Fuel: Lewiston ME
I don't trust web pages to handle accent marks and the like, so I'm omitting them here.
Coming from the Brunswick area as I do, I've had a lifelong relationship with the Lewiston/Auburn area and have watched its decline with great sadness. Lisbon Street, once one of the state's principal commercial avenues, is now home to a handful of Somali groceries, substance abuse centers and storefront ministries. To the best of my recollection, the area hasn't had a restaurant of note since No Tomatoes closed decades ago. So when Fuel and Gritty McDuff's started being featured in public radio sponsorship messages, I checked them both out.
Gritty's: fuggedaboudit. You'd do much better at the chain restaurants near the Auburn Mall. It's too bad: they have a wonderful deck overlooking the river and the Lewiston riverfront.
Fuel: a place of deep contradictions, so essentially Lewiston in its naivete and eagerness to please that it almost hurts to write about it.
Fuel presents itself as a bistro and is a fairly large restaurant, decorated in a kind-of-hip style. The ambience is warm and welcoming. They don't just offer dinner in the dining room and from the menu: other options include "Private Dining" (a single secluded alcove behind curtains), meals served to you in the "Chef’s Table... in the middle of the kitchen, so guests can get a real feel of what goes on in a true, working kitchen. The kitchen can get hot, loud, and busy, but that is part of the fun." and finally "Feed Me Justin.. a 4 course tasting. The chef will prepare 4 special courses for the table, with your recommendations." In all honesty they should strip all this out and concentrate on the details of what's going on in the dining room.
We went there on a Saturday night and it was quite busy by 6:00. People do not dress to go to Fuel: I was the only patron in the restaurant who wore a sport jacket. The staff is uniformly friendly, welcoming and informative. The service is downright odd.
Our meal was constantly being interrupted by interrogatories: would we like this napkin removed, how about that one, here is your amuse-bouche, here is what an amuse-bouche is, how did we like the amuse-bouche, was it OK to take that glass away; how about this one? Are you done with this, finished with that? It never, ever stopped. Our waitress was so sweet that it was hard to get upset about what was going on, and we certainly got to know her well, but the overall approach was completely unprofessional and worked totally against any sense of dining as a private or intimate experience.
The food was excellent at times, and sad at others. We started with a stellar charcuterie plate featuring excellent meats: there was a very nice rough pork pate and paper-thin cured sausage. Fuel's signature fried green tomatoes were also wonderful, but at eight quarter-inch deep-fried slices per service, waaay waay more than should have been put before a single diner. This turns out to represent a pattern.
My main course was terrible: I'd ordered the house's featured coq au vin because it's pretty hard to screw up. This one was served with tiny cocktail onions tasting strongly of vinegar from their jar. They played a Mutt-and-Jeff act against full-size unsliced mushrooms. The sauce, seriously overthickened with something like cornstarch, tasted like nothing so much as barbecue sauce: it had a downhome smoky flavor, presumably a nod to the salt pork that was supposed to be in there, and an unexpected sweetness. Just totally wrong. My wife's lemon-flavored chicken entree was presumably better: I couldn't get past what I was dealing with to evaluate it very well.
The coq au vin was a meat-and-potatoes-only entree, so I ordered a salad to accompany it- one of the best salads I've ever had. A simple combination of very fresh lettuces spiked with a touch of arugula and a perfectly-balanced dressing with hints of lemon juice and mustard, sadly it was enough for a party of six. I kid not about this. So most went back to the kitchen, and I felt terrible since so much of the chicken went back uneaten as well.
For dessert we had a tarte tatin based on puff pastry, just about perfect. We really enjoyed it.
I ordered a cognac with dessert: a bit later the waitress came back to ask if I wanted it on the rocks or straight up.
Further notes: the breads are decent at best. The wine list is well thought through, quite reasonably priced and makes a remarkably generous selection available by the glass. The coffee was first-rate.
I wish Fuel the very best, but we won't make a point of returning.
