Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By John Golden
David’s 388 embodies the spirit of a great neighborhood restaurant. Nestled on the corner of Cottage Road and Pillsbury Street, near Willard Square in South Portland, it exudes the easy charm of a corner bistro.
Hostess Hannah Bechard shows off a foie gras medallion and duck breast over buttered toast with apricot conserve and citrus truffle micro greens, finished with duck fat honey, at David’s 388.
Photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer
David's 388 Restaurant in South Portland.
WHERE: 388 Cottage Road, South Portland. 347-7388; davids388.com
HOURS: 5 to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday and Sunday; 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
CREDIT CARDS: Yes
PRICE RANGE: $5 to $23
VEGETARIAN: Yes (a few choices)
GLUTEN-FREE: Yes (a few choices)
KIDS: Yes, welcome
BAR: Full bar
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes
BOTTOM LINE: Serving thoughtfully prepared American bistro fare handled with skill and intelligence, this engaging bistro has many standout dishes at prices that are very moderate for the high quality of the fare. For starters and first courses, the duck canapés are a favorite as are the crispy vegetable pot stickers and the beef tenderloin carpaccio with capers. All the entrees offered are excellent including the house-made pappardelle, rack of lamb, pan-seared salmon and a classic burger. A special burger is also offered topped with a medallion of seared Hudson Valley foie gras. Desserts are house-made, and don’t miss the lemon crème brulee or beignets with caramel sauce.
Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service and value: * Poor ** Fair *** Good **** Excellent ***** Extraordinary. The Maine Sunday Telegram visits an establishment twice if the first dining experience was unsatisfactory. The reviewer dines anonymously.
When, for example, you take your first bite of a dish like the duck canapés ($5) or the crispy goat cheese fritters with truffle oil and micro greens ($9) you’ll discover that those nibbles are just the beginning of more delectable food to come.
Originally home to Barbara’s Kitchen, a 10-seat restaurant known for its creative fare, Portland restaurateur and chef, David Turin (Opus 10, David’s Restaurant in Portland and KPT and Opus 10 in Kennebunkport), took over the space in 2007. Within a few years he was able to expand next door, and this very quaint cafe became a 40-seat dining establishment, which now rarely misses a beat in service, food and ambiance.
Turin and his longtime executive chef Bo Byrne oversee the operations of Turin’s Portland area restaurants. But in the case of 388, where Byrne presided in the kitchen until several years ago, the reins were handed over to his two young apprentice chefs, Dylan Leddy, 23, and Carlos Tirado, 28, who are now sous chef and chef de cuisine, respectively. They have essentially re-worked many of Turin’s and Byrne’s concepts into their own corner of culinary creativity.
The space is arranged in two dining rooms, one in the recent addition with comfortable banquettes and tables and the other in the original room, which is still so sweetly intimate.
My favorite spot is at the so-called chef’s table, a dining counter with four bar chairs that face the open kitchen. There you witness the cooking bravado of this dynamic duo preparing dish after dish of perfectly executed food.
The wait staff keeps up with the kitchen’s tempo, too, creating a level of teamwork that is well synchronized and ultimately creates such a fine dining experience.
When we arrived for our 7:15 reservation on a recent Monday night, the hostess said, “You must be Mr. So and So,” referring to a pseudonym under which I made the reservation. She knew without having to consult the reservation book to take us to our appointed spot at the chef’s table.
My guests had not been to 388 before so I recommended some of my favorite dishes enjoyed on past visits. We started with the aforementioned duck canapés and goat cheese fritters, which we voraciously wolfed down with our cocktails. The duck is arranged on crostini spread with a rich dollop of foie-gras butter and a riotously sweet topping of apricot conserve. The crispy fritters are another must-have. These are lusciously filled with cheese, fortified with truffle oil and accented with micro greens.
No one in our group was drinking wine that evening so we stayed with our well-made cocktails. The wine list, however, is a thoughtful compilation offering moderately priced wines both by the bottle and by the glass.
On to appetizers shared amongst us. We chose another favorite – crispy vegetable pot stickers with grilled Asian marinated beef in Peking sauce ($9). Like the essential dim-sum dumpling, these were very good as were another starter, the seared scallops wrapped in bacon and slathered with a splendid mixture of figs, foie-gras butter and apricot glaze ($9.75). For a light touch we also shared an arugula salad delightfully composed with black currants, Maytag blue cheese, red onions and spiced pecans ($9)
That night sous chef Leddy was cooking solo since chef Tirado was away on vacation. That he managed the whole operation with only the help of an assistant prep cook was amazing. Watching him prepare each dish with such attention to detail was impressive. We couldn’t help to ask, “What’s this and what’s that?” as each ravishing looking dish was plated and whisked away by the wait staff.
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