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First trip to Portland

We're taking our first trip to Portland the day after Thanksgiving and spending Friday and Saturday night at the Portland Regency. We've made the obligatory reservation at Fore Street for Saturday night, but where to go Friday night? Hugo's? I know it has its detractors because of its small portions and preciousness, but the day after the holiday pig-out, maybe that's not so bad. I've also read good things about Five Fifty Five. Any thoughts?

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  1. It's important to recognize that Hugo's has its own devoted following of regular (upscale!) patrons. Any negative reviews you will read about Hugo's will tend to be from people who are dining there for the first time, haven't read the menu before being seated, etc., etc. It's a bit like someone going to a BBQ joint and complaining about a lack of vegetarian options, the point is valid but effectively "moot". For someone looking for a unique and varied tasting menu, Hugo's will not disapoint.

    1. 555 is great restaurant. Really good food in an upscale setting with zero attitude. www.fivefifty-five.com

      My new favorite restaurant is Vignola. It is next door to Cinque Terre on Wharf St. and it is the same owners.
      The website is under construction

      Here's a review

      Really urban looking space with fair prices and solid food. Sorry, I'm not good with describing food so I'll let the rest of the reviews tell you.

      1. I have no problems with the size of Hugo's portions and I have eaten there several times so I have always known what I was getting into. There is no doubt that the food there is exceptional and the tastes and texture are incredible - it is really an exceptional experience. What has kept me from going back is the feeling when I am there that I am no longer eating food but eating a science experiment. Everything is so excessively foamed, pureed and slivered that often it is impossible to tell what you are eating.

        I would choose 555 over Hugo's for the significantly better atmosphere and the chance to recognize what you are eating. I have never heard of a bad experience here and have always left with a fantastic smile. Vignola is great as well and if you are looking for a more casual and less expensive option - you can't beat the The Front Room on Munjoy Hill.

        1. After reading the last reply, I have to add the Front Room as well. Breakfast, lunch, dinner...pick a meal, it will be great there.


          1 Reply
          1. re: grittys457

            If I lived in Portland, I would want the Front Room to be my neighborhood restaurant. But since we only have two dinners in Portland, I think we'll save it for our second visit.

          2. I like 555 but my last trip there (admittedly over a year ago) was a little disapointing (not overly so, but there were a couple of misses among the more numerous hits). The Grilled salad (greens with roasted peaches, bing cherrys, and pecans) was a little over sauced and the scallops were a little salty. However, the rest of the meal, mussels and a hanger steak, was excellent, the service very good, and the price not unreasonable. The restaurant itself is a pretty place and they were very friendly. The wine list was fun and fairly extensive. I was a little concerned when they brought the 2002 vintage of the Fess Parker PN I ordered when the 2001 was listed on the menu, but they were quick to point it out before I read the bottle and explained that they were out of the 2001.

            We had a great meal at Hugo's. A four course meal for $60. The food was excellent, very well presented (maybe a little over the top, but really pretty), and the service very good. I ordered two half bottles (a 2002 Daniel Dampt Cablis and a 1996 Chateau Meyney St. Estephe) since it was only the two of us. For our first courses I had Maine raised rabbit chartiterie with grainy mustand mousse, pistaschio, and celtic vinegar. My wife had the smoked shitake mushrooms and asparagus with capri pasta, milk foam and lily buds. The second course for her was the crispy skin loup de mer (rockfish this time) with artichoke en croute, basil seeks and warm olive oil panna cota. I had the honey mead glazed pork belly with sweet potato tot, tomatillo relish and ginger red pepper coulis. Third was the pan roasted tasmanian sea trout with fried fennel, pineapple salad and smoked trout roe. I had the Sous Vide duck breast and leg with golden beet, kola nut pudding and pickled plum. For dessert I had a superb Mita Cana Spanish sheeps milk cheese cake while my wife had the Maine rhubarb and pineapple with Greek yogert panna cotta and Thai basil. The plates may have looked skimpy, but we left stuffed. Very pretty place, but unless you want to sit in high bar type chairs, don't take a table in the window.

