December 2, 2013

Dine Out Maine: Scale Katahdin for good food and Winnie's world-class libations

Katahdin Restaurant Wood Fire Grill & Bar is a Portland pre- and post-theater dining spot.

By John Golden

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Winnie Moody is the brains behind the bar at Katahdin, where she has reigned as one of Portland’s best-known mixologists for 15 years.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Located next door to Portland Stage Company, Katahdin is thronged with theater goers on show nights.

Katahdin Restaurant Wood Fire Grill & Bar

***

WHERE: 27 Forest Ave., Portland. 774-1740; katahdinrestaurant.com

HOURS: Dinner 5 to 11 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday (often reserved for special events on Tuesdays)

CREDIT CARDS: Yes

PRICE RANGE: First courses, $6.95 to $13.50; entrees, $14 to $24.75; desserts, $7 to $9

VEGETARIAN: Yes (a few choices)

GLUTEN-FREE: Yes (a few choices)

KIDS: Yes, welcome

RESERVATIONS: Yes

BAR: Full bar

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

BOTTOM LINE: This is Portland’s premier pre-theater restaurant, where wood-oven-grilled and roasted fare is featured. Standout preparations include house-baked focaccia, butternut squash tart, steak frites, salmon, pork tenderloin and pasta. Desserts change but include wonderful home-made ice cream and a rich bread pudding. It’s also a popular destination for post-theater cocktails, supper and dessert.

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.

The wine list is not extensive but has the usual choices at reasonable prices from West Coast vineyards, Italy and Argentina.

Another trifling issue for me was the difference between the menu posted online and the printed one presented at table. Online, the menu shows such enticing starters as wood-oven baked pizzetta and raw bar selections like salmon tartare, fried oysters and Ceviche as well as squid with lime and sea salt and soup and salad offerings. As for entrees it shows preparations from the wood grill that include rib-eye and frites, grilled pork chop, Pacific salmon with morels and a sirloin burger. Several enticing fish selections cooked in a cast-iron skillet complete the online list.

The real menu was a wholly different, minimalist version. Starters included steamed shrimp dumplings ($12), butternut squash tart ($10.50), baked Maine crab pot ($13.50) and soup ($6.95, cup) and salad ($9.25).

Entrees offered that evening were (hanger) steak frites ($24.75), pork tenderloin ($23.50), chicken fettuccine ($23.50) and a sirloin burger ($14). Our waiter informed us that the kitchen was already out of the one fish entrée on the menu.

This, of course, was what my guest would have ordered. Disappointed, he opted for two appetizers – the dumplings and the crab boil.

The dumplings were tasty, but better versions are available at Asian restaurants around town. The crab pot was a fondue of goat cheese and crab meat, which left my guest unimpressed.

My meal began with the butternut squash tart and an entrée of pork tenderloin with sweet potato mash.

The tart was essentially a quiche enriched with squash. The tenderloin was extremely tender but lacked the luster of a burnished crust that you’d expect from it being cooked on a wood-burning grill. The puree of sweet potatoes and apple, onion and bacon chutney was a delectable combination.

For dessert we shared a cup of house-made espresso ice cream with a chocolate chip cookie. The ice cream was densely creamy and the accompanying cookie added just the right crunch and sweetness.

On my second visit, dining at the bar was admittedly more enjoyable than the experience upstairs. The space is clubby and intimate, and this time the kitchen did not run out of fish – a delicious fillet of salmon served over polenta and drizzled with a citrus dressing.

While Katahdin doesn’t aspire to compare with the trendier places in town, it’s definitely a good choice for a pre-theater meal and offers a sophisticated setting for solid dining downtown.

John Golden, who lives in Portland, writes about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for local and national publications. He can be reached at: jdgmaine@gmail.com

 

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