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Bresca in Portland....very good indeed!

For my birthday we ventured to the great north and landed in one of my favourite places, Portland. Went to Bresca, beside the police station for dinner. We had not seen it before, so decided to skip Street & Co this time for something new. We had two apps; crostini, and beets with goat cheese. They were both flavourful, and well presented. The beets were scarce though, very tiny squares in a line on the plate, but the cheese and greens together were tasty. We had three crostini, with tomato, olive and red pepper toppings. The staff were very accommodating of my food allergy, and made the crostini to our liking.
For the entree I had basic pasta, in wide strips with very aromatic herbs and zingy sauce. My husband had the black bass, served whole. It was so light and the combination of diced vegetables worked very well.
The place is tiny, it seats 20 people, including the bar area. I thought the bar was a little oddly arranged. You can sit and eat at the bar, but it seems like a big wall of wine and condiments looming over you as you eat. The service was very good, and the noise level was fine. It does get loud when the police are called out, and it made for good conversation between the guests. Tables are at close enough quarters, and it feels like a very friendly neighbourhood eatery. We skipped dessert, as the entrees were enough to sustain us through the snow storm to our hotel.

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  1. Ooh, sounds intriguing. What were the prices like?

    4 Replies
    1. re: sopobungalow

      I have not been there, but I glanced at the menu the other day and the prices are relatively high (About mid twenties for entrees).

      I am sure that the food is good and it could be fantastic, but an expensive Northern Italian/European eatery is the last thing that Portland needs. We are swamped with Caiola’s, Cinque Terra, Vignola’s, Café Uffa, Fore st. and Bar Lola. Some of these places are good, and some are not so good, but the market in Portland is cramped with them. What Portland needs is more casual joints that people in the city feel comfortable eating at on a regular basis. The Norm’s empire does by far the best job of it but so does The Front Room, Shay’s and Dogfish Café. These places are packed EVERY night but somehow people think that Portland needs another high end European restaurant- I wish they would have a little creativity and open something different for once.

      1. re: ejohnson

        Speaking of new casual joints-Flirts- on Forest ave near Haggarty's seems corporate to me, from the slick logo to the standard looking Applebee's food,,,,,anyone else?????

        1. re: sk46

          I couldn't get past the name to actually make it inside!

      2. re: sopobungalow

        Went to Bresca last evening for the first time. Actually I think it may be JUST what Portland needs. A European style restaurant that is actually capable of preparing foor properly. I have given up on Fore Street, Hugos, Cinque Terre and 555. They all have the self assurance, but don't deliver. Duck, pasta, salad and wine at Bresca were outstanding. Portland needs less restaurants with indifferent food. (I do agree Norms is great, precisely because it is what it sets out to be.)

      3. I can answer your question regarding prices. I was there a few nights ago, and dinner for two (apps, main course, dessert, glass of wine each) ran about $85, and it was worth every penny. Wonderful. I'll definitely be back. As for Portland not needing another restaurant like Bresca . . . If you think that Hugos, 555, Caiola's, Fore St, etc are all alike, then I can see how you'd come to that conclusion. But they're all so different! Bresca really is a welcome addition.

        1 Reply
        1. re: rufustfi

          Well, you got away light! We also (5 of us) dined there recently, and with tip and a little more wine, it was $285. But definitely worth it. The chef's desserts are remarkable: we all agreed we couldn't remember a time recently when every dessert on the menu (there were 5) was one we might have chosen. And I, too, find Bresca a nice change. For example, where have you last had a shaved Brussel sprout w/ Parmesan for a first course, tasting more like a really interesting slaw than the original veg (and I like sprouts)! Or slices of multi-colored local beets accompanied with light little pillows of fried ricotta in hazel-nut sauce? Even the familiars, like braised rabbit or duck can be counted on for an intriguing variation on taste. I find the small wine list to be reasonably priced and thoughtful.
          On the one hand, it's small, crowded, and can be noisy. On the other, I'd hate to see chef get overboard trying to cook for larger numbers. I just hope the place continues to thrive as it is.

        2. We ate at Bresca's last month and thought it was one of the best restaurants in Portland. As I posted elsewhere about Brescas: we've dined at all the usual suspects - 555, Hugos, Fore St, Street and Co, etc). Our server was very well informed, and took the time to explain each dish. I had a fish special (cod fume with tiny clams) that was perfectly prepared. Others had a variety of pasta dishes -- all were homemade and just melted in your mouth. The desserts were equally delicious, and they had an interesting selection -- I had a dish that included an almond cake with a poached pear and cranberry compote -- heavenly! Others had the chocolate soup, and a selection of homemade gelatos. With this quality, I expected it too be far more pricey than it was. We found the prices extremely reasonable and the food exceptional. Also, the wine selected by our server was just right. We will definitely return. Just be aware that the place is tiny, and that reservations are a must on a weekend (and maybe during the week as well).

