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Portland's Oolong is Long Gone

k
Keefer Lucas Jan 12, 2007 01:00 PM

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...

  1. n
    Noreaster Jan 12, 2007 02:30 PM

    This pretty much sums it up in Meredith's Goad's Soup to Nuts column of the Press Herald. It was on the front page Wednesday:
    http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/foodhealth/soup2nuts/070110soup.html

    They also have their website up: www.topchops.com

    1. v
      Vacationland Jan 13, 2007 04:31 PM

      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.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Vacationland
        n
        Noreaster Jan 13, 2007 07:15 PM

        Please tell me within walking distance of your building there are sit down restaurants with entrees under 7 dollars. I seem to never find them. Also, I'm not sure what menus you are talking about but I never once paid over 10 for a lunch entree at oolongs

      2. e
        ejohnson Jan 14, 2007 12:27 PM

        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.

        1. n
          Noreaster Jan 14, 2007 01:00 PM

          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

          1. k
            Keefer Lucas Jan 14, 2007 04:18 PM

            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...

            1. h
              Hamhock Jan 14, 2007 04:35 PM

              Yeah, John at the bar is a friend of mine (he gets me my drinks for free!) He's quick with a joke, or to light up your smoke, but there's someplace that he'd rather be.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Hamhock
                g
                grittys457 Jan 15, 2007 01:24 AM

                Oolong is such a great looking place but I have never stepped foot inside there because I don't eat that type of food. I may check it out in their new form. I still think that is an awful name, Portland's. I could see Portland Chop Shop or something with Portland in it, but not Portland's.

                They have made a risky move if the Keg Steakhouse is going in, in back of Old Port Sea Grill. That is a very big chain and no other place in Portland will look like it. It's crazy enough that we have this many restaurants to begin with. Some just never seem to catch on.

                1. re: Hamhock
                  f
                  finewineserver Mar 6, 2007 05:39 AM

                  Harry Chapin?

                  1. re: Hamhock
                    f
                    finewineserver Mar 6, 2007 10:30 AM

                    Ooops - Billy Joel.

                  2. g
                    goat Jan 15, 2007 11:38 AM

                    Just so everyone knows, the owner of Oolong is still the owner of Portland's. He decided that the Asian concept wasn'tworking and decided to re-open as a steak house concept. Sort of a strange idea since the inside looks the exact same as it did before, but now its a steakhouse. If you are going to change concepts, you have to change something in the front of the house.

                    1. k
                      Keefer Lucas Jan 15, 2007 12:14 PM

                      I think the space needs to figure out whether it is a bar, or it is a restaurant. The beauty of The Sea Grill and 555 is that they have a hip bar "off to the side". I think the awkwardness of Oolong/Portland's is that the bar atmosphere obscures the purpose of the rest of the space...

                      1. v
                        Vacationland Jan 16, 2007 03:12 PM

                        You're right, Noreaster, there *aren't* a lot of choices in this area for sit-down lunches at that price point, which is why I made the suggestion that they consider adding a few such options to their menu. A house full of people ordering a few simple $5-7 lunches may not offer the same profit margin as a place full of people ordering $12-15 lunches, but it beats an empty house hands down!

                        As it is, most of us brown bag it or choose [relatively] bargain-priced local takeout fare like soup or sandwiches from Portland Coffee Roasters, Fit to Eat, Mr. Bagel over on Moulton, or The Crooked Mile on Milk St (most of these places do have a few tables, just not table service). Nappi's is kind of divey, but they also have a lot of affordable lunch specials; the guys in our office like it, though it's not to my taste. If we want sit-down, we also like Sapporo, which has quite a few lunch offerings in the under $8 range. Ditto Benkay.

                        The Oolong menu I was referring to is one I have at my desk in our company's menu folder. Lunch specials ranged in price from $8 to $14. Not *crazy* expensive, but once you factor in drinks & tip, I (and a lot of locals) can't afford that every day.

                        1. g
                          grittys457 Jan 16, 2007 03:48 PM

                          A quick, fairly inexpensive lunch is sometimes tough here. I either go to Henry VIII's or the Crooked Mile. Flatbread is always a good option too, but that can get very busy and I mostly leave wishing I had just gone to Henry's.

                          1. c
                            CascoBacon Mar 5, 2007 12:23 PM

                            Call it a hunch, but based on this as well as other threads, I suspect that Noreaster has more than a passing interest in Oolong/Portlands. If so, he ought to say so and comply with CH's posting etiquette.

                            1. d
                              Dinsdale45 Mar 6, 2007 08:34 AM

                              Last summer I ordered takeout from Oolong's and the wait was more than an hour (I had a boat to catch and tried to let them know this). The restaurant wasn't busy but the bar was, and this was given as an explaination for the long wait. The bill for an appetizer, entree, and special lobster fried rice came to over 40 bucks. There was barely any lobster in the rice, yet they charged about 17 bucks for it. I complained to the manager about the long wait and he basically shrugged his shoulders. Good riddance.

                              1. v
                                Vacationland Mar 10, 2007 05:17 PM

                                I think you may be right about Noreaster, CascoBaron...a little while (probably no more than a week) after we mentioned price as an issue here -- I think I mentioned $7 as a prohibitive price point, did anyone notice the little blackboard sign appear on the sidewalk, touting menu items at $6.95? How coincidental! Place is still pretty empty at lunch.

                                1. Dual Mar 10, 2007 06:07 PM

                                  Apologies to the board: I somehow managed to miss this thread when I posted the review linked below (mostly because searching for a restaurant named "Portland's" is hopeless):

                                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/379655

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: Dual
                                    t
                                    Thirstin Howl Jul 3, 2007 12:34 AM

                                    And now that "PORTLAND'S RESTAURANT & BAR" (wow! There's a mouthful) is gone--what has the board to say?

                                    1. re: Thirstin Howl
                                      e
                                      ejohnson Jul 3, 2007 04:58 AM

                                      As I is said earlier on this same thread right after they opened.

                                      "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."

                                      Anybody that thought Portland's would survive is ignorant of what Portlanders are looking for.

                                      1. re: Thirstin Howl
                                        k
                                        Keefer Lucas Jul 6, 2007 03:37 AM

                                        I'll reiterated my earlier feeling, which is that the space has bad feng shui - no one wants to walk through a popular bar (and Portland's/Oolong is a GREAT bar) on their way to dinner. Its a bit like trying to find the lingerie section at LL Bean.

                                        Both Oolong and Portland's should have faired better than they did - until the landlord separates the square footage into two separate lease spaces, it will not survive as a restaurant. I predict a bar/nightclub iteration next - and with the Pavillion out of commission it might work - atleast for awhile.

                                        1. re: Keefer Lucas
                                          g
                                          gastrotourist Jul 6, 2007 07:02 AM

                                          Adam White was the original chef at Oolong. It seems that after he left the place went down hill. I think he's at Clay Hill Farm in Southern Maine now. He used to be the chef at Hurricane's in Ogunquit back in the day. Come to think of it, Hurricane's went out soon after Adam left as well. That's a little weird....

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