January 29, 2012

Dine Out Maine: On wine list and menu, Espo's Trattoria puts it all together


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At Espo’s Trattoria, 1335 Congress St., Portland, you’ll want to eat the marsala sauce with a spoon, our reviewer says.

Photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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1335 Congress St., Portland

774-7923 (no website, but there is a Facebook page)

*** 1/2 stars

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

BAR: Yes, full


PRICE RANGE: $2.99 to $21.99



KID-FRIENDLY: Kid’s menu


BOTTOM LINE: Espo’s Trattoria offers a traditional expectation of Italian favorites in a laid-back, comfortable atmosphere.  Portions are enormous, pricing is fair, and the wine list shows a native food pairing intelligence. Try the marsala sauce over spinach.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service and value: 

H Poor  HH Fair  HHH Good  HHHH Excellent  HHHHH Extraordinary.

The Maine Sunday Telegram visits an establishment twice if the first dining experience was unsatisfactory. The reviewer dines anonymously.

It was the same for the Chianti and the Montepulciano. These wines each struck a fabulous food-beverage balance. Taken separately, delicious. Put together? Heaven. (I also noted Vueve Clicquot's appearance on the wine list for $69. Not for this night, but definitely as a special-occasion treat.) Well done, Espo's!

The alfredo sauce for the linguine met a specific barometer:  As we lingered and chatted, the sauce stayed creamy with no sign of congeal or cornstarch-y flavor as it cooled. The shrimp was not native to Maine, but it tasted firm and not overcooked. 

The meat lasagne portion could feed three, and in addition to its four cheeses, included ground sirloin, sausage and pepperoni -- I swear it weighed several pounds when hefted across the table.

The star of the evening, however, was the Chicken Marsala.  In the world of Italian eateries, there is marsala sauce, and then there is the sweet, ambrosia-like substance that reflects all the subtle texture and layers of a good Marsala wine at Espo's. If that description reads a bit precious, it's because the sauce was that good. Honest.  We were eating the sauce with spoons.

For carb watchers, there is the option to have that marsala sauce served over a choice of chopped spinach instead of pasta. (If you can't decide, Espo's has no problem with a half-serving each.) Marsala sauce over chopped, steamed spinach? It was a delicious twist on a steakhouse-style favorite. Try it. The spinach is frozen and steamed, as is the non-native shrimp. Do not let this worry you. It tastes good.

My friends and I met up in the comfortable dining room, were seated quickly on a Wednesday night, and spent a few lovely hours talking careers, wedding plans, travel and relationships. 

Server Briana kept us fed, offered suggestions and encouraged us to linger. We never once felt rushed, the food was a delicious experience, and the setting was conducive to quiet conversation.

While the menu may raise debate among native-born Italians, I promise that Espo's is an authentic good time.

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


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