Searching the web reveals a second Lewiston restaurant with significant aspirations. Called Fishbone's, it is run by culinary-school grads who talk in a website promotional video about mouth-feel and the like. Their approach to cooking fish is to "paint" it (their term) with many stripes of sauces: what appears on the video comes across looking like plates of nachos.
Thought I'd add my experience through this posting as I and my friend, a long time cook, had similar reactions when we ate at Fuel last night.
Appetizers were very good --- escargot nice and garlicky, the hors d'oeurves was beets, olives and something like coleslaw which I didn't taste. The crusty bread and butter were very good by themselves but did yeoman's service sopping garlic butter from the plumb escargot.
Steak au poivre was tasty and large but, as pointed out by another writer, the arugula salad came on the plate. This presentation should change. The menu said that the steak came with a cream, cognac and veal reduction. Well, if it did it was reduced out of sight and taste.
Rack of lamb on a bed of white beans and tomato was, in my opinion, not done well. The meat portion was quite large but I noticed a funny taste to it as did my friend. We decided that it was salmon and that it is likely that the lamb was browned and/or cooked in a pan that had been used for salmon and not cleaned. Also, I ordered it medium rare and parts were close to raw. The beans were edible but crunchy and the concoction not particularly flavorful. All in all, unacceptable.
Tarte tatin was very good as was the coffee---decaf and regular.
I think that there are still some waitstaff logistics problems. Everyone was very friendly and hard working but the waitress got busy and did not ask a busboy to give us more bread as we had asked. Hey, we've got hot garlic butter to sop up! Also, if she had timed it right I would have had another glass of wine.
I too hope that Fuel and other businesses can make it in Lewiston. I think that if Fuel can bring everything up to the high standards that some aspects attain, it will be well worth more visits.
No Tomatoes Restaurant----thanks for reviving some very good memories for me.
Their outstanding Shrimp Wellington still lingers in my mind and they had some outstanding beers there as well.
Sorry to hear that downtown Lewistown has gone "to the dogs".
I kind of had that feeling when I read Lewiston,Maine news over the years.
My companion and I, both longtime residents of Lewiston-Auburn, recently decided to try Fuel. Finally, we have a place to go for dinner; otherwise, the Twin Cities offer very few decent dining options. Fuel is very good, although I did find the service odd.
We arrived at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday and were not acknowledged for about five minutes -- it was awkward, since there weren't many people there, and we stood out like sore thumbs. We were on the verge of leaving when the bartendender called out that the hostess would be right with us. The hostess then told us that the wait would be about 10 minutes -- the restaurant was less than half full -- and asked us to take a seat in the "lounge," a seating area right next to the bar. This would have been pleasant except for a large flat-screen TV over the bar (a real turnoff for us) and that no one offered to bring us drinks for another five minutes or so. When the bartender finally brought my companion's order, he was clutching three stemmed glasses between his hands -- sans tray, as one reviewer previously noted -- tiptoeing along and trying not to spill anything. It was silly. No matter: Within seconds, the hostess arrived to escort us to our table. I did find it odd that no one offered to take our coats or direct us to the coat rack. Once we were seated, our server noted with some irritation that I did not have a drink in front of me. When I replied that it was OK, I hadn't ordered one, she seemed exasperated. A conflict with the bartender? I wondered.
My companion ordered the fried green tomatoes to start. These were flavorless and unremarkable. For entrees, he ordered the steak au poivre, and I, the steak frites. Both steaks were excellent. The frites were, again, unremarkable. As much as I liked the hanger steak and accompanying salad, the portions of both beef and potato were far too large. The frites were served in a separate metal funnel; when I set them on the table for my companion to share, they were promptly whisked away by the server. No great loss.
For dessert, we ordered a roasted citrus gratin and a flourless chocolate torte. The gratin was outstanding. I wouldn't order the chocolate again.
Dinner for two with two drinks, one appetizer, two entrees and two desserts came to $78 before tax and tip.
re: Nelly Bly
"To the dogs" is relative, of course. I don't see the Somali groceries on Lisbon St. as a sign of decline at all. To me they mean one more specialty food I don't have to mail-order! A little diversity in the food supply is welcome in central Maine, as much as the fancy-pants likes of Fuel and Fishbones.
