Chef Et Al, Portland ME? Nice food, need new digs
Searching, I don't think this place has gotten a lot of discussion here.
I tried it for lunch a few month back, had a bad experience and concluded "no reason to be out on this depressing strip", but wife and I dropped in last night for a quick snack and enjoyed a -really- admirable chicken pot pie. You can tell the people here care a lot about what they're doing with their food.
THE THING IS: this place has the ambience of an airport concourse restaurant. Very bad 80's-style appointments, walls the color of squash soup, and a giant customer-is-always-right statement attributed to Mahatma Gandhi (?!?: famed author of "Who Moved My Paneer?") as about the only visible decoration. Floor tiles from Home Depot. Ceilings way too high, making for clamorous sound with only 8 customers in place. Very large picture windows, unrelieved by muntins or drapes, look out onto the strip and the parking lot. Empty slots for large video screens up at the ceiling. It takes a lot of badness to make me notice an unattractive restaurant, but this place is baaaaad. To succeed where they are (Portland's most strip-like strip, down near the Oakhurst dairy and the Palmer Spring auto repair shop), they have to be warm, at least a bit intimate, and offer a tinge of sophistication.
I bring all this up only because I can't do so on "The Bollard" where Chef Et Al was given kudos for a nice brunch: I wanted to respond "Yeah, but wasn't it like eating in a food court?"
My guess: the building they occupy was built on spec by a developer. It spent months after construction standing vacant, with a generic CocaCola sign naming it "Venue". I think Developer was thinking sports bar, and Chef and his alia moved into what was there.
So: I dunno. I really dunno. Wouldn't a restaurant making an effort at notably good food do better if they had someone pay attention to set and setting? Is this post fair?
Maine Revenue Services has shut the restaurant down. Rumors had persisted that an investor had come aboard and was going to make changes. Small plates, tapas-style food. Club, music, entertainment... however you want to put it. Changes to the decor. Maybe the spot will see a second life but there are obviously some past financial issues with MRS shutting it down.
A followup: went there again, for lunch. The 2nd time I've attempted this. Both times, simple straightforward lunch orders took up well over an hour door-door. A large part of this was due to server inattention (even though there were only 5 tables in operation this time.)
Very frustrating: the lunches were ok, but didn't justify the wait.
Very good points. Since this thread has come to life, I'll speak of the food a bit. As mentioned, the chicken pot pie was what re-ignited my interest in the place after a overlong lunch several months prior ( http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5187... ).
This more recent lunch just didn't cut it. The 'house-brined turkey'* in our sandwiches was sliced like and had the appearance and texture of commercial deli product. Standard-issue plop-plop of tired lettuce and industrial tomato on the plate. The "French Vidalia Onion with Gruyere" soup really didn't make it, because the stock behind it was so weak. My wife guesses it's a vegetable stock, and she could be right- one way or another it was devoid of the power and solidity which is necessary in this staple.
Again: it took FOREVER to get in and out.
All this may seem like piling on a poor defenseless neighborhood 'boite', but this place makes noises like and prints a menu like they care about what they're doing. The flaws in execution are really remarkable, and run deep: it's hard to figure out how they could be running so blind. A shame.
* (Not that I hold with brining anyhow, but that's another story)
I read the Bollard review too - okay, skimmed it - so I don't recall much if anything about the look of the place. I've had outstanding meals in places that win no awards for decor all over the world, but it's excusable in a small Portuguese or Greek village, perhaps not in so hot a food-town where we feel the dining-out dollar shrinking at every breaking headline. Still, if people talk about it enough, this place can cultivate a regular crowd who treasure it as their secret.
So, I just re-read the Bollard.com review and I wish I'd gone there Sunday instead of the cheaper spot my wife and I go to save a couple bucks. I keep forgetting that when we waddle out of there we swear never to come back. If we can afford to, we're going to visit Chef et al next week instead.