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Saturday dinner in Portland - reservations crucial?

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Hi, taking a last minute jaunt to Portland tomorrow for my boyfriend's birthday, so we don't have much time to plan our meals. We'd like to have dinner somewhere nice enough to feel celebratory but not super fancy (maybe in the Local 188-ish range?). We've always visited on weekdays in the past, so we're concerned it'll be tough to get in anywhere on a Saturday night, and wondering:

- Which restaurants are the toughest tables to get, so that a reservation is absolutely crucial?

- What is peak time on Saturday nights in Portland, i.e. what time should we try to get in if we don't have a reservation? As early as possible?

- Are there any particular places that are great but easier to get in to last minute?

Thanks so much.

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  1. Here are some suggestions that I think would meet your standard, and be better than Local 188. Would suggest reservations ASAP for all of them. Generally, restos here are busiest between 6 and 8.30. In general, the toughest places for reservations are in the "higher range" than I think you're interested in, like Fore St., 555, Hugo's. Can't think of any places that are easier during peak dining times, so have a look at these:
    Caiola's
    Petite Madeline, the new bistro on Longfellow Sq operated by the 555 folks
    Bar Lola in the east end: love the food, nice atmosphere, reasonable pricing
    Ribollita, often overlooked but casual and delicious
    Blue Spoon, also east end Congress St.

    Other Portland hounds, your turn!

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    Caiola's
    58 Pine St, Portland, ME 04102

    Bar Lola
    100 Congress Street, Portland, ME 04000

    Blue Spoon
    89 Congress St, Portland, ME 04101

    Ribollita
    41 Middle St, Portland, ME 04101

    Local 188
    685 Congress St, Portland, ME 04102

    1. Not a bad start. Agree on the high end places needing reservations. You can sometimes get into places like Fore St by going very early (as in waitiing outside for them to open) or very late - 10PMish. I've been disappointed with the Blue Spoon the last couple of times but really like Ribolita. Went to Petite Jacqueline last week and really enjoyed the fluke and onion soup. DH's had mixed results but overall very good. District and Figa run a bit under the radar but are very good. Boda is one of my newer favorites. Front Room is my favorite of the "rooms" but a fun hound experience can be had at the kitchen bar in the Grill Room. Chat it up with the cooks and they often treat you to tastes. Next up...

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      Grill Room
      84 Exchange St, Portland, ME 04101

      Blue Spoon
      89 Congress St, Portland, ME 04101

      Front Room Restaurant & Bar
      73 Congress St Ste A, Portland, ME 04101

      1 Reply
      1. re: bobbert

        Oh yeah, those places are hit or miss on the reservations. I've gotten seats at the kitchen bar sans reservations when the place was packed. As stated above, the 6:30-8:30 time frame can be tough.

      2. Thanks to the Portland hounds for the suggestions! We ended up making an 8pm reservation at Bar Lola, and it was lovely. The "small, medium, large" format was appealing, but as newbies, we couldn't decide whether the 5 course tasting menu would be too much food, so we were a little conservative. Knowing that we were definitely having dessert, we ordered 2 salads, 2 mediums, 1 large, and 2 desserts. When the food started coming out, we reconsidered and added a third salad, which was a good plan.

        I especially liked the spinach salad with 45 minute egg and the white bean and smoked paprika soup. The only miss for me was the bone marrow - my first time trying it, and I think I'm just not a bone marrow girl. I'm sure the flaw is mine, not Bar Lola's. :) The desserts were outstanding - we had the vanilla pain perdu with cider reduction and the toffee and date steamed pudding, which arrived with a single, discreet birthday candle. A particularly welcome surprise - the creative and well-crafted cocktails, which their online menu doesn't list. The staff was warm and welcoming and the room was a pleasure to sit in.

        We also managed to find time in a less-than-24-hour trip for poutine at Duckfat, a Sicilian slab at Micucci's, drinks at Grace, coffee (twice) at Bard, a rustic apple tart at Standard, and a big ol' brunch at Bintliff's. Time to eat a salad. Thanks again!

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        Bar Lola
        100 Congress Street, Portland, ME 04000

        2 Replies
        1. re: unbeknownst

          Glad the suggestions were worthwhile: you packed a lot in (in more than one way)! Come back soon.

          1. re: unbeknownst

            I was gonna say, that's a solid weekend!