I do miss Austin's deli/wine shop in Auburn: great sandwiches and a good selection.
I had high hopes for Gritty's, but they seem to have barely average pub food, little or no atmosphere, and brews that I can for the most part buy at the supermarket and enjoy at home. Still, where else can you get cask-conditioned ale in the Twin Cities?
Made an online reservation for Tuesday at 5:00PM. Although not really needed.
First time for us at FUEL.
Since it was early, only an elderly couple walked onto the premises just before us.
They seemed to be recognised (more later)
The hostess very nicely guided us to a table of two, and with most tables of two, one of the two people has to face the wall, well not really they should face their partner, in my case my lovely wife.
But, I just hate to face walls, even with wife, so I asked for another table, a four-top, which sat kiddy corner, allowing both of us to view the room more openly. My wish was granted without any objection.
Menues, rather large single page ones, were presented by the hostess with a Wine list and I asked to take the Wine list back, as both of us do not imbibe in any Alcoholic Beverages. The servers name was mentioned, which I naturely forgot, and without any delay, a nice young lady appeared and made a recommendation to non-alcoholic beverages, apparenty being aware of my comment to no Wine list. Nice gesture to reccon.
Our beverages were brought to the tabel, two bottles of O'Doule, only comment I have here, wait personnel should be instructed to place labeled bottles facing the customer so the patron does not have to turn the bottle in order to read the label. A minor.
Later on I noticed, after a few more guests arrived, that all beverages to include aperitives or cocktails were carried all by hand without trays. This may be easier for servers to accomplish the delivery, but it looks awkward and seems to be sort of 'family/home way', trays to bring these drinks do look better.
An amuse-bouche, consisting of a porcellain spoon containing shredded carrots and were, as explained by the server, marinated with currents and a vinaigarette. Nice touch.
The Menu. my wife selected the Tomato Bisque, and I opted for the Cassoulet, although not listed on the appetizer side but on "Other"
Both selections were served in old fashioned Boston Baked Bean Bowls and on an underliner plate with a doily in between. Noted was the 'reverse' placing of the doily, doilies are two sided, a smooth and a rough side due to the 'stamping-out' procedure by the manufacturer. The smooth side is supposed to be facing up. Not a big deal, maybe not even known to many.
The Bisque was sort of 'grainy', a more thorough, maybe twice, straining through a 'Passoire' would have given the Bisque a better texture. A lack of Cream was noticed. 'Tomatoes' being out of season had an impact on the overall weak taste. The topping, a 'Mille-feuille' was not totally as fluffy as one should have expected.
My Cassoulet, obiously of the 'Carcassonne' style vs. 'Castelnaudary' or 'Toulousaine' , as it contained Duck, needed a bit of Salt and I missed some Garlic.
Otherwise it was very good and sure plentyful as an Appetizer, but this was my choice.
Bread and Butter was a crusty French Bread, good, Butter ordinary.
My wife choose the Lamb Sirloin, a very generous portion, a bit undercooked for medium rare , but lacked any Salt, which I think and strongly believe in should have been applied before exposure to broiling. Sweet Potato Purree was OK, sauteed Brussels Sprouts cut have been a selection of the 'smaller' kind vs. large ones cut in half, and maybe a bit of grated Nutmeg would have enhanced their flavor. Sprouts doneness was proper.
I selected the Steak Frites medium rare, here also the lack of salt at the beginning of broiling would have benefitted the otherwise very tasty Hanger Steak. My meat was also a bit under done, but acceptable, a slice of Butter on top lacked herbacious flavor.
A big MINUS was the placement of 'dressed' Salad Greens on the same plate, with its liquids oozing onto the Steak, I asked for a seperate plate, and received it, to move my Greens onto. Also on the same Steak platter was a two ounce cocotte with Tomato Ketchup, I hope is was meant to be for the very tasty and crisp French Fried Potatoes and not for the Steak as a condiment. But these nice Potaoes did not need Ketchup, or it should be served by request only, and, my suggestion: 'reluctantly' !
