Portland's Oolong is Long Gone
Just a quick note to call attention to the passing of Portland's "relatively" new Asian restaurant on Commercial Street - Oolong. I have mixed feelings about the restaurant/bar's passing - it was a needed addition to the restaurant mix, when it opened it was the first new restaurant of it's size and genre in the Old Port in what seemed like years. I had some good meals there, I had some disapointing meals there. While I critiqued the establishment on several occasions, I can't say that I ever had a "god awful" experience there and, without fail, the bar was always the most talented and professional in town.
Oolong is going to be replaced - apparently - by some manner of steakhouse, which seems an odd choice given its location but atleast the space has been renovated and hopefully the tradition of quality bar preparation and service will continue in the space's new iteration.
Perhaps someone closer to the sitation can shed some light on what's happening there...
Agreed that the bar was great, and Oolong had a few reliably good things on the menu, but a lot of it was overpriced and the quality was occasionally pretty dodgy. If I'm going to drop $12-$17 on a lunch entree that smaller, less "upscale" Asian restaurants are going to serve up for less than half that, the quality better be spot on pretty much every time, and it wasn't. Also - both new and old menus are priced to attract tourists, people who live in the pricey waterfront condos, business lunch types from nearby banks and marketing companies, and summer day trippers in for a day of shopping and smart cocktails before heading back out to Diamond Cove...the place is a ghost town off season during lunch and I'd say a good 80-90% of the regular lunchtime foot traffic takes a pass because of the prices. I often see people studying the menu before noting the prices, then choosing a nearby spot with a lower-priced menu.
If filling that big space is an issue, I think if they threw a couple of value priced ($7 and under) entrees on the lunch menu and the quality of food was more reliable, they'd have a regular, year-round customer base. I work right upstairs, by the way...this is the kind of comment I've heard plenty of times from co-workers and other tenants in the building - it's not just me, and while I like cheap eats, I'm not that much of a skinflint. We all tried Oolong (hey, it's convenient!) but none of us were regulars for the food despite the zero commute time and parking issues, although pretty much everyone likes the bar and barstaff. It'll be interesting to see how the new place does...for what it's worth, it SMELLS delicious -- we've been catching wafts of grilled-steak smells all week. Mmm.
You can get an entree for under 7 dollars at Shay's, Rosie's (you didn't say it had to be good) and the Dry Dock. You can also get darn close at Walter's and David's. Regardless of the prices - which every single person I have ever talked to about remarked as being to high - Oolong mainly failed because of their exceptional inconsistency. I have had good meals there and I have had food that was inedible (really the meat was so overcooked that it was actually impossible to eat). Portland's will fare no better. I walked by last evening at 7:30 and it was nearly empty - for a town that is always interested in trying something new - that is not a good sign.
Do you ever eat at any of these places? The only place that might have a 7 dollar sandwich might be Rosies. Ive NEVER waled out of the dry dock, David's or Walter's for less than 9 for lunch without bev tax and tip. As for last night, when I walked by Portland's around the same time as you, it appeared every seat on the bar side was taken. everywhere else in town seemed vacant as I am sure people went away for the long weekend
Opening a steakhouse in Portland is akin to throwing in the towel. I have noticed that the guy who ran Maverick's in the Portland Public Market hasn't re-emerged - that tells me there isn't a huge market in Portland for a place that broadcasts a specialty in steak (F. Parker Reidy's RIP).
I also live a stone's throw from the Oolong building and it has this awkward ambiance, being a hip bar with a restaurant appended to it. I've been there for lunch but - price aside - it gives off this weird vibe, like I am eating in a place that will be hopping in a few hours but is empty NOW. So I would find myself eating lunch and resenting the fact that I wasn't going to be there at prime time.
I hope it does well though - John at the bar is easily Portland's most talented bar tender...