November 18, 2012

Dine Out Maine: Go west to 91 South to be wined and dined to perfection

By SHONNA MILLIKEN HUMPHREY

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In the kitchen at 91 South in Gorham, chef Noah Gaston applies the flame to a Greek cheese appetizer called saganaki.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

DINING REVIEW

91 SOUTH AT PINE CREST INN

91 South St., Gorham

839-2495; pinecrestmaine.com

****1/2

HOURS: 5:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday to Saturday

PRICE RANGE: $6 to $28

BAR: Full bar and impressive cellar with 65 wines, each bottle priced no more than $10 above retail cost

CREDIT CARDS: All major

KIDS: No children's menu

VEGETARIAN: Yes

GLUTEN-FREE: Yes

RESERVATIONS: Expected

BOTTOM LINE: For a customized, private, romantic (or just friendly) evening, 91 South at the Pine Crest Inn showcases chef Noah Gaston's thoughtfully prepared and delicately presented creations. With wine bottles priced no more than $10 over retail cost, the wine club concept feels like a locals-only secret -- friendly and unfussy, with extraordinarily well-attuned food.

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.

Between the wine, the food and the spirited conversation, when the entrees arrived, it was a bit of a surprise. More food? Already? By this time, three additional gentlemen had joined Angelo at the bar, and they were a gregarious mix -- all ready to talk travel, politics, wine and fine dining.

I ordered the Moonfish ($22), which is one of a half-dozen names for the humble cusk. In this case, the Moonfish was pan seared and not, as my husband did a good job of lying to me, a subset of cusk that feed each night by the light of the moon. With a meaty texture -- think scallops more than a flaky haddock -- this Moonfish was served on top of tiny braised beluga lentils, roasted cauliflower and sunchoke puree with a chorizo cream sauce.

When Matt asked how Travis preferred his Louisiana Shrimp Etouffee ($19, add a lobster for $14 additional) -- Maine-style or authentic -- Trav resisted the urge to request the hottest possible heat level and instead deferred, "the way the chef thinks it tastes best."

Billed as a shrimp, scallions and vegetable trinity in a rich Cajun sauce, Gaston's subtle layers of flavor and heat could convince Louisiana enthusiasts that it was, in fact, a bayou moon shining over Gorham's Main Street.

Even though Matt said he has been in operation for six to seven years, I hesitated before writing about 91 South, knowing that once diners are reminded about this fabulous location just a short drive from Portland (with plenty of parking), any future Thursday nights (and I plan to have many) might be far less intimate.

But, food lovers must try this wine club dining room because, in addition to feeling like a locals-only secret, it offers a mix of cozy and cultured, quaint and quality, and extraordinarily well-prepared food.

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

 

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