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Back Bay Grill, Portland ME

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  • CGP Aug 20, 2003 06:26 AM
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For several years, the Back Bay Grill has been our favorite Portland restaurant, and on Monday evening we took visiting friends there for dinner. I won't be rushing back anytime soon. The restaurant changed hands in late spring of 2003, and it is nothing near what it used to be.

The wife of the couple and I both asked for sparkling water, and we were sold a bottle of Pellegrino ($7) that was whisked away from the table "to be put on ice." We had to get the waitresses attention to get a refill, which I thought was inconsiderate.

My husband ordered a Chivas on the rocks. When the waitress brought it, she said that this was the last of their Chivas (this is an a la carte restaurant with entrees in the high-$20s/low-$30s), whereupon she poured it out of the little vial that they use for drinks there, put it on the table, and announced that she would not charge full price. Thank you very much!

We ordered our dinner. The starters came and were eaten, and we waited. And waited. And waited. Around us people who came in after we did were finishing their entrees and ordering deserts. Finally our entrees came, and they are ghosts of their former selves -- Duck Three Ways has become Duck Two Ways (I kid you not), and it was served with a risotto with English Peas mixed in. Not very imaginative. The duck was good, but the ensemble lacked the pizzaz that entrees at Back Bay used to have. Since I am on the South Beach Diet, I asked for steamed veggies in lieu of the risotto, and was given some very un-steamed haricots verts.

Finally the waitress cleared our table and took the desert order. I passed on that, but our friends ordered desert and my husband asked for Talisker if they had it. She said they did; did he want that on the rocks?? Good lord. When she brought it my husband looked at the glass (actually it was a rocks glass, not what you should serve neat single-malt in), said "I don't believe it," and handed me the glass. There ensued several stale jokes. "What's this fly doing in my drink?" "The backstroke." and "He won't drink much." He called the waitress and said "I think you need to look at this, and don't say 'he won't drink much.'" Whereupon she said, "He won't drink much," and took the glass away. Back she came with another. "This is the last of this bottle," she announced when she put it on the table, and this time the glass was full of cork and other residue. My husband told her that it was not something he cared to drink. Did they have Langevulin? They did. They would not charge him for the single-malt, she said when she finally brought it. To their credit, they did not charge for any of the scotch debacle.

The service was desultory at best, and at times condescending. When you spend $250 for a dinner (1 cocktail and 2 glasses of wine -- no bottles) for four, I think you have a right to expect better, and certainly not to be condescended to.

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  1. Too bad, sorry to hear the place wasn't good. I have been a number of times and in recent years thought it easily surpased Fore Street. I heard that the Chef has purchased the restaurant so they obviously need to work out some kinks.
    My advise is go to Micheala's....FANTASTIC food, service the whole nine yards.

    1. The Back Bay Grill is the best restaurant in Portland and the surrounding area. It offers a dining EXPERIENCE, ordering steamed veggies and cheap scotch does not a qualified review make. My girlfriend and I traveled from Rhode Island to taste chef Matthews' work and will return the two hour trip many more times. Our food from the seven course tasting menu was inspiring, delicious, well-prepared, executed and timed. Service was exceptional. Chef Larry is dong what no one else is in the area. And doing it very well.

      5 Replies
      1. re: speidec

        you have to be either a chef (I wish I was), a friend of the chef's, or judging from the RI reference going to Johnston & Whales? Am I close?
        Either way your right on about the scotch & veggies.

        It's been a while but I think I can still tastes the sweet breads I had there last time.

        1. re: oceanpt

          You guys sound a little snotty looking down your nose at the choice of Scotch and the fact someone doesn't want a super rich risotto with their meal. I wouldn't sub steamed veggies either but everything should still taste right, even non top shelf Scotch.

          1. re: Joanie

            You may have read the review and subsequent responses too fast. Noone was talking about the choice of scotch or choice of steamed veggies. I agree everything should taste right but the response posts had everything to do with the meal and nothing to do with the guests choices for dinner or drinks. This is a celebrated restaurant in Maine that MAY have had an off night.

        2. re: speidec

          Quite the contrary. A dining EXPERIENCE as you put includes all they describe. It would have been worthwhile to explain what went wrong with the entrees themselves but the other experiences were enough to sour the evening. The "best restaurant in Portland and surrounding areas" should most definitely have the BEST steamed vegetables if that is all the diner wants. And the server should know all the correct responses including asking whether the scotch should be on the rocks or not.

          Of course, the beauty of Chowhound.com is the expression of opinion. My opinion, the best restaurants are Michaela's and Hugo's.

          And Talisker and Langavulin (sp) are FAR from cheap scotches but, again, can be served however the person wants. Rocks or not...

          1. re: speidec

            I don't see why substituting steamed vegetables for risotto should disqualify a review...and Chivas Regal, Lagavullin, and Talisker are not "cheap scotches."

          2. We went to the back bay grill the other night for a special dinner with friends. it was SUCH a disappointment and a racket! First my crabcake appetizer had a HUGE piece of shell in it and some little piece of hair that looked like a cat hair. I politely ignored these thinking it would be rude to make a fuss. Then my salad came with blue cheese all over it which I had asked for with grana padano because I'm pregnant and can't eat soft, moldy cheeses. They took the salad away, shook out the blue cheese and brought the salad back with a few slimy pieces of grana and bits of blue cheese all the way through it still. The lettuce was sort of wilted and old--I had to pick out the nice leaves. THEN the worst was myself and another dinner ordered a Canneloni dish that had homemade goat ricotta and was atop picholine olives. It had the worst, most bitter, rancid taste--neither of us ate it--we sent it back. Had anyone in the kitchen even tried this dish? It tasted like old, bitter olives. MY husband had gotten the filet mignon and that came with a piece of potato gratin that was clearly a day old and not very warm. Save your money and AVOID this place. They saw that neither of us ate our main dishes and only removed the one cannelloni and her dessert--the whole thing should have been removed from the bill. We had purchased a very expensive bottle of wine--the staff there should have tried harder to make our experience positive. I've had other weird experiences there, but this was TERRIBLE. Go to the Blue Spoon and spend half the money and everything will be organic and totally fresh and a quarter of the cost!

            2 Replies
            1. re: beach lover

              Yes beach lover, but wouldn't you have to decribe it as a "dining EXPERIENCE"?

              1. re: beach lover

                I'm truly sad to read this and the original review in this thread, as BBG has been one of my favorite places, although I haven't eaten there in the last year or so. I had planned to take my mother there when she visits this autumn, but am definitely having second thoughts.
                Darn....