            Another place to consider is Cinque Terre (right across from Street and Co.) on Wharf Street. The last time I ate there we had the 6 course tasting menu for $55. It started with oysters two ways (a Darmisgrotta raw and a Prince Edward Island fried) then crab and fresh peas risotto with white truffel oil. Next was the lobster tail with bread crumbs and basil oil. It was followed by a perfectly cooked hanger steak with chantrelle mushrooms. The next course was cheese, pecorina and toma with peanut jelly and an italian baggette. Last was the dessert, lemon grappa panna cotta and maple gelato with biscotta. Service was exceptional and the wine list, while all and only Italian wine, was very reasonably priced, very extensive and long, and very representative of Italy. They also had a nice selection by the glass. I had a 2000 Antinori Toscana Tignanello which was exceptionally well priced at $100.

            1. You might want to try Walters Cafe on Exchange Street in the Old Port. Pleasant relaxed atmosphere, always good food. It can be crowded on a Friday night, you might want to go early-ish or call for a reservation. It's not the kind of place where you have to make reservations days in advance.

              1 Reply
              1. re: checkman

                We visited Walters a few weeks back, and I thought it went down hill from last year....

              2. The restaurants you have chosen say you are looking to spend some serious money so a few to add are Caiola's, Pat's cafe and Katahdin equally yummy in my opinion. I must add about the front room and I hope it has changed. Slow....Slow....Slow getting the food out of the kitchen to the table and taking liberty with food and not informing the guest. For instance listing corn beef hash and then serving it with sauteed green and red peppers yuk...Not my thing I am sure someone elses and I have no problem with that but just tell me what you are doing to my food please---all it takes is a tag line that says Front rooms version of corn beef hash.

                1. What's the story with Bandol? I googled their old menu and it looks fabulous. Have they reopened?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: whs

                    No, Bandol has not reopened.

                  2. I think Bandol fell victim to over-catering to all sixteen people in Southern Maine who could interpret/appreciate their menu...

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Keefer Lucas

                      I guess sweetbreads and brains are an acquired taste.

                      1. re: Keefer Lucas

                        I think he fell victim to high food cost.

                        I do like sweatbreads, though I would definitely pass on the brains.

                        That reminds me of a joke we used to tell in elementary school about when they were passing out brains . . . oh well, I won't bore you with that nonsence.

                        1. re: Keefer Lucas

                          Actually it's seventeen, it's just that I have never been to Bandol

                        2. For our first night in Portland we've made a reservation at 555. The menu looks inventive and at the same time accessible. For Saturday lunch, do you prefer Duckfat or the Front Room?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: whs

                            I think Duckfat is owned by the folks who own Hugo's? It's pricey...but good. My trips to Front Room were 6 months and a year ago...very noisy, but good food (chowders and salads are great).

                          2. If you're looking for cheap, unpretentious and sort of the antithesis to the Thanksgiving grub, try The Great Lost Bear. Great hamburgers, better than average pub fare, nifty beer and ale selection (the Belgians are really nice post-Tday, and they have some great fall/winter local brews). It has a good "feel" to the place too.
                            Last time we were there we made a "meal" of three app's--Spanakopita, teriyaki mushrooms, and the vegan chili. Good stuff. Affordable and a big menu.
                            Parking sucks, so you're better not trying to directly in front. Hopefully, won't be snowing yet...

                            1. I love most of the established high end spots in Portland, though Street and Co. is my favorite seafood. My favorite spot overall is Bull Feeney's. It's an authentic Irish pub with out of this world steaks, great music on the weekends, and a great mix of Portlanders. Upstairs has the best view in the Old Port.

                              1. I went to Duckfat this weekend for the first time and loved it - I'd say go there for lunch. It's very unique, and the fries - cooked in Duck fat - are great. You can get them with a variety of sauces. I got the Duck Gravy. In addition to beer and wine and other beverages, they also have home-made sodas. I had the ginger, and loved it. One thing - It's not the place to go if you are watching your waistline. Another thing - It's a small place. I got there before 12 on a Saturday, and by the time I left (I got take out), most of the seats were full.

