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Portland Dining without Reservations

k
Keefer Lucas Jul 28, 2006 07:00 PM

From time to time I make a general posting in the hope that it will guide others as they look for input, or - for those of us "regulars" - dispense with advice.

One thing that I think is VERY important when responding to a request is the timeframe in which the person is looking for input. It is important for this reason - someone who posts on Wednesday or Thursday looking for great suggestions in Portland during the summer ISN'T going to get in to Fore Street, Street & Company or Hugos. They will all be - most likely - booked solid, sometimes two weeks or more in advance for a Friday or Saturday night.

My personal favorite "walk in off the street" restaurants in Portland are The Old Port Sea Grill (though that can get booked up also), David's, Oolang, and Yosaku (Japanese). Oolang has definately improved their menu and their consistency over the past six months, to the point that its worth giving them another try if you have been put off in the past. I continue to be baffled as to why the Sea Grill doesn't have reviewers doing backflips down Commercial Street - I find it to be the most consistently excellent restaurant in Portland. Street & Company, Fore Street and Hugos are all well-worth visiting if you can get a table, but there are other fine choices when you haven't had weeks in advance to plan...

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  1. n
    Northender Jul 28, 2006 09:32 PM

    Is the Old Port Sea Grill the restaurant in the newish Hotel across the street from Bay Lines? If so, I ate there twice last summer and it really was terrific. Very nice bar menu as well. They seemed to be doing a lively business but we were able to walk in both times on a Thursday and Friday night. Very fresh oysters and decent fried calamari and if I recall a very nice halibut preparation.

    Good suggestion.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Northender
      i
      irwin Jul 30, 2006 01:38 PM

      Your thinking of the Hilton Garden Inn, and the OLD PORT SEA GRILL is not in the hotel. Its a few blocks towards town, on #93 Commercial St. The sister restaurant is called Falmouth Sea Grill, on Foreside Road in Falmouth. Not sure if both are consistant, because I only visited the Falmouth location, but need to try the Old Port location, as I only heard great things about the Old Port location.

    2. c
      checkman Jul 29, 2006 03:12 AM

      Here are some of our favorites for Portland. Yes reservations may be needed but not days or weeks before. The restaurant scene in Portland (especially the Old Port) is a quickly-changing one, and I tend to avoid touristy places in the summer, so some of this may be out of date, but here's my top 5:
      Walter's, on Exchange Street in the Old Port. I think you can get a reservation the day before. One of my all-time top picks.
      Natasha's, also in the Old Port. You will also need reservations but not weeks in advance. My daughter's all-time favorite. The chef seems to go shopping and then decide what the menu will be, so the results can be unusual, but always fresh and delicious.
      Saltwater Grill, in South Portland. Except on weekends I have always found them to be accommodating, even for larger groups. Wonderful food, great view of Portland Harbor.
      Pepper Club, east of the Old Port: Another of my daughter's fave's. A lot of unusual combinations. Spicy -- as you would guess from the name.
      Norm's - okay, for authentic BBQ it would probably send a Tenneseean screaming, but we like it. On a Saturday night, especially in summer, you would have to wait in line for a while, but it's worth it.

      1. n
        Noreaster Jul 29, 2006 02:04 PM

        It's spelled Oolong and yes, they seem to be doing things quite well in the past few months. Big restaurant but still would need reservations on Thursday through Saturday in the summer. They are right on Commercial Street. They also now have dining right on the harbor out back

        Other favorites would be Cinque Terre's new sister restaurant call Vignola's (Although they are BRAND NEW and still working out kinks). Located on the corner of Wharf Street and Dana Street). Right near Street and Co.

        Sit at the Bar at Street and Co if you can't get a table. Go late and it's no problem.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Noreaster
          k
          Keefer Lucas Jul 29, 2006 10:05 PM

          At 9pm last night, a there was not a single seat at the bar at Street & Co to be had...had there been one I would have been in it!

          1. re: Keefer Lucas
            n
            Noreaster Jul 30, 2006 01:59 PM

            Sorry. Late for me is just before they close. say 9:30-9:45pm Have never had a problem sitting then.

