September 24, 2013

Dine out Maine: Boone's builds on its history with finely prepared seafood

By SHONNA MILLIKEN HUMPHREY

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Boone’s Fish House & Oyster Room in Portland is the latest of restaurateur Harding Lee Smith’s “Rooms,” joining The Front Room, The Corner Room and The Grill Room.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

BOONE'S FISH & OYSTER HOUSE, 86 Commercial St., Portland. 774-5725; boonesfishhouse.com

****

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily

PRICE RANGE: $3.50 to market, with dinner entrees in the $20 to $35 range

BAR: Full bar

CREDIT CARDS: Yes

VEGETARIAN: Yes

RESERVATIONS: No

KIDS: No kid's menu

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

BOTTOM LINE: Boone's Fish House & Oyster Room is a great addition to Portland's list of seafood restaurant options. With (limited) on-site parking, two outside decks and a cavernous interior that manages to feel intimate despite its depth, this is the place to go for downtown seafood.

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.

Boone's version of retro-salad is the Iceberg Chopped. ($10) As described, this salad is chopped iceberg lettuce tossed with blue cheese, bacon, red onions, cucumbers, tomatoes in ample proportion with a rich homemade ranch dressing.

Those menu options felt like preliminary status though. I wanted to try the seafood, and the chalkboard fish is a rotating option that includes choice of house-made sauce: Bearnaise, Buerre Blanc, Sauce Vierge, Salsa Verde, Beer Butter, or Bacon Jam. (Sauce vierge. Mmm.)

While the six grilled sea scallops with Buerre Blanc were enormous with a robust woody flavor, the Fried Oysters won our table's "best in show." These fried oysters were priced at $21 for a 1/2 pint and a full pint for $25, so it made sense to order a mammoth brown bag full of them. While we got a hint of the preparation with the Oysters on Piggyback appetizer, nothing prepared us for the brown bag, neatly folded and tipped on its side with a massive show of lightly breaded oysters spilling out. Add a tartar sauce and spicy mayo, and we happily kept plucking and dunking.

Sides are a la carte and span from $2 to $5, including standards like fries and potato salad, as well as the more eclectic popovers, cheese grits, and rice-a-roni. (Get the popovers.)

I wanted to love the Carpet Bagger Steak ($26) because of its history. First appearing in 1898, the same year as Boone's, it's advertised as a wood grilled ribeye heart stuffed with oyster saute and served with parsleyed potatoes and farm vegetables. Sounds great, right? Steak can be tough to translate, and it's even tougher to execute. Mine was ordered medium, but I was warned that the kitchen can skew liberal in its interpretation. Not to worry, I said, I prefer a nice pink middle. What arrived was extraordinarily well-done. Tasty, but chewy. I'm glad I tried it, and the vegetables -- string beans and carrots -- although sort of safe and plain Jane, were cooked snappy and delicious, but my advice is to stick to the seafood at Boone's.

As a value proposition, Boone's offer a Shore Dinner that includes choice of lobster, steak, clams or chalkboard fish special. The shore dinner ranges from $35-$43, depending upon your choice, and includes fish chowder, biscuit, two sides and a piece of pie. If you are hungry, order this. It might be the best start-to-finish meal deal at this level of quality in town.

Pies on this night included blueberry and raspberry peach. Both with thick crusts, and both with just the right level of sweetness to allow the flavor of the fruit to shine.

Server Lily and manager Kathy checked in with us regularly and seemed genuinely interested in our experience. And I watched this happen all around us. Not hovering or obnoxious, but with little gestures that indicated "I want you to have a good time."

Given Smith's wide-ranging reputation, these good front-of-the-house hires are a positive step. My advice is go to Boone's for a low-key (I wouldn't call it casual, exactly) experience and finely prepared seafood. Order oysters or anything from the seafood family, and I doubt you'll be disappointed.

Shonna Milliken Humphrey is a Maine freelance writer and author of the novel "Show Me Good Land."

 

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