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Bad experience at Fore Street (portland)

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Tonight was my wife's birthday. We didn't have reservations, but decided we'd try and hit Fore Street w/ my parents, who are visiting this weekend. I dropped my wife off at Fore Street at about 4:50 and went to get my folks at their hotel. My wife asked the hostess if she needed to wait on line, or if she could instead get a seat in the bar - and then have one of us wait on line for the reservation when we arrived. The hostess told her sure, so she went and sat in the bar for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile more and more people entered the front area to queue up for a table (since Fore Street reserves one third of their tables for walk-ins). All of a sudden, the bartender told my wife she wasn't allowed to sit in the bar, since others were waiting for a perch there (the way it works: you give your name to the hostess at 5pm, and then go wait in the bar until 5:30pm, when seating begins). Surprised, my wife got up to head back to the line, which was more or less total chaos - no order, rhyme or reason, just everyone pushing up towards the front. On her way - and this clearly isn't Fore Street's fault - a patron waiting on line yelled at her for cutting (even though my wife was probably the third person there all night). The whole thing was demoralizing - I haven't seen her so shaken in a while. We gave up and managed to get a table a few blocks away at 555. Good food (transcendent dessert), and less overall hype - very pleasant and helpful staff. My wife said she felt that Fore Street had just gotten too big for its britches. There's no need to herd people in and mistreat them for the honor of dining in your over-hyped restaurant, and no-one should have her birthday wrecked by thoughtless bartenders or miscommunication among the staff.

Oh - the 555 dessert? Hot pepper ice cream with hot fudge, kahlua chantilly, fried bananas, and candied pignoli nuts. Just insane.

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  1. So sorry that you had to go through that debacle. Couldn't agree with you more. Attitude like you read about at Fore Street. Had an issue with a meal awhile ago and couldn't get anyone's attention so I suffered through it. Was told by the waitress (after waiting an eternity to flag her down) that it was too late to complain and that I should have made a better attempt to get her attention. Like what, flares? Roman Candles? I complained to the manager afterwards and got more BS. Never went back, never will. There are too many great restaurants in Portland

    1. My wife and I went to Fore Street last year. We walked in at five with no reservation (dead of winter) and were seated immediately. We sat sort of up looking down over the dining room and kitchen. The food was good, but nothing to rave about.

      The service, however, was coy and elusive. From our vantage point we could watch the service staff intermingling and talking. It was a bit too intimate. Please know that during service hours, restaurant staffs tend to chat and fool around, but it’s always behind the scenes. In Fore St, however, the service station is in the middle of the dining room (as is the a walk-in refridge and kitchen) so the whole staff is on show (except the dishwashers and prep cooks). And I hate to have to watch my waiter talking and clubbing it up with other waiters and bussers when I need a refill on my water.

      The staff attitude there is one that occurs in places that become very trendy and have poor management. They try to make it casual, but the service becomes spotty as a result.

      Overall, I love Fore Street's “open” concept, but loath the execution.

      1 Reply
      1. re: bewley

        "The service, however, was coy and elusive".

        That is a great line, and I can't stop giggling over it. I have to say, coy and elusive service does NOT make me want to try a restaurant!

      2. DAN: HOW WAS THE FOOD AT 555?
        i AGREE WITH YOU ABOUT FORE ST.
        THEY DON'T NEED US ANYMORE

        2 Replies
        1. re: irwin

          555 was really, really good, if not particularly mind blowing. First off, though, I'll say that the service was really friendly and helpful, and the atmosphere - with the open second floor and high ceilings and copper tinged decor was also lovely. I had some pepper crusted scallops that had a real kick and were very tasty, while my wife found her salmon a bit boring. I had a mussels appetizer that was super fresh but not very inventive. The dessert, as I mention above, was the highlight. I'd certainly go back, although it's a touch out of my price range for regular visits.

          1. re: Dan S.

