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Oct 18, 2011 08:01 PM

Portland - Disappointed at Miyake, but Duckfat was Fabulous (LONG)

This was our (my husband and I) fifth or sixth time visiting Ogunquit, Maine, and we've taken a road trip from Ogunquit to Rockland, Bar Harbor, or even Quebec City, but for some reason we never thought to stop at Portland. This time we finally made it to Portland and spent a day there. Of course I consulted Chowhound immediately and decided on lunch at Duckfat and dinner at Hugo's or Miyake. I had no idea how vibrant Portland's food scene was! I can't wait to come back when we return to Maine and try more places. The summary is, we loved Duckfat like 99% of the population, and we ended up at Miyake since Hugo's wasn't taking any reservation after 6:30 p.m. (because of "Chopped" viewing party) and were very disappointed despite all the raves we read on Chowhound, Yelp, virtually everywhere we looked.

Let's talk about the positive first - I loved everything I had at Duckfat. We ordered roasted beet salad, poutine, charcuterie plate, and I had their Duckfat Original milkshake. Wow, I wish I had that poutine and that milkshake with me right now. I lived in Montreal for a short time when I was a kid, and I still visit Quebec frequently, so I'm pretty picky with poutine. But this poutine was delicious! OK, so the curds weren't the perfect consistency (a bit too melty and stringy) but the fries and the gravy were so, so, so delicious that I couldn't even complain. There's a popular place called Pommes Frites in NYC, and they also serve fries with several kinds of dipping sauce and a (mediocre) poutine, and I can honestly say Pommes Frites WISH it could be Duckfat. The milkshake was fabulous too - so intensely vanilla. Even my lactose-intolerant husband had some and said it was worth being sick later (sorry, TMI.) The beet salad was a perfect melange of flavors - the greens of the day were watercress, and I usually despise watercress, but all the components worked so well together that I told my husband I'd eat watercress every single day if it could be served exactly like this. Charcuterie is more my husband's deal, but I too enjoyed the chorizo and duck rillette and all the pickled vegetables that accompanied them. So to make long story short, Duckfat = Love.

We read so many raves and positive reviews about Miyake that I freely admit we went in with somewhat high expectations, which is usually not a good thing. I'm also usually a bit wary when eating sushi outside of NYC and L.A. but I told myself, all these people, especially my trusty 'hounds, and NY Times can't be wrong. We sat on the bar in front of Chef Masa, who was a very nice man, and decided to go for the 7-course tasting without hesitation. The first course, which was fresh, local uni served in its shell and a dish of ankimo. This was the best course of the night - we both absolutely loved it. The uni was one of best in recent memory - almost sweet in its subtleness. The second course was a sashimi plate, which ranged from pretty good to OK. Except for raw lobster preparation with lots of garlic oil - I found it too garlicky, too chewy, and simply unappetizing in general. I have enjoyed raw lobster before, such as lobster carpaccio at Le Bernadin, but I definitely did not enjoy this. The next few courses were rather forgettable - I don't remember much about them, and what I do remember are not quite positive. I remember poorly cut branzino sashimi pieces (raggedy edges) and a piece of grilled trout that was decently done with delectable crispy skin, both paired with vegetable preparations that didn't work very well together. I understood what the chef was trying to shoot for (creative use of local vegetables) but the result didn't quite work out. The duck that was served for meat course was, however, excellent. Masa-san was quite proud of "his ducks" (raised in his farm) and rightfully so. Both breast meat and leg confit were perfectly cooked. Second best course of the night. However, the nigiri sushi course that were served after the duck brought us down to earth pretty quickly. Terrible rice - undercooked and almost crunchy in parts. I was so distracted by the rice that I don't even remember much about the fish. I believe they were of reasonably good quality and were decently seasoned, but the rice, the rice! All in all, we ended up spending a little more than $200, which is certainly cheaper than what we usually spend on a sushi-blowout meal in NYC, but I didn't feel like it was worth the price at all. I was very, very disappointed. Perhaps it was an off-day? I don't know, but I probably won't be returning to find out and I can't say I recommend it to fellow visitors to Portland.

Not quite satiated, we decided to stop by Fore Street for desserts, and their excellent pumpkin bread pudding immediately improved my mood. I wistfully looked at their menu, which included grilled foie gras and sweetbreads - two of my favorite things - and wished we'd eaten there instead. Oh well, next time, right? We also took a box of their excellent homemade chocolates back to our hotel in Ogunquit, which didn't last the night.

I look forward to coming back to Portland sometime soon (most likely next spring) and trying Hugo's, Fore Street, and other excellent restaurants that I've read about!

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  1. That's a shame about Miyake. I went there about 4 months ago at their old, tiny location and had the 7 course menu and everything was perfection. I sincerely hope the move to the new, more upscale digs paired with Miyake branching out with his noodle shop, farm ,etc., doesn't start affecting the quality of his food.

    3 Replies
    1. re: DavidPalmer

      It is indeed a shame - I had such high expectations. Nevertheless the restaurant was fairly busy on a Tuesday evening, so I highly doubt my review would make much difference. I certainly don't mean to discourage anyone from going. Just wanted to make a reference for visitors who have a somewhat higher standard for their sushi.

