January 12

Dine Out Maine: 20 Milk Street quiet, comfortable and satisfying

Steaks and chops top the list of well-prepared American bistro-style offerings.

By John Golden

Housed off the lobby of the Portland Regency, the hotel’s restaurant, 20 Milk Street, has been open since 2004, under the able direction of chef Alan Cook. The dining room is a congenial, attractive space with cushy club chairs around comfortable tables that are spaced nicely apart.

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Twenty Milk Street, the restaurant of the Portland Regency, offers well-prepared, American bistro-style fare, and a very civilized room in which to enjoy it – a nice change from the high-decibel hangouts that seem all the rage.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

20 Milk Street

***

WHERE: 20 Milk St., Portland. 774-4200; theregency.com/restaurant

HOURS: Breakfast 6:30 to 11 a.m. Monday to Friday, 7 to 11 a.m. Saturday; lunch 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday to Friday; Sunday brunch 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.; dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

CREDIT CARDS: Yes

PRICE RANGE: Dinner, $6 to $36

VEGETARIAN: Yes (a few choices)

GLUTEN-FREE: No

KIDS: Yes, welcome

RESERVATIONS: Yes (recommended)

BAR: Full bar

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

BOTTOM LINE: For solid steak-house, American bistro-style fare, the kitchen excels with simple yet well-prepared dishes. Their unique stone-heated bread basket holds a delicious house-made cranberry wheat bread. The lobster stew is classic, and steaks and chops are simply prepared in the Continental style. Fillet of beef from heritage Piedmontese beef is highly prized, as are grilled local lamb chops and Kurobuta heritage pork chops. Desserts are house-made, and the wine list is well represented with bottlings from the major wine-producing regions. Also worth noting: Valet parking is offered free to dining room patrons, a handy amenity this winter when parking in the Old Port is hampered by ice- and snow-covered streets.

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.

In the realm of Portland dining, this has always been a very civilized room in which to dine, serving well-prepared American bistro-style fare with a concentration on steaks and chops. It offers a nice change from the high-decibel hipster hangouts that usually get all the attention.

With a guest in tow, on our first visit we ordered from the prix fixe menu, a good deal with three courses for $24.95 per person. The fixed menu, though, is limited. Starters included a garden salad, soup du jour and a Caesar salad, which was what we both ordered. The dressing of egg, anchovies and Parmesan was well prepared – a classic Caesar. For entrees there was an excellent grilled heritage Kurobuta pork chop served over a stuffing of house-smoked ham, apple and sage. My guest enjoyed an entrée of sautéed chicken breast over house-made fettuccine with butternut squash and chicken confit moistened with a Chablis sauce.

Other options were cedar- planked haddock and potato gnocchi. On previous visits, these two dishes were less successful. The gnocchi were buried under a sauce of spinach and butternut squash and the fish was overcooked and dry.

Dessert is limited to a selection of house-made ice creams. On this visit we passed on the sweet course.

On our second occasion, the aim was to investigate the more diverse offerings from the regular menu. My same guest eagerly joined me again because the previous dinner was a good experience, even from the limited fixed menu.

This time, an intriguing appetizer of tater tots with duck confit sounded too good to pass up, and we ordered it to accompany our cocktails. This, however, was not a successful preparation, and we couldn’t figure out the point of it. Somewhere within this messy configuration of potato balls lurked the duck confit, overwhelmed by a cheese topping that was slightly burnt. Maybe an inexperienced kitchen’s assistant was responsible for mangling this dish, because it wasn’t typical of Chef Cook’s otherwise competent skills.

The good graces of our meal resumed, however, with our starter courses. Very satisfying was a cup of the lobster stew ($9) classically prepared: A creamy, rich sherry-laced soup base held copious amounts of lobster meat. As a Maine staple, this rendition was very good and a great starter to have on a wintry night.

My guest ordered what’s described on the menu as “our famous crab cakes ($12).” These definitely deserved the tribute. With a delicious, crispy outer coating of bread crumbs, they’re gently sautéed and filled with well-seasoned crab meat. This, too, as a steakhouse classic, was well handled by the kitchen.

What also deserves mention is the restaurant’s wonderful house-made cranberry wheat bread, which is brought to table soon after you’re seated. It’s presented in a cloth-napkin-lined basket set over heated stones to keep the bread warm. This detail has been practiced ever since the restaurant opened, and it’s a nice touch.

The entrée choices cover all the bases. At $36, the most expensive item on the menu is the charbroiled Piedmontese fillet of beef, from a heritage breed raised on a farm in Falmouth. It’s a rich dish, which has been enjoyed on previous occasions. The fillet is wrapped in the restaurant’s house-smoked bacon and enriched with Maytag blue cheese and a Bordelaise sauce. This is a delectable cut of heirloom beef that’s well worth the high tariff. Included is a side dish of the chef’s potato gratin, a very praiseworthy rendition that’s rich with butter, milk and cheese.

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