April 8, 2013

Dine Out Maine: David's Opus Ten creates a saga of culinary indulgence


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David’s Opus Ten features a dining area that has a few awkward seating spots, but that’s a minor detraction for a restaurant with an excellent fixed-price menu.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Owner David Turin and chef Bo Byrne get the details right, and there is much to love in this tucked-away spot.



22 Monument Square, Portland. 773-4340; davidsopus10.com


HOURS: Fixed price menu at 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday: $55 for seven courses Tuesday to Thursday; $65 for nine courses Friday and Saturday. Optional wine pairings, $35 weekdays; $45 weekends.

BAR: Full bar


VEGETARIAN, GLUTEN-FREE: Yes, if noted at time of reservation with a 48-hour notice.

KIDS: No children's menu

RESERVATIONS: Strongly encouraged


BOTTOM LINE: For a special occasion or for diners who have a few hours to savor and linger, this concept piece of a restaurant within a restaurant flexes its way (rightly so) into Portland's fine dining scene. Owner David Turin and chef Bo Byrne get the details right, and there is much to love in this tucked-away spot.

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.

The first course, a Morel and exotic mushroom gratin with a Madeira cream shooter, was served as a pair. A flaky gratin covered with earthy mushrooms was tempered by a demitasse of foam-topped soup.

Course two brought a piece of butter-poached lobster balanced on a crispy risotto cake in the center of two micro-green bunches dressed with citrus truffle flavor. This dish, one of the menu's lightest (and, I'd wager, simplest) preparations, was also my favorite. While lobster can be tricky, this dish's risotto cake and micro-greens showed balance in texture and a cohesive sort of flavor variety.

I loved it.

A seared scallop arrived next with a taste of bowfin caviar wrapped in a dainty cone of smoked salmon. This dish ranked among my favorites too, most especially for the novelty of the delicately sliced smoked salmon filled with the tiniest caviar. The kitchen hyper-focuses on detail with these elegant touches.

The first courses were dairy and butter, so what next? More butter? This time, with bacon? OK! Next came orecchiette with brown butter, a softly shirred quail egg and three matchsticks of pepper bacon, all swimming in a brown butter nage. Delicious -- but four courses of butter and cream is heavy, so by the time the lemon raspberry sorbet arrived with frozen basil-infused vodka (poured liberally at the table), I was ready for the palate cleanser.

Palate cleansed and halftime breather taken, the next course featured quail again, but this time grilled, not ovum, and presented beside a foie gras medallion and buttered toast with cranberry-pear gastrique.

Course number seven was lamb saddle and lamb presse, a thick coin of meat beside a pressed lamb portion. A touch of sweet potato and kale braise lightened the dish, but the undisputed star was the impossibly flavorful reduction sauce.

Course eight and Restaurant Week Signature Event winner were Feuilletage "beignets," with peppered strawberry and Grand Marnier creme Chantilly. Having never paired pepper with strawberry, this was a new taste for me, and I recommend it. Four spoon-sized puffs of fried mini doughnut in a sweet-hot strawberry sauce with black pepper made for a terrific and not-too-sweet dessert.

Usually, Trav and I tussle over the chocolate course, but by meal's end, we were spent. The Horchata and chocolate truffles, the chocolate and caramel nut bark, and the pecan, orange and cranberry sandy sat unclaimed for a few moments while we caught our breath and requested coffee and tea.

Once refreshed with caffeine (both coffee and tea served in a press at the table), our interest in dessert also refreshed, and the three final tastes made for a lovely conclusion.

So often, fine dining seems pretentious -- a race to create food that feels less like eating and more like performance art. Food should nourish. Food should taste good.

And, in this writer's opinion, food should be accessible. Teach me something new, show me a different flavor (like Horchata's slightly almond taste or the strawberry-pepper combination) -- but give it an organizing principle, so the experience feels cohesive.

Even when the organizing principle seems like dairy and butter, the David's Opus 10 kitchen shows latitude and imaginative scope. Most important, the staff is friendly, and the food tastes good. For a special night out or a night of epic food-focus, I recommend David's Opus Ten.

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


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