March 6, 2013

Soup to Nuts: Maine food experts dish about their restaurant favorites

We asked chefs, food writers and bloggers to weigh in on their favorite dishes from the past year. Their answers enlighten and, in some cases, surprise.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

This week, in honor of Maine Restaurant Week, I asked local chefs, food writers and food bloggers to name the best dish they've had in a Maine restaurant over the past year.

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Jeff Buerhaus, chef/owner of Walter’s in Portland, credits the pho from Saigon in Portland with healing his flu-ravaged staff. “Delicious, and got us back on our feet.”

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Shannon Bard, chef/owner of Zapoteca Restaurante Y Tequileria in Portland, loves the fried oyster bun at Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland. “The taste combination was comforting and completely unexpected.”

Photo by Douglas Merriam

Some of them couldn't resist waxing poetic about an entire meal. Others cheated a little and named two dishes.

That's OK with me. The idea was to provide you with a snapshot of some of the best dishes in Maine, as named by chefs and folks who dine out regularly. (The restaurants did not have to be participating in Maine Restaurant Week.)

I hope this list will give you some ideas about where to dine next, whether it's during Restaurant Week or in the weeks to come.

Cheryl Lewis, executive chef at El Rayo Taqueria, Portland: It's hard to come up with just one because there is so much talent in Maine. It's clear that you can always trust the complex combinations from the chefs at Pai Men Miyake. The black tsuke is my favorite. When the bowl comes with a black pool of squid ink to drag my noodles through, I'm still always surprised by the seductiveness of the dish. It's not for the faint of heart, but I guarantee that once you've tried it, you'll have to order it again and again, as I do.

Lee Farrington, chef/owner, Figa, Portland: I dined at Opus Ten last week and was completely blown away by the entire experience. First course was a morel and hedgehog mushroom gratin with a Madeira mushroom cream shooter amazing!

 Leslie Oster, Aurora Provisions, Portland: The best bite I've had in a restaurant this year, so far, is the day boat scallop shooter at Boda ... sublimely simple, lime juice, a dash of heat and fried shallots. Perfection!

Michael Sanders, food writer and author of "Fresh from Maine: Recipes and Stories from the State's Best Chefs," Brunswick: Toss-up: The charred octopus app with peppers, onions and a simple sauce with lemon, hot pepper and herbs from Trattoria Athena in Brunswick, and a lush plate of braised black Russian kale with that silken soft-boiled egg, crispy pancetta and tangy kombu butter from Bresca in Portland.

Shannon Bard, chef/owner, Zapoteca Restaurante Y Tequileria, Portland: When thinking about the most memorable dish I've had this year, the first thing that comes to mind is the fried oyster bun at Eventide. The taste combination was comforting and completely unexpected. Fried oysters are not something I would typically order, but this dish was so good, I actually crave it and recommend it to everyone.

Michael Cain, Map & Menu food blogger with Meredith Perdue, Portland: This year, Meredith and I have recently moved Vignola Cinque Terre to the top of our Portland brunch list. The atmosphere is fantastic and every item on the menu is spot-on, but the poached eggs with an herb hollandaise, grilled speck and a tomato conserva on toast is quite simply one of the tastiest and most picturesque brunch dishes around.

Melissa Kelly, chef/owner, Primo, Rockland: Have to say Chase's Daily (Belfast) tacos. Always good. Feel good after I eat them too!

Kathy Gunst, food writer, author of "Notes from a Maine Kitchen": I would have to say there are two meals that really shout out:

The first was at Carmen at the Danforth in Portland. I was blown away by chef Carmen Gonzalez's light touch with a cuisine that is famous/infamous for being heavy and greasy. Her bacaloa fritters (salt cod) are light and airy and addictive. The pulled pork with a rum BBQ sauce, green mango slaw served on crispy plantains is the kind of dish that hits every note just right: Crispy, crunchy, meaty, sweet, spicy. A warm roasted beet salad sounded pedestrian, but was an explosion of flavor served with crispy bacon, escarole and Cabrales cheese. And then there were the perfectly cooked local scallops on top of a boniato mash (a tropical, Latin sweet potato) with the just-right spice of the criolla sauce.

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