Blue awnings stretch invitingly over the brick and cobblestone sidewalk at 15 Exchange Grille, the spot where Walter’s restaurant used to be. Step inside to a long, narrow room with a bar and high tables.

There is one customer downstairs on a warm and clear Friday night in late April. We are seated upstairs, in the dining room, next to a bay window. From here, we witness Old Port activity below – a busker with his guitar, shoppers, couples, skateboarders, the annual Take-Back-the-Night march. It’s a moving picture show. This spot, the best in the house, wasn’t hard to achieve. At 6:30 p.m., we are the only diners. And we will be for most of the evening.

When a friend and I return three weeks later, we are seated at the same raised table. A tree now partially shields our view of the street below. The blooming canopy is lovely in its own right, but it will feel peculiar to be the only customers in this room all evening again. Sometimes, you just want a sense of community.

Our appetizers are mostly good on both occasions. Herbed ground lamb and feta fill four triangles of puff pasty, with a mushroom Marsala sauce underneath. This is the Kreatopita appetizer ($11) – golden, crispy, flavorful. We also like the similarly crusty beet arancini ($7), which are fried risotto balls; street food in Italy. But where are those beets?

A thick potato leek soup ($4 per cup) isn’t exactly velvety, but it’s rich in potato flavor, and bears a flavor reminiscent of hand-mashed potatoes and gravy, if that’s what you are after.

The Greek salad ($7) is composed of spinach and dressed with a “Greek goddess” dressing that is heavy, creamy and flavored with anchovies. Cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts and kalamata olives are placed in sections on this plate. It’s a surprising and odd composition (and for the record, I like anchovies).

The wilted baby spinach salad ($7) is coated in a “goat cheese fondue” dressing, that is out of place and too weighty, with caramelized onions, bacon and almonds on top not improving the mix.

The “Hydro Bibb Salad” ($8) – a cored head of lettuce surrounded by too few slivers of red and yellow beets, red onion and gorgonzola cheese – is better, although the cider vinaigrette is nearly undetectable, and a superfluous orange oil surrounds the rim of the plate. Long story short: Someone needs to taste these salads before they get on the menu.

The chalkboard out front advertises a lobster ($18) with penne dish that is not on the printed menu. Good news: The lunch special can transfer to dinner ($18), says our waiter. (Note: Since our visit, the restaurant has stopped serving lunch.)

It turns out to be from-the-box pasta mixed with bite-sized lobster pieces and basil, and sprinkled with supermarket Parmesan (the kind you get in a bag already grated – unforgiveable at this kind of restaurant) mixed with a decent enough Newburg sauce. Most of us could throw this together at home.

The grilled New York strip steak ($22) has an herb crust and a lobster sherry cream sauce on the side, dotted with bite-sized lobster pieces. The cut lacks character, and about half of it is overdone. Sockeye salmon ($18), baked en papillote, is moist but bland. The plate looks sloppy, with a superfluous sauce swirled down one side of the plate paired with that same carroty oil.

I had an excellent fennel-dusted haddock ($18) on visit two. The thick and fresh fish, probably procured just a few blocks away, is perfectly cooked – flaky-tender and browned with that fennel crust. The “lobster potage” spooned on top is not much of an enhancement, however. It’s stock, shallots and minced carrots, without a fleck of lobster. Again, the ubiquitous orange oil surrounds the rim.

My companion has the Athenian Chicken ($17). It’s four thick slices of grilled but undressed chicken breast served with baby spinach, capers, kalamata olives, feta, artichokes from a can and an undistinguished olive oil and white wine sauce over linguine. Some thoughtfully applied herbs would help.

The bar takes up much of the downstairs at 15 Exchange Grille. The two upstairs dining rooms suggest casual dining. Chairs are wood with red cushioned seats; the tables are dark wood with laminate tops. A nice jazz mix plays on the sound system.

Dozens of paintings, many by Portland artist Michael Waterman, hang on the exposed brick walls, including the staircase. The plan is to change them regularly, says the manager.

The raw space is attractive, and this location is a high-traffic one. But Portland is a community of high standards of cuisine, and Mainers want their dine-out dollars to be well spent.

Simply put, the food here needs to improve in many respects. Management would do well to get professional advice on how to entice off-season locals as well as summer tourists to this enviable location in the Old Port. 

Nancy Heiser is an freelance writer and editor who lives near Portland. Her work has appeared in national and regional publications.