        2. i
          irwin Jul 30, 2006 01:44 PM

          I guess I need to put my 2 cents in here. Ate at Natasha's last week, and it was terrible. It was Friday night, and the joint was empty. I think they have chef problems, and I understand its a sister restaurant to MIM'S. Don't plan on going back. Walters is very good. I like Joe's Boathouse a lot better then Saltwater Grill, and not only are they within walking distance, they are related somehow. For BBQ, I put my money in BUCK'S NAKED BBQ on Route 1, across from the big Indian in FREEPORT. Wow- they beat all the others, not only in quality, but taste, and price. The restaurant is really nothing inside, but their food is excellent.

          3 Replies
          1. re: irwin
            n
            Noreaster Jul 30, 2006 01:57 PM

            I have to agree about Buck's Naked. Some of the best dry rubbed ribs I've EVER had! Their atmosphere is "eat and leave" to be kind but it's what I expect for a BBQ joint.

            1. re: irwin
              k
              Keefer Lucas Jul 30, 2006 03:15 PM

              Mim's and Natasha's are indeed owned by the same couple. I have never cared for the menu at Natasha's, yet I enjoy Mim's and eat there regularly. The quality at Mim's is excellent, and they have the best "upscale" breakfast in town. I've had a few disapointments at Mim's in the past couple of years, but they have always recovered nicely, and Natasha has frequently been around to personal ask how our meal was, and we have always engaged in a pleasant - if sometimes critical - discussions about the menu, service and presentation.

              1. re: Keefer Lucas
                i
                irwin Jul 30, 2006 08:36 PM

                I heard Mim's was very good. Did you ever try the flatbread at O'NATURALS??? It's to die for.... It cost $5, and worth $25. Its thin, about 10" wide, about 18" long, easily pulls apart, and I guarantee you cannot drive home without tearing off a piece of that bread, and will need seconds and probably thirds. Its still warm when you buy it, because it comes out of the oven all day. You would think I work for O'NATURALS, with two locations... One on Rt 1 Falmouth, and the second in the Old Port on Exchange Street.

            2. c
              checkman Aug 1, 2006 03:43 AM

              Please check out the posting headed Portland for other suggestions.

              I was just discussing Fore St., and also Street & Co., with my daughter who lives (and eats) in Portland. I should note that she is a vegetarian who eats some kinds of fish. She says that Fore St. almost never has menu choices that she can eat, which she thinks is odd since Portland has lots of vegetarians amongst its population.

              Re Street&Co., which everyone seems to rave about, she says that they are mostly living on their reputation, which in a restaurant town like Portland can't last long. The menu (she says) is boring - shrimp scampi, lobster scampi, scallop scampi, you get the idea.

              Re Oolong's - she says that everything tastes the same.

              She thinks Mim's is over-rated - too expensive for what they offer. But she's only been there for brunch. It's in a location that has had many short-term tenants, will be interesting to see whether Mim's makes it there.

              Natasha's, another of her favorites, has also been trashed on the site. She agrees that Natash's is having chef problems. On a good night they are fantastic, on a bad night inedible.

              We like the Saltwater Grill better than Joe's Boathouse. I think the owners are brothers or something. Early on, Joe's had some waitstaff problem which I think are ironed out by now, but we just like the view and the atmosphere at the Saltwater Grille. I have taken my Alzheimer's mother there and appreciated the patience of the staff.

              5 Replies
              1. re: checkman
                i
                irwin Aug 1, 2006 10:25 PM

                Checkman-I disagree with your daughter.
                I would want to think that any company would love to have a reputation like Street & Co. They are not a scampi house restaurant. They have all kinds of fish, cooked anyway you want it cooked, and cooked perfectly. I happen to love their sole francise cooked and delivered in a frying pan.
                I agree with Oolongs. Never been to Mim's.
                I guess I visited Natasha's on a bad night, as it was terrible.
                I agree that the view is better @ Saltwater Grill, but the food is a lot better at Joe's Boathouse, and its even better at the Old Port SeaGrill, or its sister restaurant--Falmouth Sea-Grill.
                I am surprised that Fore St does not offer more selection, but they do a tremendous business, and most people rave about the place.

                1. re: irwin
                  c
                  checkman Aug 2, 2006 01:51 AM

                  Okay, this is me personally, not thru my daughter (although she lives in Portland and I do not, and she eats out there often and I do not).