                                1. The fries and the homemade sodas are great at Duckfat - the panini style cubano sandwiches are, however, an aquired taste. I've been there three or four times and I am done with it, atleast until I get a craving for those fries again. I tried a new sandwich each time I went and - basically - didn't care enough for any of them to go back...but hey, I tried.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Keefer Lucas

                                    I just can't get past the disgusting name of the restaurant. I know we're living in a time of serious backlash against vegetarians, but I'll never set foot in a restaurant with a name like duck fat. That's foul (no pun intended).

                                  2. Want to do something fun, different and have a fantastic dining experience too? Take the Casco Bay cruise over to Peaks Island ($3.50 round trip - only 20 min ride) and have dinner at the Cockeyed Gull. Awesome view of Portland skyline, fabulous food - I think the boat goes back n forth every half hour until 11:30pm. Check it out:


                                    1. At minimum - GO OVER FOR LUNCH!!! You won't be dissappointed. I stayed on Peaks Island for 3 nights 4 days and could have eaten all my meals at this restaurant - very creative, delicious, and fresh.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: lexpatti

                                        Thanks, I caught this on another one of your posts--definitely interested, weather permitting.

                                      2. Responding to the original post, don't bother with Fore Street for dinner. Go there for a drink and see the "coolness" in action, but then spend your money and time at a place where people who really love and respect food make great meals - 555. It rivals the old Upstairs at the Pudding in Cambridge, or the old L'Espalier in Boston. Try the Basil Bloody Mary, too, and anything the pastry chef makes. But please DON'T waste your time at Fore Street when a place like 555 is just a quick drive away.
                                        For the best bagels and funky baked things on the planet, head over the bridge into South Portland to the 158 Bakery in Willard Square. Just be careful of the "holier than thou" attitude, but it's absolutely worth the drive, and you can park outside and walk down to Willard Beach - beautiful. Then head off down Shore Road to Fort Williams Park and Portland Head Light.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: mjbenson

                                          I agree re: Fore Street. I've had one very good meal there, but the rest were all mediocre at best (and not at all worth the money). It's gotten a lot of press, and good for them for using local ingredients whenever possible, but don't believe the hype. Fore Street, in my opinion, has become more style than substance.

                                          1. re: mjbenson

                                            I love 158, but there's just no earthly way their bagels can be described as the best on the planet. Perhaps they're the best in Southern Maine...they're actually very atypical bagels - not really chewy in the traditional bagel way, and sort of flatter. Excellent toppings, particularly on their everything bagel (it includes fenel seeds). These are satisfying food things, but having just returned from NYC with a bag full of Absolute Bagels, there's simply no comparison. I do respect the 158 bagels for being their own thing, though, and not even really entering into the authenticity debate. I particularly like them as part of one of their egg sandwiches - which could be among the best in Portland (which, alas, is not a town blessed with many great egg sandwich options).

                                          2. Portland is overrated - go to Burlington VT - or better yet, Montreal.

                                            1. Putney disagree with anyone who says portland is overated.
                                              The old street nightlife is very cool in its own way, lots of live music. Now burlington? im not going to get into a debate on that, just to say I never had much fun there. As for montreal thats a whole other ball game. Portland is a newenglandy, brewpubby, cobblestone street affair, while Montreal, at least to me, is somewhere between paris, and NY.

                                              Id reccomend the portland harbor hotel over regency.

                                              I really like fore street, every time ive been there. Especially the roast pork. Portland has some good sushi as well. I just cant remember the name of the restaraunt I like to go to. Its just up the street from the regency hotel.

                                              If you dont mind spending some cash and driving a little you can head to Arrows in Ogonguit. The food is good but expensive.

                                              Almost forgot you can go for a sunset drink at the rooftop bar at the tallest hotel in Portland, its right downtown, just cant remmeber the name. They have some nice aged rhums like bharbencourt 15 years, and a swanky leather atmosphere with warm nuts.

                                              1. Last person was referring to The Top of the East, located at the top of the Eastland hotel. Good place to grab an early drink and get a great view. That is only one block away from 555.


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