Saturday, March 8, 2014
It’s been a banner year for ambitious new restaurants in Greater Portland, especially those that opened in the last 6 months. But is it too much for our region to absorb so many exalted dining establishments so quickly? Maybe not. The frenzy of diners who populate these hotspots continues unabated. See for yourself how they're still doing.
The list I’ve assembled here includes notable establishments that have opened since September. That leaves out a few fine places like Hugo’s, Outliers, In’finiti and Enio’s (347 Cottage Rd., South Portland), which opened earlier in 2013.
Boone’s Fish House and Oyster Room. August, 2013. Yet another winner from powerhouse chef and restaurateur Harding Lee Smith, this dockside seafood establishment on the site of the famous Boone’s deserves every bit of high fives. Two favorite dishes: Johnny cakes with smoked trout and Kung pao dragon and phoenix (stir-fry chicken).
Boone's Kung pao dragon and phoenix stir fry
Elsmere Barbecue. August, 2013. The big difference between this and competing compatriot Salvage BBQ is that they’re in different towns. This South Portland barbecue joint has a lot going for it. Very good renditions of smoked meats and sides fill the bill easily here. Favorite dish: braised collards.
Empire Chinese. September, 2013. Is it so successful because the food is good or that it filled a much-needed niche delivering authentic Cantonese food and dim sum? Empire has won on both counts. One of my favorite restaurants in Portland. Favorite dish: spicy pork belly buns with pickled daikon and crispy shallots.
Empire's spicy pork-belly buns
Piccolo. September, 2013. When you have master chefs from New York—Damian Sansonetti and wife Ilma Lopez--who have made their home in Portland and opened up this great Italian trattoria, then our restaurant world is all the better for it. Go for great rustic fare highlighting the cooking of central and southern Italy. Favorite dish: lamb ragu over cavatelli.
The Dockside Grill. September, 2013. Formerly the Falmouth Sea Grill at Handy Boatyard, Dockside still enjoys the same setting as its predecessor; in fact, nothing inside has changed either. The kitchen shows promise and the waterfront setting is the best in our area. Favorite dish: roasted garlic and olive confit for the bread course.
The Dockside Grill's roasted garlic and olive confit
Salvage BBQ. September, 2013. Long in the works, Jay Villani’s third restaurant was a winner right out of the gate when it opened last fall. Excellent barbecue, great sides and a fun place. Favorite dish: smoked brisket.
Orchid Thai. October, 2013. This is the newest restaurant in the Pom chain of Thai restaurants and might very well be its best. It’s certainly the prettiest and exactly what restaurant-starved Falmouth needed. Favorite dish: Thai style curry sausage (Sai Auo).
Orchid Thai's curry sausage
Vinland. December, 2013. Perhaps the most innovative of all the new restaurant’s to have opened in Greater Portland, this is the brainchild of Chef David Levi who sends a very clear message: eat local—only. His cooking doesn’t include anything that’s not grown or produced in Maine. I think his concept has staying power. What’s wrong with local quality being the standard? Two favorite dishes: the Vinland Negroni and white turnip soup with yogurt and fermented carrot.
Vinland's white turnip soup with yogurt and fermented carrot
Top of the East and C-2 Squared. December, 2013. In the newly opened Westin Portland Harborview Hotel, the city’s only true luxury lodging facility (so far, that is), their two dining options are intriguing. Top of the East is a dazzler with the best views in the city and great drinks and bar food. I’m still uncertain about their lobby restaurant C-2 Squared, at which I had a light dinner when it first opened. Favorite dish (Top of the East): smoked swordfish with 3 sauces.
Top of the East's swordfish with 3 sauces
Miyake Diner. January, 2014. Anything Masa Miyake touches shows his golden touch. Miyake Fore Street and Pai Men Miyake are superb restaurants serving his stylish fusion Japanese cuisine. The diner is still a work in progress but off to an incredible start. Small plates once again, four to five are needed for big appetites. Favorite dish: curried vegetable dumpling.
Miyake Diner's curried vegetable bun
Central Provisions. February, 2014. Here’s another eatery that has had a lot of pre-opening press. Generally I have a hard time devising a satisfying meal from a menu of small plates. I’ve been twice, once for a drink and the other for dinner. The food was an incredible—a menu of first-rate, vaguely international fare. But I left hungry. I guess we needed to order 5 more plates to fill up completely. Favorite dish: pressed suckling pig.
Central Provision's pressed suckling pig
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.