October 30, 2011

Dine out Maine: Fuel transports diners to heights of French country fare


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Fuel at 49 Lisbon St., Lewiston.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Owner Eric Agren holds a menu and the restaurant’s extensive international wine list at Fuel.


FUEL, 49 Lisbon St., Lewiston. 333-3835; fuelmaine.com


HOURS: 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The bar stays open one hour later. Closed Sunday and Monday


PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $5 to $10; entrees, $19 to $26; four-course tasting menu, $40. The bar menu includes soups, burgers and bacon-dusted frites, $6 to $12.


GLUTEN-FREE: Yes. Each plate is made to order. The kitchen can accommodate dietary needs.

KIDS: Welcome

RESERVATIONS: Highly recommended

BAR: Full. The international wine list of more than 150 bottles changes weekly, and includes a wide variety of prices. Twenty-five bottles under $25; 30 wines by the glass, starting at $5. The restaurant is a Wine Spectator award winner. Five beers on tap. Large spirits selection.


BOTTOM LINE: Fuel brings a stylish urban atmosphere, excellent French-inspired food, a strong wine list and upscale customer traffic to the small art galleries, converted mill spaces, an immigrant-owned shop and long-established businesses in an evolving downtown Lewiston. If you're a local who enjoys food, you know about this favorite. If not, gas up and head to Fuel for an evening of outstanding dishes served by skilled, unstuffy wait staff in a warm, fashionable space.

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 pastry in our tarte tatin dessert stuck together as a pliable unit rather than crackling and flaking, but the peaches and the melting ice cream with candied bacon were ambrosia indeed. A dark chocolate flourless cake was appropriately dense and light at once (both $8). Its house-made ice cream topping bore a tinge of salutary smokiness from the mixture's time spent cooling in an applewood smoker, an unusual step that subtly boosted the dessert's chocolate flavor.

A couple of minor points kept the overall dining experience at Fuel on a high, earthly plane. A kitchen helper brought out entrees before our appetizer plates were cleared, which momentarily turned us diners into dish jugglers. The Caesar salad ($6), fresh, piquant and classic, nevertheless needed a better balance of greens to drizzle (less of the latter). Desserts did not quite deliver heaven on a plate.

But all things considered, we experienced a dinner that ranks among the top few of my last six months as a restaurant critic.

Finally, a word about Fuel's economy. We had three appetizers, three glasses of wine, four entrees, two desserts and coffee for about $40 per person, excluding tip. For food of this quality, that's not bad, mesdames and monsieurs. Pas du tout. 

Nancy Heiser is a freelance writer.


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