Desserts were offered without pressure, and the choices were professionally explained and recited, although we both declined for lack of space, so, the next time: NO Cassoulet.
Back to the earlier mention of recognition. We assumed the owner was present, as I identified a person in blue jeans and a FUEL T-Shirt, was positioned at the end of the bar area, and at times greeting bar patrons profusely with hugs of welcoming. Also phone calls were answered and on two occasions the gentleman made trips into the obious kitchen entrance and passing by our table with a mere glance at us.
But a stop by the table of the elderly couple mentioned here at the beginning, and engaging in a conversation was noted. Two other tables besides us were also ignored.
A larger party apparently took place in another room, but the gentleman did not visited there either, as his time was 'at the bar'.
Overall, a very good Meal, and yes I would come back, and I also will recommend " FUEL " to others.
re: Peter B Wolf
Peter B Wolf,a great review as all of these were.I have to say,I do respect the fact that Eric Agren replies to these posts.It is not always easy to address criticism,but I have seen him respond again and again.For this reason,I believe he is doing his very best to please his patrons,and I believe he will succeed.I travel to central Maine quite often,and I will make this a stop,whether each and every experience was to my liking.The reason for this is I believe I will see progress in motion each and every time I visit.Keep up the good work Eric.
re: Peter B Wolf
As always, I want to thank you for taking the time to provide feedback. We really do care, and we will take any information we can for improvement.
Drink delivery - your label comment is noted. As for the other drinks, we have a 'no tray' policy here at Fuel, except under certain circumstances. Overall, I believe that it delivers a more personal touch, escpecially with entree delivery.
Your description of our tomato soup has prompted me to revisit the dish. We roast the tomatoes, then pass them through a chinois, but only once. We add very little cream, although that developed from customer feedback. In any event, I am having our kitchen look into it.
Additionally, I am going to ask for feedback from other guests on our bistro salad for our Steak Frites. It seems like a valid issue.
The ketchup - for the frites. When we opened our restaurant, we did not serve ketchup, available upon request. However, we found over 90% of the guests wanted it, so we automatically include it with the entree.
Finally, that was me with the Fuel t-shirt at the bar. (Kind of a dress down night for sure) The reason I was at the bar, and not visiting all tables (which I very much like to do, its the best way to hear about how we are doing) is that we are revamping our wine list, and I was working on that. I was pretty caught up in it, although I have to say that tasting new wines is not a bad part of the job.
Again, thank you for the time you spent to write down your thoughts, we are listening, and appreciate it.
I was excited to hear that Lewiston has some new dining choices, but I was a little disappointed when I ordered a gift certificate from them as a Christmas gift for my in-laws. Fuel sent me a computer print out of a web page, something I could have done at home, but didn't want a cheesy printout as a gift. I would expect a restaurant which is considered to be upscale to have a better attention to detail.
Due to the nature of the online gift certificate secuirty features (bar coding, etc.), I could not reprint the gift certificate you bought online. We were using an outside company for this service, as we felt it was better than nothing as far as convenience for our customers.
We have now built the system internally, and manage the whole process here at Fuel. So, in the future, all customers will get a hard card stock, in-house printed certificate.
Thank you for the feedback. We totally agreed with you. That is why we paid our software developer to build the system so we could manage it in-house.
re: Eric Agren
We checked out Fish Bones last night. No comparison. Fuel wins.
Fish Bones has a lovely atmosphere and the separate bar area is very cozy. With the open ceiling and cement floor, it's very loud.
Service was friendly, but our waitress had trouble pronouncing some of the specials (tilapia and tempura).
We had a gin & tonic (way too strong) and a Raspberry Cosmo to start. We forgot to order an app. Bread was brought out, combo of sliced baguette, some type of softer bread with crust and a sweet bread that appeared to be zucchini or something (flecks of green and orange in it).
