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?
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.
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.
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.
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.