            The food @ 555 is great, but way too expensive for Portland Maine

        2. Dan...I couldn't agree with you more. The attitude at Fore St. can be ridiculous, which is sad because often they put out really good food. Here's a short list of silly things they have said or done to me or someone in my party over the years:

          1)Refusing to put a chair at the end of one of the booths to make a table of 6 become a 7. Told that it was a fire hazard. On our way out (we left immmediately because 7 of us needed to eat), they seated a seven on the table we left, using the same chair. When I spoke with the manager about it, she said "oh but this is a special circumstance." Apparently 7 businessmen with an expense account are not special enough.

          2)Refusing to pour a drink. This happened twice. The first time my friend ordered a kahula and cream, only to be told that they can't make it because the cream will interfere with the taste of the food. Second time was also at the bar after my friend ordered a lemondrop martini. She was told that they do not like to make specialty martini's like that. What!?

          Fore St. is long past its prime and the list of people they piss off is growing rapidly.

          1. I remember getting my first issue of Saveur magazine several years ago, as I was starting to develope a foodie vibe.

            It had an article on Fore Street that made it sound great. Portland is fairly close and my wife and I are palnning a trip. I had always intended on eating at Fore Street. Should I take a pass? Is the food still good?

            1. If you cook, and cook well, you may find Fore Street to be a big So What? There are many, many other options in Portland, most without the surly attitude you'll get at FS. I was very impressed with, and very happy at, Hugo's – but it's not everybody's cuppa. A globe-trotting friend thought Uffa was great, but I can't speak from first-hand experience.

              By the way, I read the same article about Fore Street, and looked forward to it for years. I was greatly unimpressed – the food is treated so simply as to be just plain boring.

              1 Reply
              1. re: GG Mora

                Sorry, but I am not impressed with UFFA, and definately do not think its in the same league as 555, Fore St. Street & Co or Back Bay Grill

              2. I went without a reservation one Saturday night. The weather was crap - wind, rain, cold.
                We were told to wait in the bar as a table was not ready. We had a drink in a nice cozy area, 20 minutes later we were at the table.
                The food was good, the service was good. Overall it was a good experience.
                So maybe it's hit or miss???

                1. BarnB, I would definitely take a pass on Fore Street as there are so many great alternatives. Their sister restaurant, Street and Company,though rather loud, is far better than Fore Street. If you are looking for high end, however, I would choose Hugos. Excellent food, excellent service

                  1. Uman, I think you're right. It is hit-or-miss, especially on weekends and during tourist season, when they become overwhelmed. But I disagree with GG Mora's comment. Hayward gets wonderful meat, fish and produce from suppliers that probably wouldn't sell to individuals. And I've tried to make those mussels at home but without the wood-fired oven (and those wonderful mahogany-colored Damariscotta bi-valves) it's never the same. Fore Street CAN be wonderful. But it seems as though that happens less frequently than it used to.

                    I've had too many great meals at Fore Street--I don't want to give up on it yet!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: rufustfi

                      I'm not dissing the quality of the raw materials – all impeccable and meticulously sourced. But the treatment is so simple. The wood-roasted pork, for all its pedigree and careful handling, was – in the end – just an expertly cooked piece of fabulous meat. Nothing more. I can do that at home, so when I go out and pay lots of money, I prefer something I couldn't or wouldn't do myself. I must sound a terrible snob, but I'm not, and I'm not saying that this will be everyone's response, nor that everyone should avoid the place. It's just my take on my experience there.

                    2. We ate there two years ago before we adopted our child. We went in without reservations and ate at the bar.

                      My wife and I thought it was terrific, though pricey. The place positively glowed with ambience, history and great food (particularly the appetizers.)

                      By the way we were on our way to Bar Harbor, and perhaps a quick light meal on the road would have been a better idea for us at the time! Nonetheless I'd recommend Fore Street but would EMPHATICALLY tell you to make reservations. Someone said 1/3rd of the tables are reserved; I now believe it's closer to 2/3rds. That way you can avoid that horrible stuffed-shirt-like experience mentioned above.