      1. re: uwsister

        I’m kinda bumming about your experience at Miyake as it’s been my favorite in Portland for the past year or so and I recommend it all the time. I still haven’t been to the new spot – my last meal was the last week in the old location – I’ve been waiting for the tourists to leave before trying the new location. I’m hoping it was an off night. I have to admit to worrying about what David points outs – he’s starting to get spread out quite a bit with everything he’s got going. There are only so many hours in a day. I’ll have to give it another shot in the next few weeks and hope your experience was an aberration

        1. re: bobbert

          Hahaha - yes, I was one of the tourists! Sorry to bum you out - didn't mean to bum anyone out w/ the review, I actually felt a little bad writing it since the chef was so nice. But obviously it's nothing personal. IMO I think some may have been content w/ the meal I had, i.e. some people don't care about rice in their sushi, etc. Maybe Miyake simply didn't work for me, maybe it was an off-night - who knows?

    2. It's funny--this is the opposite of my experiences (I live in Portland). I find Miyake to be reliably good and Duckfat to be inconsistent (but when it's good it's goooood!). I would venture to guess you hit Miyake on a rare off day and Duckfat on one of the goooood days.

      2 Replies
      1. re: sultanaboudreau

        I agree with you re. Duckfat. I've had fries that are too salty often enough that I ask them to "take it easy on the salt" but, in general, the fries are amazing, the shakes are the best and I do love the poutine although some of the other menu items have ranged from very good to just ok. That much being said, I hold Miyake (at $75 for the 7-course omakase) to a much higher standard than Duckfat where I might be dropping $12 for my fries and shake.

        1. re: bobbert

          We actually had same experience - too salty on the fries - I thought it might be the duck fat itself that is salty, but when we dumped the bag of fries, there was a lot of salt leave at bottom as well. Same advice, aske them to go easy on salt.

      2. My brother and I had the 7 course Omakase with the pairing a month or two ago. Overall I felt the same as uwsister in that most of the courses were just OK, with a couple a couple winners interspersed. The paring wasn't worth it but it certainly did help to add up to a very pricy meal (something like $180 per person after dessert and tip). That being said, it is reasonable in cost when comparing it to omakase I've had in NYC.

        I don't know if anyone else feels this way but for some reason I feel like it wasn't the most inventive experience... like the courses could have been printed on the menu.

        After learning the things I liked and didn't like last time, I'd maybe do the 7 course again, but be more involved by doing the up-charge thing where you direct the meal - and skipping the pairing.

        1. I had dinner at the new Miyake location a few days ago and I wasn't really impressed. I ordered sashimi a la carte. In general, the quality of the fish seemed to be very good, but the taste was only good. The two stand-outs being the fresh wasabi and house cured ikura. Even the uni seemed to be pre-shelled. And, IMO, with any pre-shelled shellfish, the meat losesa lot of flavor over little time. Especially the brine. I wasn't disappointed as I really wasn't wowed. However, I will say, that the price was right, if not lower than I expected and I would have no problem going back there again. Unless, of course, there's some place better.

          2 Replies
          1. re: David11238

            The uni was definitely not pre-shelled when I ate there - I saw one of the chefs open it. Not saying it wasn't pre-shelled for you. It may or may not be their standard practice.

            1. re: uwsister

              Maybe I should use another term. It seemed that the uni wasn't alive when they clipped the edges. Usually, when I see live uni cut, it's with scissors, to get the beak and surrounding part out. The beak (and surrounding part/s) seemed to be missing when the chef clipped the edges to get to the roe.

          2. I took a friend from Los Angeles to Miyake last night which was crowded. It was my first time in the new location. We sat at the Sushi bar and ordered three app specials and four other apps, plus some nigiri and sashimi. Uni in the shell was the best since I dove for urchin myself 10 years ago. Seared scallop with white asparagus and wakame - delicious. Beautiful ankimo, black cod and pork belly. We ploughed through two bottles of wonderful sake. My friend said it was even better than some places he'd ate in Japan. We had a really remarkable meal.

            3 Replies
            1. re: johnnydj

              I'm relieved to hear this. Are there any other updated reviews or comments on Miyake. My husband and I have made reservations for next week. I do love my sushi and this will be my first experience with sushi in Maine. My husband is not a big fan, so he will likely get a noodle dish and try some of mine. They do have noodle dishes as meals, correct? Thoughts.

              1. re: nyawira

                Yes, and glad you asked: had my first omikase experience last night, and it totally lived up to expectations. First of 7 was a combination of uni (spectacular, in the shell as a mouse) and monkfish liver: 4 slices of elegance, although two would have done. The following sashimi combination including lobster was extremely tasty, with high points being salmon belly, a gorgeous fluke "carpaccio" accompanied by amaranth sprout (!), and my favorite, flaked horse mackerel. I particularly liked a course of squid and fennel: perfect flavor pairing. Best course of the evening: scallop and Maine shrimp, with simple seared and scallop carpaccio, and shrimp tempura and raw in sesame oil. Only problem I have with the 7-course is it's about one course too much! Meat was the disappointment: duck confit perfect, but chicken only ordinary.

                1. re: nyawira

                  There will be new place opening soon, likely to be seafood oriented, and very likely to be sushi - ex head chef from Uni in Boston - in planning stage right now