August 27, 2013

Dine Out Maine: Porthole keeps gritty charm, offers something for everyone

By SHONNA MILLIKEN HUMPHREY

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20130816_DineOutME
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The Porthole’s massive waterside outdoor patio is terrific for beer on a hot afternoon (or Bloody Marys in the morning). While the food is decent, there seems to be a disconnection between diner expectation and delivery.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

DINING REVIEW

THE PORTHOLE, 20 Custom House Wharf, Portland. 773-4653; portholemaine.com

***

HOURS: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

PRICE RANGE: $4 to $21

BAR: Full

CREDIT CARDS: Yes.

VEGETARIAN: Limited, but seafood eaters will have expectations met.

RESERVATIONS: No

KIDS: High chair and booster seats were available.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes, but better to use the patio entrance.

BOTTOM LINE: The Porthole has cleaned up its act, and it remains a fun downtown fixture for both locals and tourists. Drinking a cold beer on the patio and listening to live music is a great way to spend a sunny afternoon, but the dining experience can be uneven. Food is generally well-executed and tasty, but the more foodie-inclined menu, pricing and presentation feels incongruous with many aspects of the space. Manage expectations, and you'll likely enjoy yourself.

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.

To be fair, the menu's sandwich list had burgers, both veggie and beef, as well as a tuna melt and crispy chicken cutlet. All served with fries and a half-sour pickle wedge. It's just that the sandwiches were above the bouillabaisse with tomato fennel broth and hanger steak with bearnaise and crispy shallots.

And, maybe that's the genius marketing technique? Bait with the familiar, and then switch to more complex preparations? Or, offer something for everyone? Maybe. I can own that possibility.

Salad offerings were uneven. Trav ordered the Porthole Wedge ($7) with three cool and fat iceberg wedges, cherry tomatoes, and house-made Gorgonzola dressing. Even with bacon lardons (again, not crumbles or bits), its retro sensibility fit The Porthole's space perfectly.

Sadly, my Smoked Seafood Salad ($12) was a mess of salt and unattractive presentation. Field greens were plopped with a muddle of smoked options -- mussels, scallops, shrimp. Nicoise olives and capers, too. I love, love, love briny flavor, but this was too much. Even the mellow fingerling potatoes, hard boiled eggs and cucumber yogurt dressing included in the awkward arrangement did little to temper the experience.

I can tell The Porthole is trying, and fair credit needs to be given. In fact, I gave great thought to this very criticism, thinking "Am I really criticizing a higher quality of food?" And no, that's not the issue. It's not the plastic cups, either. My criticism is the disconnection between diner expectation and delivery. If I am going to experience intricately flavored, higher-end food at a more expensive price point served on modern white china, I expect consistency, and at the very least, water from a glass.

I would return to The Porthole. Its massive waterfront deck is near-perfect for drinking. There's a commitment to live and local music. And, in a vacuum, the food is decent because the kitchen clearly understands technique. I would return, but next time, with expectations managed.

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

 

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