                      1. I had one outstanding experience at Fore St. several years ago since we were able to grab a seat at the bar. The bartenders there have always been professional, and that experience was great. We then made the mistake of eating in the dining room on three different occasions and had not only uncaring service, but mediocre food.The reputation they seem proud of around town is that they are the restaurant that made Bruce Springsteen wait 2 hours for a table. I agree that Street and Company, their sister restaurant is better. By the way, many times it is a fire hazard to have a chair on the end of a table, but that applies to all customers, even businessen.

                        1. I think it all boils down to consistency, after reading the above posts, we must concur that this is the main problem at Fore Street.

                          1. The main problem at FS is their attitude. They're slopping out mediocre food in an old warehouse with a view of a parking lot. It's a brick building with hardwood floors. It's LOUD and not pleasant. Somehow they got DISCOVERED. Few dare point out the empror has no clothes. We're delighted to see this thread, finaly. We ate there 3 times. The first to try it out. The other two times because others in our party wanted to go there. If we never go again, it'll be too soon.

                            1. I think one of the biggest problems with both Fore Street and Street & Company of late, is that their owner has long since "left the premises". Given recent experiences at Fore Street, and a few underwhelming experiences at Street & Company I'd say both are past their prime - they've lost a bit of their edge, and up and comers like the crew at 555 are eating their lunches. Meanwhile, the eponymous owner is out and about like a rock star, everywhere BUT the kitchen...

                              13 Replies
                              1. re: Keefer Lucas

                                Um, "eponymous"?
                                What am I missing here?

                                Yes, I know that this is not about food.

                                1. re: Keefer Lucas

                                  The same thing happened to Al Forno in Providence. The owners spend half their time away from their restaurant the place has suffered as a result.

                                  1. re: bewley

                                    They used to have the best mussels on the face of the planet- I brought three of my friends there just for the Bang's Island mussels. Come to find out they no longer have them- the mussels we were served were an abomination. Smacks of the owners cashing in on their goodwill.

                                    1. re: gastrotourist

                                      Here's a good test of high-end restuarant: what they offer up for vegetarians. I was at Fore Street once with a friend who was a vegetarian who doesn't eat cheese (I think). There was nothing on the menu for her (which she said was typical of most places in Portland that think highly of themselves). They did consent to make something for her: pasta in olive oil. Talk about uninspiring. I'm sure they charged her about $25 for it too.

                                      1. re: CandyGirl13

                                        I'm not sure if this is a good test for any restaurant unless it aspires to be vegetarian or vegan-friendly. I would think it is the chef's or owner's choice to offer a vegetarian option or not.

                                        1. re: BobDanger

                                          The test comes (particularly in the this age of allergies and diet restrictions) in whether or not a chef has the creativity to create something delicious, while avoiding certain ingredients. Fore Street fails this test, at least for vegetarians. Places like Sea Grass Bistro in Yarmouth and Caiola's in the West End make a point of accomodating guests' eating preferences, no matter how peculiar. (The chefs rightly realize they're in a service industry and that it's not about them, it's about their guests.) I wonder if anyone else (gluten allergic, South Beach dieters) have had a different experience at Fore Street?

                                          1. re: CandyGirl13

                                            If you have an allergy or a diet restriction than it is your responsibility to avoid those ingredients. A restaurant is obviously a service industry and I'm sure that most restaurants will do their best to satisfy the needs of their guests but I don't understand offering a critique of a restaurant based on their inability to meet an off-menu request. If a diner has a serious dietary restriction than they should contact the restaurant ahead of time and ask if it will be possible for the kitchen to meet their needs.

                                            Again this is not a fair test of a restaurant unless the restaurant advertises its willingness to meet the needs of diners w/ restrictions. You have the ability and responsibility as a diner w/ restrictions to check out the menu ahead of time and see if it meets your needs ... if not contact the restaurant ahead of time or find a restaurant that does.

