Monday, March 10, 2014
By SHONNA MILIKEN HUMPHREY
Imagine a swank city cocktail lounge with ambient sparkle, subtle jazz standards, unusually shaped furniture, metrosexual men, and women with long legs wearing vertigo heels leaning against a blue-lighted bar. Now imagine this type of upscale lounge within easy Old Port walking distance.
The newly opened Spread has a large space separated into pockets of use: Banquette-style seating, two-tops and funky lounge furniture. The unique gallery-like space works for small- to medium-sized private parties, as well as intimate diners.
John Patriquin / Staff Photographer
SPREAD, 100 Commercial St., Portland. 828-8233
HOURS: 4 to 11 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 4 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday
BAR: Full, with signature cocktails
CREDIT CARDS: All major
PRICE RANGE: $3 to $19, with market-price seafood items
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes
BOTTOM LINE: If you want to see and be seen, Spread is the space. With an upscale menu, chic signature cocktails and urban lounge decor, Spread is as contemporary as Maine gets.
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.
Seem weird? I thought so too, but if you ever wonder where Portland's pretty people go to party like grown-ups, Spread is such a place.
Spread, from Fuji chef and Korean artist John Hur, brings urban couture to Portland. The large space separates into pockets of use: Banquette-style seating, two-tops and a funky sequence of lounge furniture. The unique gallery-like space works for small- to medium-sized private parties as well as intimate dinners. Every surface seems to twinkle, and the venue itself invites style.
I generally hesitate to comment on brand-new restaurants, given the inevitable growing pains as a space settles into its identity. But when established restaurateurs expand into a venture that fills a distinct niche for Portland's art-loving gastro-culture, I look past small server gaffes and menu typos and try to gauge the experience with a kind of golfer's handicap.
Signature cocktails cost $9, and when crafted by the Spread bartender's intelligent hands, value shines. A 100 Commercial, with rosemary-infused Hendrick's gin, muddled strawberry and basil, is as fun to hold in its posh glass as it is to sip.
If your palate prefers a bite, try the Loco Paco, a fiery cocktail with Double Cross vodka (a Slovakian luxury vodka, no lie -- distilled in the Tatra mountains), blood orange puree and jalapeno. For a minimalist experience, Patron was generously poured over ice into a salt-rimmed glass.
While I did not taste the wines, I was very much attracted to the backlit wall display that fashioned the bottles themselves into art. And the actual wall art? Those are original paintings by John Hur himself.
The menu divides into three categories: Spreads, small plates and large plates. Think of the menu as less about dinner and more about nibbling while you see and allow yourself to be seen. (Take note: You will want to dress smartly.)
From the "spread" portion of the menu, the Smoked Trout ($8), served with capers, dill and creme fraiche alongside a bowl of toast points, delivered a refined introduction to the dining experience, but the Pommes Frites Gremolata with Garlic Aoili ($4) provided the most exciting moment of the meal.
From the long list of intricate, fusion-inspired items, the $4 fries impressed me most, and the Gremolata -- a combination of lemon zest, parsley, garlic and olive oil sprinkled over impossibly crisp gourmet fried potatoes ready to be dipped in the house-made garlic aoli -- had my most Yankee sensibilities wondering how this dish could only cost $4.
Large plate choices included Bang Island Mussels ($15) and Pan Seared Rockfish ($18). Regular readers know I will travel far for good mussels, so when Spread advertised theirs served with housed-cured bacon, leeks and mustard, I became ridiculously excited.
However, the Spread mussels experience turned uneven. The first night I tasted them, these mussels transcended any concept I ever held about mussels. Impossibly plump and tender, the bowlful of mussels had been cooked with thick matchsticks of lean bacon and a mustard sauce that balanced happily between sweet and savory. The dish was so unusually tasty, I talked it up and up to my husband.
When I returned with him to point triumphantly at the best mussels in the history of all things mussel, the order arrived just OK. Gone were the thick pieces of bacon, replaced with smaller and thinner bits, and the sauce was sort of bland. Not bad at all, but certainly not life-changing. Try them, though; they are tasty.
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