Entrees come with soup or salad (caesar or mixed green). DH chose the clam chowder which he said was good. I had the mixed green salad. No choice given for dressing. It was ok, but seemed to have been put on the plate earlier as the lettuce was slightly wilted. It had julienned carrots, zucchini, maybe yellow carrot?, thinly sliced red pepper and red onions that I tasted all night long. It came dressed with a balsamic dressing.
For entrees I had the Land & Sea which was an "filet style" Angus sirloin, grilled day boat scallops and gulf shrimp. The filet was well cooked (med rare) and there were two shrimp arranged around two scallops on a skewer. The shrimp and scallop were cooked ok, but I didn't see any grill marks. The scallops did not taste like "day boat" more like wet packed. They had that somewhat metalic taste to them. The meat was on a pool of some kind of rosemary sauce, and the plate was "painted" with some green, pinkish and other green "stuff" that had somewhat gelled and was not appealing in the least. There was small pile of mashed potatoes under the meat and steamed broccoli, carrots and brussels sprout (well 1/2 of one) on the side. The veggies were not seasoned and over steamed.
DH had the lamb sirloin which was well cooked (med rare) and served on top of a "risoto cake" that was an odd brown color and topped with horribly gray brussels sprouts. He said I could teach them at thing or two about how to prepare brussels sprouts.
We declined desserts because they didn't appeal to us.
The one thing I liked very much was when I ordered a glass of wine with my meal, the server brought the bottle from the bar and poured it, so you could taste first if you wanted (which she did not offer, but I saw happen at another table) and you could see the bottle so you knew what you were getting.
The one thing that ruined the whole experience for me...
I had a view of the open kitchen and as I observed I noticed something up on a shelf behind the chef. A BOX OF FRANZIA "WINE" that they must have been using to cook. Ick.
Overall my impression was that Fishbones is trying too hard to be upscale but it really isn't.
I am a student at Bates College in Lewiston, and tonight when I met my friends for dinner, I expected to be going to the dining hall, as usual.
But, they surprised me! As a late birthday present they took my out to Fuel, the restaurant that has been all the buzz on campus. When we heard about Fuel we were so excited, because as has been mentioned, Lewiston is rather lacking in the culinary department and is quite a sad town these days in general. A restaurant we haven't tried yet? Amazing.
So off we go! We felt it was surprisingly upscale for the location, but we still felt comfortable in jeans and t-shirts. The decor is cute, we liked the candles, the music was fitting, we loved the look of the 'private dining' room, everything was clean, and it's even connected to a small art gallery.
It was packed, but we made reservations. (By the way, I'm so glad they take reservations... Da Vinci's, the only other really decent restaurant in town, and one of my favorites, doesn't take reservations at all... so when my boyfriend visited and I took him out, we had to wait an hour and forty-five minutes for dinner!)
In any case, our waitress was really nice, professional, informative, and attentive (but not overly as the original reviewer seems to have experienced...). We started things off with fondue for three. It was FABULOUS. The best fondue I've ever had. The cheese was just the right consistancy and there was plenty to go around without wasting any. They gave us more bread when we ate the whole tray with gusto. I would go back just for the fondue. Order the fondue if you go!
For the main course I had filet mignon medium rare with mashed potatos and bordelaise sauce. It was fantastic. The meat was perfectly cooked, it melted in my mouth. The sauce and the potatos went very well together. One of my friends had the same thing with the meat well done. He doesn't usually like mashed potatos but he loved these. My other friend had the lamb with brussel sprouts and sweet potatos and loved it, and she also said she usually hates brussel sprouts but she really liked those! We all got the side of home-made mac'n'cheese, which was wonderful but we were so stuffed we took it home. (That is, of course, standard eating out strategy... yay for not having to leave our dorm in the snow to get food this weekend!) We finished off with lava cake and chocolate mousse, both delicious. The entire dessert menu sounded amazing, I was gaping as our waitress recited it. In fact, as I passed other tables on the way to the restroom I saw so many dishes that looked very tasty.
