November 20, 2011

Dine Out Maine: Top of the East worth a visit for those drinks and that view

By SHONNA MILLIKEN HUMPHREY

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

One of the best parts of the Top of the East restaurant at the Eastland Park Hotel in Portland is its sweeping view of the city. In this photo, cars pass through Congress Square.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

DINING REVIEW

TOP OF THE EAST AT THE EASTLAND PARK HOTEL, 157 High St., Portland, 775-5411; eastlandparkhotel.com

***

HOURS: Open for dinner 5 p.m. to midnight Sunday to Thursday and 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday (food served until 10 p.m.)

VEGETARIAN: Yes, but limited

GLUTEN-FREE: Yes

CREDIT CARDS: Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express

PRICE RANGE: $6 to $33

BAR: Full, with specialty cocktails, wine and spirits ranging from $6 to $295

KIDS: Not especially kid-friendly in the evening

RESERVATIONS: No

PARKING: Ample street parking. Garage nearby.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: No

BOTTOM LINE: Go to the Top of the East for elegant cocktails while you can, before its planned two years of renovations. The ambience and service are outstanding, as is the extensive drink menu. Enjoy a holiday cocktail or glass of wine with the hands-down best view in Portland, either to begin or end an evening. The Top of the East does beverages and service exceptionally well.

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.

In the apple and walnut variety, the crisp Granny Smith slices tasted appropriately tart against the walnuts, but the tomatoes were colorless and hard. The sweet strawberries in the spinach were a nice contrast to the salad's sharp feta cheese, and the grape tomatoes provided a pleasant acidity, but the dressing tasted suspiciously like the Newman's Own I keep in my refrigerator.

Then came the Pan Fried Lobster Cakes with Lemon Aoli ($12) -- five nuggets of soggy breading, slightly burnt, with no hint of lobster flavor and served on a too-large plate that only emphasized the dish's inadequacies. The lemon aioli was a squirt of mayonnaise and wedge of lemon.

On the other hand, the Scallops Wrapped in Bacon ($12) were lovely. The six sea scallops were tender and substantial, and the thick-cut bacon achieved the hard-to-attain balance of crisp and chewy. They were served with the same interpretation of lemon aioli -- mayonnaise with a lemon wedge -- and as I dragged a scallop through the mayonnaise, I wondered if my love of the bacon scallops was legitimate or if they just looked good against the presence of other, underwhelming choices.

This is when I accidentally knocked over that glass of cabernet. I shattered the glass and splashed red wine across everything: The table, my coat, the chair and the floor. It was a spectacular explosion, and while I was mortified at the time, in retrospect, I am glad.

This is when the excellent service really showed. The server was at the table in an instant, picking up the broken glass and doing a great job of making me feel better. "Not a big deal," he said, asking if I was OK.

As I toasted my clumsiness with the epic dirty martini still being savored, I noted incongruities not immediately apparent upon arrival. The menu -- I was given one that included both lunch and dinner items -- was worn. There was an apologetic lack of pomegranate juice for a Pomegranate Martini ($12). The presentations were tired. Some of the food was overcooked.

Nothing was exactly unpleasant, just incongruous upon close inspection.

The wonderful server recommended the cheesecake ($7) for dessert, and it was tasty. Creamy with hints of vanilla on a graham cracker crust, served with a few wild splashes of raspberry syrup. The Chocolate Cake ($7) was tasty, too, heavy and rich -- served on the same splashes of raspberry syrup.

Honestly? None of the food was terrible. It was fine. But for the price? When you have an iconic and panoramic view of Portland's night skyline and your hair is fixed up in celebration mode? I wanted more.

The Top of the East is an immediately impressive locale, visually. The service from the staff, even during glass-shattering clumsiness, was top-notch. The mixed drinks were heavenly, the wine list is respectable, and the coffee is good. Top of the East does beverages and service exceptionally well.

Shonna Milliken Humphrey is a freelance writer.

 

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