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24 hours in Portland...my plans so far

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Hi all,

My boyfriend and I are taking the train (from Boston) to Portland this Saturday--first time for both of us in years. For such a short jaunt, I want to make sure I eat well. We are staying near the Old Port and will not have a car.

Light Saturday lunch: Light is imperative, since we will be arriving in ME at about 2 and have a 7:30 dinner res. I was originally thinking J's Oysters, but are Yelp reviews correct in that they pre-shuck their oysters? That was a turn-off. Anything else that would be relatively inexpensive (max $40 for both, without alcohol)?

Saturday dinner: Reservations at Cinque Terre. This is a non-negotiable, as we have a gift certificate here. Any recent menu advice? I eat seafood and generally order fish when I eat out (but eat no other meat); boyfriend eats every part of the pig, so to speak.

Sunday lunch or brunch: Duckfat? I'm a French fry freak, and good Belgian fries aren't easy to find in Boston. If not Duckfat, I'd prefer a place where reservations aren't necessary and there won't be a line--probably eating around noon-ish. I'd prefer more lunch-oriented options than breakfast--as a semi-vegetarian I find that if I don't want eggs or sweets, i'm often out of luck on some brunch menus.

Finally, any place you can recommend for Saturday night drinks? We are in our 30s; don't want anything approaching clubby or college-y. SO is a beer drinker, I prefer a low-key place with good cocktails. But really, I'll drink whatever as long as I don't feel like I'm at a frat party/in Faneuill Hall/listening to shitty music. How is Novare Res?

Thanks in advance!

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Cinque Terre
36 Wharf Street, Portland, ME 04101

J's Oyster
5 Portland Pier, Portland, ME 04101

Old Port Cafe
111 Main St, Winterport, ME 04496

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  1. Yes they pre-open the oysters. NOVARE res has a full bar, mostly beer though and for brunch maybe Caiolas. If you are staying downtown near the waerfront all these places are within blocks of each other. Old Port SeaGrill for oysters. Duck fat for fries. Have fun!

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    Caiola's
    58 Pine St, Portland, ME 04102

    1. I recall fondly walking into J's Oysters. The whole bar area looked up to greet me. And then I looked down at a bunch of pre shucked oysters and walked out. One of them actually came out and tried to welcome me back. I protested cruelty to oysters being mishandled in death and went on my merry way.

      I love the duck panini and duckfat fries and duck gravy. Take them down to the waterfront park for a picnic.

      I also like Front Room for brunch.

      1. I am by no means an expert, but spent approx 24 hrs in Portland a few summers ago. J's Oysters is worth it--try to sit outside on the water. Also, if you can go, Street & Co for dinner was possibly one of the best meal's I've had. Ever. Really super. Maybe a post-dinner after your real dinner?

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        J's Oyster
        5 Portland Pier, Portland, ME 04101

        Street & Co
        33 Wharf St., Portland, ME 04101

        1. I love the ladies who run J's Oyster but the oysters there are awful. Everything else about it is fine - steamers are first rate. If you are so inclined, bring your oyster knife with you and choose from the local oysters sold at Harbor Fish Market. They run around $1.20 each.

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          J's Oyster
          5 Portland Pier, Portland, ME 04101

          1. novare res is fantastic. if you want cocktails in a very chic spot try grace

            4 Replies
            1. re: pat bagg

              Thanks for the Grace suggestion--we really enjoyed our drinks there. What a beautiful space.

              1. re: LeoLioness

                Please give us a report on Cinque Terra: used to be one of my favorite places, but have heard downhill alerts in the last year or so.

                1. re: mainemal

                  I give Cinque Terre a solid "Okay".

                  First course:

                  -half dozen Winterpoint oysters with mignonette. I really wish the sauce was on the side, as I always like to eat the first oyster completely naked, to get the true taste of it. The oysters were plump and had a lot of juice, but the overwhelming taste was of shallot.

                  -Boyfriend had the Grilled Baby Flower Octopus, potatoes, olives, spinach, tomato ragu, aged balsamic. This was good; the balsamic gave the dish a sweet contrast to the saltier components.

                  Pasta: We split the gnocci and I'm blanking on the details of it (it's not what is on the current online menu). It was vegetarian, had a tomato sauce....and that's all I remember. We did like it though; I was afraid it would be too heavy for mid-meal but the gnocci was pillowy and the sauce was light.

                  Entrees:

                  -A tuna steak with a side of a rustic white bean puree with grape tomatoes and a mache salad. I ordered the tuna rare; it came to me medium-well. I thought about saying something, but frankly, it was a free meal and I was a little drunk at this point, so I didn't care enough to bother. While I prefer tuna rare, I seem to be one of the few who doesn't find it inedible when overcooked. Seasoning was good, anyway.

                  The white bean puree was simple (in fact, very similar to a dish I often make) and benefited from a good amount of heavy cream, but it was way oversalted. I say this as someone who tends to oversalt food, so if I notice, it's definitely too much.

                  Boyfriend had scallops...can't remember the details, but we both liked these. They had some citrus element, good crust, not overcooked.

                  We drank a bottle of cheapish Prosecco ($34) witht the meal; skipped dessert. Bill before tip was about $125. Basically, the bf liked his meal, I was mostly disappointed in mine.

                  Our waiter was friendly and knowlegable, though there were some noticable lag times between courses (and not just our table; I saw others waiting/commenting on this)--there seems to be some communication issues between the kitchen and the servers.

                  On the flip side, we loved our lunch at Duckfat....what a great spot! Everything seemed just a bit better than it had to be. We split a large order of fries (perfectly cooked); boyfriend loved his meatloaf pannini and I had a simple but great beet salad. We especially liked the mint-and-lime soda which was refreshing and not too sweet.

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                  Cinque Terre
                  36 Wharf Street, Portland, ME 04101

                  1. re: LeoLioness

                    Thanks; your experience seems to confirm that unfortunately, Cinque Terra isn't what it used to be.