We concluded that it's crazy we had only just found Fuel. It was the best meal I've had in Lewiston and frankly the best meal I've had in months, period. Everything was great and there was so much more we wanted to try. We're planning to try the four course chef's meal when we've gone through the menu ourselves. I cannot reccomend Fuel more. The only minor negatives were that sometimes the terminology was a bit much (we know it strove for trendy, but calling the soups 'liquids' on the menu?) And it was so popular that they were short on a few items (only one pasta of the day was left when we arrived at 7:15, and they made a special arrangement for the fondue since there was no fuel left [an irony we didn't comment on], but again, the fondue was amazing so it didn't really matter in the end).
My husband and I had a lovely dinner at Fuel this evening. The food was excellent, service, for the most part, was very good. The space is beautiful.
We had 7pm reservations, found on-street parking and after navigating a few snow banks, found ourselves in a very warm and inviting space. We were met by a lovely hostess in a cute "little black dress" (I'll get back to that) and shown immediately to our seat (2 of us, 4 top) . Despite seeing a coat rack by the rest room, no one offered to take our coats. Thankfully, the extra two seats gave us spots for our coats.
After we were seated we pondered the menu and wine list for a while...then a little more..then finally (maybe 5-7 minutes?) a cute girl showed up to fill our water glasses and asked if we wanted bread (we said yes). What caught us off guard is that we noticed that all the other servers, and bus people were wearing black...all black. This girl had on tan cords, and a redish zip-up hoodie that were not black.. at all. We wondered if she didn't get the memo on the dress code. It sounds like an odd thing to notice, but when EVERYONE is wearing black, she really stood out.
After receiving our bread and water, our server stopped by and promised us that she saw us, and would be back in a few minutes. As promised, she reappeared and took our order. I had a glass of Louis Latour Pinot Noir ($7) and DH had a Bombay Sapphire and tonic. We placed our full order at the same time (she advised that was a good idea, as we got in front of a 9 top).
We chatted, and observed the other diners....and waited....then the server reappeared and very apologetically told DH that they were out of the escargot that he had ordered, but suggested the Maine Shrimp and Chorizo sausage, as it was similar. He agreed. Very soon thereafter our drinks arrived (stemless wine glasses, I'm not a huge fan of those) and then the apps. The shrimp and chorizo was delicious...very, very lightly sauteed fresh Maine shrimp with chorizo, garlic and butter with a piece of bread in the middle of the plate. I stole a few of the shrimp and put them in my cauliflower soup with lobster, (a good creamy cauliflower soup a few bits of lobster in the middle)
For entrees DH had the Pork Shank braised w/red wine, served on spinach fettuccine with caramelized onions. The meat was falling-of-the-bone (s) tender and delicious, but was served on a PILE of fettuccine and the onions. Way too much pasta. It would have worked better on something else. I had the braised beef short rib w/fingerling potatoes and carrots. It was melt-in-your-mouth tender, but had too many potatoes, and only 2 carrots. We also had a side of cauliflower gratin, which was piping hot and cheesy, but needed a tad bit of salt, but was a very generous portion for $4.
For dessert DH had the Root Beer Float with Elis' rootbeer and homemade vanilla bean ice-cream and a home-made donut dusted with powdered sugar. The stand out was the ice cream. The donut was ok, and obviously very freshly prepared, but was a bit bland, however was better dipped in the float. He described it as good but not "killer good:
Our server was very pleasant and we felt she really valued our feedback. After we paid, our check was returned by who I assumed to be Eric the owner (after Googling the restaurant and finding a picture of him). The total before tip was $84 (2 glasses of wine, 1 drink, 1 soup, 1 app, 2 entrees and 1 dessert). A great deal. We are looking forward to returning to try the frites...they looked amazing!!
As a side note...
the bathrooms are very nice and clean and modern. I was impressed with the fact that the hot water was actually HOT, immediately. Not something you find often in a public restroom. Just a few nit-picky things...the restrooms could use a SERIOUS high dusting, and perhaps store the soap refills somewhere other than right under the very open counter.
