SOUTH PORTLAND – A longtime favorite brunch spot, Snow Squall Restaurant reopened after a four- or five-year hiatus last fall in its newly renovated former space. Count on good pork loin with super-sweet, spiced apple compote, or nicely cooked salmon on creamy quinoa.

Crispy shrimp ravioli is also on the menu, though why it’s there is a mystery. The bowl full of spinach swimming in sweet liquid under the fried pasta with only the most evanescent scent of shrimp failed to work any magic.

On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with the perfectly acceptable hanger steak — aside from a lack of that cut’s signature, livery flavor — on a heap of presentable mashed potatoes.

Pale green walls intersect exposed brick and windows that look across a parking lot toward the waterfront of South Portland. A gas fireplace in the middle of a lower dining area would make a lovely focal point, in the somewhat bare space, if it were on. The host kindly offered to turn it on, but a thermostat overrides the flames and for the most part keeps the fire off. Black spindle-backed chairs and the blond, smooth hard-wood floor are responsible for some surrounding sophistication.

An interesting wine list of 12 wines, all by the glass, includes Sagelands Riesling ($7), a clean and refreshing white from Washington state, and Chilean Porta Reserve Sauvignon Blanc ($9) with a pretty nose of tropical fruit and hint of honey. Albet I Noya Tempranillo ($9), an organic red wine from Spain, held dark fruit in perfect balance. A Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon blend, Carpineto Dogajolo ($7) from Italy, was bright and lively.

A bowl of jambalaya ($6) was the queen of two meals at Snow Squall, its pure flavors of seafood, chicken and sausage mildly elevated with spice, and all its parts mingling together in a thick, light-colored stew that couldn’t have been better.

But a cup of ”pepperonata” ($9) made of diced red pepper, olives and capers was drowning in oversweet hot, pungent balsamic vinegar that didn’t allow the sweet red peppers to get a word in edgewise. Even the capers were shouted out. Long pieces of tender focaccia, with grill marks providing a bit of crispness, were better on their own than as platforms for this appetizer.

Crab cakes ($14) proved even less appealing, their contents bland and flavorless with an almost pasty texture amid bits of pimento and some kind of binder. The exterior was crisp, and a creamy dressing made the accompanying mesclun greens good. Alert staffers noted that though I’d demolished one of the crab cakes, the other lay untouched, and volunteered to take half the price off the bill.

Indeed the service and attention was first rate on both visits, though very different. The enthusiasm of one server who liked the word ”beautiful” far outshone that of another, a server whose talents lay in discretion and unobtrusiveness.

Chef’s salad ($13) is a changing special. One night’s version held grilled chicken, goat cheese balls rolled in chopped pecans, mesclun and roasted beets — the yellow beets were particularly full of sweet flavor — on a big plate.

Back to those shrimp ravioli ($21), the browned oily surface of the fried ravioli seemed to predominate among the flavors, until you retrieved a leaf of spinach from the deep bowl of sweet, sharp vinaigrette made with diluted Marsala wine. Instead of an accent, the sauce swamped the meal.

Broccoli as plain as day stood alongside the peppery, thin hanger steak, which was cooked perfectly rare, as requested. Light, fluffy sweet potato puree billowed underneath two slices of brined, browned pork loin ($20) trimmed of all fat. Slices of zucchini sautéed in a herby oil made a better vegetable side than the bare broccoli.

The quinoa pilaf with the seared salmon ($22) tasted creamy and just right with the intense bits of browned salmon and excellent sauteed spinach. The fish is marinated with sake, and dressed with miso vinaigrette. Fried strips of wonton noodles lay scattered across the top, adding crunch.

Snow Squall makes its own apple crisp ($6), which had the virtue of tender apples, here chopped small and capped by a slightly crunchy oat topping that would have been better actually crisp. The tart flavor of the apple met its classic match next to melting, creamy vanilla ice cream. Peanut butter cheesecake ($6) topped with chocolate ganache and set on a crunchy, sugary and buttery graham cracker crust packed a lot of richness into its small size.

Pecan pie, made at Portland’s Katie Made Bakery, was terrific, the nuts deeply roasted and the sticky, not-too-sweet filling enrobing those crisp nuts with caramel.

Passable coffee was prettied up with cream from adorable white china pitchers shaped like a cow, a duck and a pig.

N.L. English is a Portland freelance writer and the author of ”Chow Maine: The Best Restaurants, Cafes, Lobster Shacks and Markets on the Coast.” Visit English’s Web site,


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