Special Occasion in Portland
Looking for a place to celebrate a birthday in Portland, ME. I've heard mixed reviews about Fore St.....is it overrated? Is Hugo's too stuffy and contrived? What is Portland's best? Somewhat adventurous diners but still looking for a fine meal. Any suggestions would be great!
last month we had a truely stellar meal at 555.
we did the tasting menu and spoke to the chef the day before so he created a menu just for us and our tastes. i very highly recommend this place.
Fore street is resting on it's reputation and sometimes it feels as if the kitchen staff are 'phoning it in.'
I would definitely second what Steve said:
The last few times at Fore st. I have felt like I was at a cafeteria. It just feels too big, too impersonal and the overall impression is that they have such an overhyped reputation that there is no reason to strive to make the food fantastic. It's a scenario that happens to a lot of (formerly) great restaurants.
The last few times I have eaten at 555 it has been incredible.
If you are looking for a place with a little more atmosphere, a touch more hipness and are willing to sacrifice on having incredible food, I would try out the new Local 188. The room is fantastic, it has great energy and food is decent at prices far below 555 or fore st.
Just got back from dinner at Local 188, and we loved it -- great food at a very reasonable price. But, for a special celebration I'd probably recommend 555 - more pricey, but IMO atmosphere is more intimate. Local 188 is large, airy open space, which is very comfortable and casual, but it gets noisy. If you are going with special date, I'd recommend 555, if you're going with larger group and want a higher energy level Local 188 would be great. Also, I'm entirely in agreement with ScubaSteve and ejohnson about Fore St -- so glad to hear others feel like Fore St isn't up to the hype!
The Front Room, on Munjoy Hill, would be a great place to celebrate at. Get there a little early and have some drinks at the bar, then sit down and enjoy the best food in Portland. I've been there three times, and all three were better than any other meal I've eaten in Portland. It's not too expensive and has a great atmosphere. Definitely my favorite place.
We have always enjoyed every meal at Cinque Terre. They have a website with menu. You will want to make a reservation. It's what I think of as authentic Italian like we ate in Italy but creative, and it's not Italian-American which I find heavy and too much sauce. It's a good special occasion place, nice atmosphere but not stuffy or formal or overrated like some places in Portland. Top quality ingredients prepared really well and interesting menu choices, very consistently great food. Last time we both got the chef's tasting menu (7 or 8 courses) with a wine flight and it was fabulous. (In summer can eat outside too). We've never been let down at Cinque Terre, and we go almost every time we travel to Portland.
For another fun place while you're there, go to Duck Fat, casual place with Belgian frites and panini. I can't describe to you how good potatoes doubledip fried in duck fat for flavor, with the flavored mayonnaise dips - yum!
Hate to disagree with the "house" on my first post, but we had a truly dreadful experience at 555 this past weekend (see Ellieeggplant post). Living in Portland, I get to make the rounds, and in addition to the laudatory words about Cinque Terra (think it's my favorite), I'd add two suggestions for Greg: Street & Company, where we ate Sunday last and enjoyed the usual outstanding food, really excellent attentive service, etc. For a first course, the Brown-butter Crab w/ puff pastry is terrific. Less well-known, and a little out of the way, is Caiola's in the west end: more moderate prices than the "Big 3" of Hugo, 555, and Fore Street, but an innovative menu that changes every day. Like many newer, smaller places, can be a bit noisy at times, but definitely lively and worth the trip.
A year or so ago, my wife and I had a splendid meal at Fore Street. Our waitress was the soul of discretion and well informed about that night's menu. We thought the food superb. We visited again last weekend. Our waiter was not as discreet, but he was well informed and very responsive to our questions and requests. The food was, if not superb, close to it. Still, the next time we are in Portsmouth, we will try another place.