The East Ender - Portland
Considering the pedigree in this kitchen I am surprised little has been written here about The East Ender. Mitch Gerow worked tirelessly in the Evangeline kitchen since it opened, leaving last summer to open East Ender with his partner Megan Schroeder (Evangeline closed in November '10). They took over the space recently vacated by Norm's East End Grill, an institution for 20 years.
A very old chum had arrived in town from California and I knew Mitch wouldn't disappoint so there we were on Monday night. The beer selection is extraordinary! My friend had the locally produced Peepers Ale and I had a couple Long Trail Double Bags.
Among the nine app selections (labeled "snack") we chose oysters with champagne mignonette (14 for seven), trout fritters w/caper aioli and lemon (8), and brains and Saratoga chips with french onion dip (10). Oysters were fresh and bracing, fritters were generous and delicious but the brains were little pillows of heaven. Each of the sauces were perfectly matched - the chips were missing but that didn't bother us.
The really outstanding app was the daily selection of cured meats (10), all made in-house. A couple slices each of mortadella, sopresseta, pepperoni, baked pork belly and house-made pickles. There were also little mounds of duck liver mousse and beef cheek creton, with celery seed crackers and plum mostarda that helped accent them. Everything is made or cured on the premises, which to me, makes this place special.
There are seven salads - we chose arugula, rhubarb, walnut, goat cheese, w/rhubarb dressing (8), served lightly dressed -the goat cheese was a little quenelle, and also a fried chicken liver, radicchio, blue cheese (9) that was outstanding - the balance here was quite memorable.
Entree section features seven plates - we shared a Hudson Valley duck breast, honey polenta, fava beans,pearl onions (22). This was amazing. Decorative presentation, superb flavors and just the right amount of time on the heat..
Sides are ordered separately - we chose fava beans with house-made pancetta (5) which I loved because favas exist to be served with pork, and green beans w/toasted almonds (4), both were nice accompaniments for our duck.
I have to say the experience on the whole added up to one of the most remarkable dinners I've ever had here in Portland. The decor was unpretentious - understated perhaps. Don't go expecting big plates of food, but do go expecting memorable flavors, works of art on your plate, and an ambience of passion for serious eating.
Norm's East End Grill
47 Middle St, Portland, ME 04101
I think it suffers from being in a really crowded niche.
East ender/Bar Lola/District/Salt Exchange all seem to be playing to the same crowd. In the end Portland is a small city and there are only a finite amount of diners and at the moment there are a lot of restaurants. The new restaurants that are succeeding are both executing well and competing on price ( El Rayo/ Otto's and Petitie Jacqueline come to mind).
I found the food to be decent but nothing spectacular and I found the drinks to be overpriced.(Petite Jacqueline's carafes of wine are brilliant and are attracting lots of customers)
I have no problem with unpretentious decor but I found the ambience to be cold. We were in there with a few diners and the waitstaff were playing fairly loud music for their own entertainment.