorts in a crock filled with foie gras and truffles, nicely cured pickles, toast points and a duck pate with a blueberry chutney.  The foie gras custard was a little unusual: It didn’t have much liver-paste flavor and barely a hint of truffle.  But spread on toasts it was tasty.  The duck pate was fairly bland.

Elegantly served, Proseco in a tall flute

From the bar menu, the charcuterie board

But, hey, for two days in operation, it was a good show.  It’s a great bar and the rooftop lounge is getting raves, too.  But stay tuned, I’ll be back with more details very soon.
 

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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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