          1. A wonderful restaurant. The pastas are incredible: silky and perfect. It -is- too crowded. When this space was The Vinyard years ago the accomodations were much better in terms of comfort.

            Anyone remember the Moonie-run sushi restaurant that used to be there?

            1. We finally tried Bresca a few nights ago and really enjoyed it. Although, holy cow, the space is tight. So much so that when my cell phone (set to vibrate!) slipped out of my pocket, it was easier for the guy at the table behind me to fetch it, rather than deal with the complicated logistics that would've been necessary for me to get up.

              The food was wonderful. We tried apps including a fabulous antipasto with speck, serrano ham and a third tasty meat that I can't remember, plus charred grape tomatoes; and a date, chorizo and cheese bite that was swoon-worthy. The beet salad was beautifully presented, and quite tasty, as was my kale, poached egg and prosciutto.

              For entrees, the duck with polenta and mascarpone was the clear winner. My sister's rabbit fricassee was very good, but my choice - agnollotti filled with chestnut and pumpkin in a chicken liver and balsamic reduction - was way too sweet and rich to work as a main course. It would've been great as an appetizer. So I was glad there were 5 of us, and I could trade away some of my pasta for bites of others' meals.

              Desserts were fabulous. I had the fruit-filled beignets... I'm not a connoisseur, but they were heavenly -- light and crispy.

              I've heard Bresca criticized for over-salting the food. I didn't notice that initially, but after a while I realized that I was insanely thirsty. I tend not to mind a good bit of salt, but my husband's not a fan, and he definitely noticed it.

              As for price: for 5, we paid $325, with two bottles of wine, 3 "bites" to share, and an appetizer, entree and dessert each.

              1. My boyfriend made a reservation for us to dine at Bresca recently for my birthday, based on all of the glowing reviews that he had seen on Yelp. Unfortunately our experience did not live up to our expectations. I would agree with others that the starter dishes on the menu were quite good - the shaved brussels sprouts were delicious. However, the limited menu was primarily protein focused, and the duck breast that I ordered (although perfectly cooked) was undersalted (perhaps in response to other's reactions on this board) and I found the honey glaze to be overpoweringly sweet and acidic at the same time. In addition, the tender meat was served atop a super-creamy polenta, leaving the dish little to no texture. I would agree that the wine pairings are well-chosen. The biggest issue we found, however, is the restaurant's identity. At first glance it seems quite cozy with pillows for the long benches and candles throughout the intimate (tight) space. However, the formality in which the servers interacted with guests is not in keeping with the ambiance. The entire dessert menu (with six complicated desserts) was recited from memory, and by the time we heard the fourth option, we couldn't remember what the first was. Competent, yes, warmth, no. Unfortunately we won't be returning.

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                Bresca
                111 Middle Street, Portland, ME 04101

                2 Replies
                1. re: coneyislandgirl

                  I agree 100% Coneyislandgirl...My wife and I were there a few weeks ago and we did enjoy the food (sure, small portions but not worth me griping about, well, except the fish which looked to be about a 3oz portion, maybe 4oz, maybe) but our last impression, unfortunately was not about the food, but rather the awkwardness of attempting to converse with each other. People next to us were clearly feeling awkward as well. I think you said it perfectly that the restaurant feels "cozy" (visceral reaction) but then the formality of the server(s), table settings, etc...all add up to a formal feel. That leads to very quiet and uncomfortable conversations (not unlike a conversation at a library) trying not to impede on your neighbors' discussion. She has enough talent/ability to move to a bigger location - I hope she does because we will not be back either.

                  1. re: obraustin

                    I went to dinner at Bresca about a year ago with my family (4 people total) and I thought the place was great. It is small inside but who cares. As long as you have your group to chat with while you eat why worry about what others near you are talking about. The food was stellar and I left full. I ordered the shaved brussels sprouts appetizer and had the steak for an entree. The portions were not massive but on par for higher end dining. My only complaint is that they did not have local beer. All the beers they had were imported from France or something. How are you not going to serve local beer at your restaurant in a city like Portland when there are at least 3-4 great breweries in town! I was miffed.

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                    Bresca
                    111 Middle Street, Portland, ME 04101