" then the server reappeared and very apologetically told DH that they were out of the escargot that he had ordered, but suggested the Maine Shrimp and Chorizo sausage, as it was similar. "
I have a question: "was similar', Your comment ? or the server's ?
I just do not see any similarity in snails and shrimp/chorizo
re: Peter B Wolf
Good to hear it is getting some traction -- I sent both of my parents there in the past few weeks with mixed reviews. The menu looked great when I was there and I am excited, as a girl who grew up in both Brunswick and Auburn, to get something new and FUN to try north of Portland, but not a 2-hour drive away.
Recently business has taken me into the L/A area a fair amount, and I've made a point to stop into Fuel a couple of times. The food, wine and service (I ate at the bar) were all remarkable and I really enjoyed being there. Lewiston is lucky to have Fuel around and I wish them the very best.
They say, Dual, that you've lived in Lewiston too long when you start thinking of Brunswick as a good restaurant town. And I have my favorite Brunswick spots -- and my favorites in Boston, Portland, NY, Washington, etc. I am lucky to be able to travel in my work and eating in a variety of restaurants is a habit and a joy.
Eating at Fuel, so close to home, is a wonder. There I have enjoyed full course meals, as well as meals comprised entirely of delicious and varied "sides." My favorites include the sublime salads, the steak frites (gorgeous), and yes, the coq au vin. The food is just plain tasty, and if there's too much of it, I take it home to relish later. (Come ON. I know you fancy Brunswick folks believe in doggy bags, just like the hoi polloi here in L/A.)
I do have two complaints about Fuel, both of which, tellingly, revolve around cheese. First, the Caesar salad used to be served in a bowl of crunchy parmesan -- absolute heaven. A few weeks after opening the sublime cheese bowls disappeared. We questioned the waitress and discovered that fussy chef Justin wasn't sure that his crew could always produce the same perfect product -- so he took them off the menu rather than serve an imperfect version. I wept, but understood. My fantasy is that someday I'll eat dinner in the kitchen and he'll make one just for me.
Hey. A girl's gotta have fantasies, right?
My second cheese complaint involves an apple tarte I had a week or so ago. It was served with a crust of cheddar. AND ice cream. Choose one, dear. We don't need both and cheese ice cream is just plain weird.
That said, fried green tomatoes, crisp haricots verts kissed with shallots, and leek and potato gratin -- yum. The gratin, with a glass of wine, would be dinner enough for a less greedy gal.
Oh, and by the way Dual -- Lisbon Street hasn't been "one of the state's principal commercial avenues" since Pica was a little girl, many moons ago. (When her mom used to bring her to Lewiston whenever she needed a 'dress up dress'.) But dude, Lisbon Street has improved mightily over the past decade -- you may see Somali grocery stores, but I see evidence of a vital new culture taking root in our city. And you may not have noticed that Lisbon Street is home to much development -- banking centers, a college, law offices and professional buildings have joined the beautifully revitalized Lewiston Public Library and the courthouse. Oh, and that big building across the street? That’s the major call center for LLBean. Open your eyes -- it is a vital neighborhood, albeit not an itsy-putsy cute college town like Brunswick.
I guess the biggest sign of Fuel’s success is that I frequently can’t get a reservation for the weekend if I call after Thursday morning. Can you think of a restaurant in Brunswick – maybe since 22 Lincoln closed nearly 20 years ago – of which you can say the same?
Kudos to the Agrens and to Chef Justin. Oh, and work on those parmesan bowls, would ya?
First off, I want everyone to know that I am the owner of Fuel. As a concerned owner, I visit Chowhound often, looking for feedback. After posting a detailed response, and then reading the guidelines, I wanted to post a modified response, that exclusivley addresses some miscommunication.
As you mentioned, Lisbon street is not what it used to be. However, I want to clarify that it does not have any substance abuse centers (I verified this with City Hall), and one storefront ministry. Its mostly upscale law offices, sandwich shops, and vacant buildings. We believe the opportunity for renewal is significant, and are proud to be part of that movement.