                                            1. re: BobDanger

                                              Some chefs get the whole service bit. Here's an excerpt trom the wildly popular Sea Grass Bistro website (http://www.seagrassbistro.com/about_u...):

                                              Chef Brown doesn’t want to restrict her clients to a menu, she wants to combine her passion for great food with the unique tastes of her customers.

                                              “I shouldn’t tell you what to eat,” says Brown, “a menu is a just a guideline to what’s on offer. You’re paying me for a service.” And at SeaGrass that service is personal and individual, not mass produced. So in a departure from this culinary era where celebrity chefs rule, Stephanie Brown wants to give the dining experience back to the people.

                                              “My ultimate goal,” says Brown, “is to get to the point where a server just tells me when you come in. Then I take the day’s ingredients and, using what I’ve learned about your particular tastes, I can create something amazing just for you.”

                                              1. re: CandyGirl13

                                                Chef Brown has a great view on the role of a chef. It is all about creating great dishes a la minute. Pasta with oil is not a great dish. If that is the best that Fore St. can come up with upon learning of a dietary restriction than the cooks there should head back to school. They should've had a vegetarian option to begin with, especially considering that they are a high end restaurant, and if there are further restrictions one should have the knowledge to come up with dishes on the spot for diners who can not have dairy, garlic or any other ingrediant.

                                                1. re: mjp81

                                                  How many seats is the Seagrass? How many is Fore Street? I think that too many people want it to be all about them when they go out that it is forgotten that Fore Street still needs to run as a business. Do you think it right to have the kitchen stop what it is doing to make your special meal? If they had told you they would love to cook you a special meal but it may take more tyhan 30 minutes would that not be acceptable also? Creating dishes a la minute is what all quality restaurants do but they have everything already prepared since the afternoon. Would you really ask a vegetarian restaurant for their meat options of the day?

                                                  You should have the freedom to choose any restaurant of your choice not any non menu item you feel like having, dietary restriction or not. If it is that important call ahead and talk to someone in charge.

                                                  1. re: Noreaster

                                                    A line cook at a place like Fore St. should be able to look at their mise en place and create a dish on the spot within a minute. A vegetarian restaurant has meat options on their menu, look at the Pepperclub. Fore St. should have a vegetarian option on their menu. Their is no way that they would serve pasta with oil at family meal so why would they serve it to a paying customer? I would bet that they have vegetarians on staff who eat family meal so why can't they create dishes for customers on the spot? It doesn't stop the kitchen from what they're doing but it stops vegetarian customers from ever returning. I'm not vegetarian but what Fore St. served is something you'd find at the Village.

                                                    1. re: mjp81

                                                      A vegetarian restaurant by definition would never have meat but you've missed the point. The true test of a great chef is the ability to flawlessly, consistently excute that which has been advertised to the public, the menu. To say that a special item doesn't slow down or even stop the kitchen says you've never worked in one. Btw, calling Pepperclub a vegetarian restaurant is like calling Buck's BBQ ribs kosher...

                                                      1. re: Noreaster

                                                        The true test of a chef is not the ability to flawlessly, consistently execute that which has been advertised to the public. Thats whats EXPECTED when you pay the prices that you do. Why do you think chains are so popular? Its perfectly executed every time. You expect perfection when the cook has been preparing that dish hundreds of times. The true test is when someone has a dietary restriction or a customer asks for a previous menu item that is no longer on the menu. Think on your feet, its what a chef/ sous chef/ line cook does. You thrive on that pressure. If the kitchen slows down or comes to a stop, obviously the members of the kitchen do not have what it takes to work in a high- volume, white table cloth setting. And yes, I've worked in the high- volume, white table cloth restaurants, and we never slowed down. You cater towards your customers. You don't serve them pasta with oil. Rachael Ray could do better.