                  My lone experience w/ Street was indifferent. I personally would not recommend it, have had much better food in Portland.

                  Have never been to Oolong's, sounds like it's time to try it since according to Keefer's initial post it has been working out its menu issues.

                  Also never personally been to Mim's. Sounds like the kind of menu I would like. As I said before, she's only been there for brunch, philosophically has a problem with spending that much money for brunch, has never been there for dinner.

                  As I said, Natasha's seems to be having issues just now. I only hear two kinds of reviews, wonderful or terrible. I guess it depends on the night. This does not speak well for the continued prosperity of the restaurant.

                  I guess we will have to agree to disagree about Boathouse vs. Saltwater. Local opinions continue to come down on both sides. I have never tried Old Port SeaGrill or the Falmouth Sea-Grill, will have to add them to my to-do lists.

                  The upshot of my conversation with my daughter that I reported above was that we will try, in our next few Portland dinners together, to go to places that neither one of us has tried. Thanks to all of the above for lots of ideas.

                  1. re: irwin
                    n
                    Northender Aug 2, 2006 09:23 PM

                    Count me as a fan of Street and Company and a big fan of the sole francais in the fry pan - yum. I am also a big fan of Fore Street and surprised that vegetarians can't find selections since everything they serve is local, including produce.

                    Was not impressed with Saltwater Grill although I was there on a terrible rainy night and couldn't enjoy the deck. Would love to try Joe's Boathouse to compare. Also loved Ribolita but would save that as a cooler weather destination.

                  2. re: checkman
                    n
                    Noreaster Aug 2, 2006 01:38 PM

                    Fore Street does have some salads and pizza on its menu every day that are vegetarian. They ALWAYS have fish on the menu so I don't think your daughter has bothered to look at the menu recently.

                    Street and Co is far from a scampi house with creative mediterranean seafood and probably the best Italian style pasta in Portland.

                    Very ambitious of her to have everything on Oolong's menu since I think it has about 40 items. Did she really try them all or is she just generalizing on the two dishes she has had?

                    Again, rating an establishment from one meal and BRUNCH at that. However, I believe Mim's is overrated as well. Hasn't been the same since Harding left (now owner and chef of Front Room)

                    Natahsa's has chef problems but was poor before AND after...

                    And well, posting how much you love Saltwater Grill and Joe's kinda sums it up.....

                    1. re: checkman
                      n
                      Noreaster Aug 2, 2006 01:39 PM

                      Fore Street does have some salads and pizza on its menu every day that are vegetarian. They ALWAYS have fish on the menu so I don't think your daughter has bothered to look at the menu recently.

                      Street and Co is far from a scampi house with creative mediterranean seafood and probably the best Italian style pasta in Portland.

                      Very ambitious of her to have everything on Oolong's menu since I think it has about 40 items. Did she really try them all or is she just generalizing on the two dishes she has had?

                      Again, rating an establishment from one meal and BRUNCH at that. However, I believe Mim's is overrated as well. Hasn't been the same since Harding left (now owner and chef of Front Room)

                      Natahsa's has chef problems but was poor before AND after...

                      And well, posting how much you love Saltwater Grill and Joe's kinda sums it up.....

                    2. Karl S Aug 1, 2006 06:27 PM

                      At my last visit to Street & Co last fall, I had a knock-out dinner that also pleased my very discriminating dining companions.

                      1. r
                        rufustfi Aug 8, 2006 05:53 PM

                        I know it's popular to bad-mouth Fore Street (so touristy, hard to get a reservation on short notice, etc.), and I really want to believe it's just as good as it's always been, but our last meal there was somewhat disappointing. Don't get me wrong--nothing was terrible--but our duck was a bit tough, our mussels were big and chewy, and our wild mushroom appetizer was pretty bland. I'm willing to chalk this up to a bad night, or perhaps ordering the wrong things (although the mussels are almost always great!).

                        What have other people's experiences at Fore Street been lately?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: rufustfi
                          i
                          irwin Aug 9, 2006 12:36 PM

                          I don't go there..... Prefer 555, Street & Co., or Davids.
                          Fore St is living off their reputation, and although its very busy, I guess they don't need my business, or do they miss it.

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