I am sorry to hear about the Coq au Vin. Again, just to clarify, our onions are frozen, peeled pearl onions. They are not bottled or canned, just frozen. We had much larger ones a month ago, but customer after customer asked for smaller ones, and we changed them. I see your point, however, they are pretty small vs. the mushrooms. Finally, all of our sauces are made here, from scratch, in the traditional French manner. The sauce was the reduced cooking braise from the chicken, with no thickeners. Obsivously, it was reduced too much. And the smoky taste came from Nieman Ranch, naturally smoked bacon that we add to the sauce. We are reviewing and re-tasting the dish this week, in response to your review.
Thank you for the opportunity to clarify these points.
A followup on Fishbones ( http://www.fishbonesag.com ): a friend recommended checking it out so I went there solo last night. Not good, I'm afraid (sorry Amie!).
Fishbones is in the former Bates Mill complex, which is undergoing an impressive renovation. The restaurant is attractive, the kind of exposed timbers-and-brick look you'd expect here. (One odd structural note is the complex steelwork in place apparently reinforcing the original wooden columns: maybe they moved very heavy equipment into the mill in its later years.)
Fishbones makes a point of its founders' backgrounds: Culinary Institute of America and Johnson & Wales. Service is friendly, efficient and informal. Fishbones has no pretensions to being fancy or hip; it's a contemporary-American seafood restaurant whose menu also offers a substantial nonfish complement. As mentioned above, they emphasize 'painting' meals with stripes of colored sauces (check out photos at the website). I sat near the open kitchen and saw the chef's aresenal of squeeze bottles: they must have 20 to choose from. On the plate the sauces have the odd gloss of food industry product: I don't think these sauces are made on-site.
I'll make this as short as I can: Maine shrimp dumplings were presented in a large pool of the stuff, which was sweet and overpowered the mild-flavored seafood mixture in the dumplings. (No taste of Maine shrimp whatsoever, but it would have been frozen at this time of year.) Presented 80's-style on a wide-rimmed plate with chopped parsley dusted onto the rim.
Halibut wrapped in prosciutto and pan-roasted, with Provencal vegetables: cooked so long and at such high heat that billows of steam rose from the fish when I cut into it. Thus wildly overcooked to toughness. The prosciutto had gone armor-hard. Placed over a large unidfferentiated helping of rice and vegetables. Presented 80's sprinkle-style again. There wasn't much painting going on with this entree.
Dessert: fruit crisp- wasn't so, in the least.
This is just not my type of restaurant. It seems more engineered than anything else- at least Fuel seems to be coming from the heart.
(PS: wandering around the mill complex after dinner on a wonderful late-July evening I found a 2nd restaurant there: DaVinci's. Looks like mass-market Italian.)
Chow 411 on the Auburn Lewiston area is thin. Were any updates to Fuel or other places (linoleum on the floor to axminister woven are all fine) become available it would be most appreciated.
Special interests are: ice cream, dinner, lunch packed to travel and early Sunday breakfast.
I have no particular problem with the review but if Lewiston's main street is as bad as described I'd be thankful for both restaurants and patronize them in hopes they succeed and attract others. Sounds like both took a risk and could use a little constructive criticism and support. But, that's just an urban planner talking, not a foodie.
Dual, thanks for the thorough review.
RC51Mike, I thought that what Dual was offering was indeed constructive criticism. Adding a dose of "professionalism" to the service and modifying portion sizes would seem to go a long way to improving the dining experience. Dual is also (indirectly) suggesting that we can support Fuel by enjoying dessert, a glass of wine, or an after-dinner drink.
As someone who is excited at the prospect of "revitalizing" historic riverfronts (Lewiston, Saco/Biddeford, Augusta, etc) I agree that it is important to support the "pioneering" retailers, restauranteurs, galleries, etc. Nevertheless, the pioneers cannot expect blind loyalty; they must offer something worthwhile to keep us coming.