November 3, 2013

Dine Out Maine: Food fan tucks in his napkin, hoists his fork and prepares to dish

By John Golden

(Continued from page 1)

I asked the waitress what kind of gnocchi these were supposed to be? (Potato? Ricotta?) She looked at me queerly, shrugged her shoulders and said, “Regular, I think.”

What’s new about the American dining scene is that we finally have a native cuisine. Gone are the usual facsimiles of French, Italian or continental cooking that dominated the top-tier establishments of the past.

Instead, today it’s all about American bistro cooking. It’s a broad term, with regional differences, but it pretty much defines every new restaurant, other than ethnic, that strives to be the next American bistro wunderkind. In Portland, Five Fifty-Five, Hugo’s, Fore Street, Back Bay Grill, Outliers, In’finiti and Caiola’s typify the genre.

Added to the mix is “fusion,” where the chef humorously or seriously fusses with elements of other cuisines. It can be very appealing.

Of those local establishments that pull it off, Hugo’s affects an America fusion sensibility superbly, as does the remarkable Masa Miyake with his Japanese fusion repertoire.

This regional take on cuisine is basically the new dining mantra in America that has produced outstanding restaurants all over the country. San Francisco, for example, is a great restaurant city where it’s all about American cooking. The Maine dining scene is often likened to the culinary goings-on in the Northwest. And formidable Maine chefs like Brian Hill (Francine, Shepherd’s Pie), Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier (MC Perkins Cove, Arrows), Melissa Kelly (Primo), Sam Hayward (Fore Street) and Steve Corry (Five Fifty-Five) maintain that high standard. They all rely on the bounty of local ingredients within the artisanal sphere of an American vernacular.

Ultimately what will be fun to track are the rising stars and dining establishments ripe for discovery. And you’ll read about them here.

John Golden, who lives in Portland, writes about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for local and national publications.

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