Montreal foodie visiting Portland/Portsmouth in July - reco's needed
- estilker Jul 10, 2012 12:56 PM
Looking for recommendations. I love great local beer, seasonal food (especially the seafood) and interesting craft cocktails. Budget: I have no problem splurging but equally enjoy charming greasy spoons.
I heard about Bresca, Fore Street, Duck Fat Café and Miyake. Any opinions?
Obviously great seafood in Montreal is not so easy to come by so will want to get more than my share. Any interesting beach side lobster shacks (does not have to be in the city) around?
Also good brunch/lunch places and or bakeries are appreciated.
I recommend Fore street and Miyake. Miyake has the added bonus of being open for lunch during the week, which is also a great value. Bresca has never impressed me, and the service really suffers from the fact that there is only room for one server and one runner. I highly recommend Five Fifty-Five (just reviewed it on my blog.) I've been numerous times and the lobster mac and cheese and the mussels are (in my opinion) the best-tasting dishes in Portland and would satisfy your seafood craving. They also do a great brunch on Sunday as well.
When are you going up? Next week, at the suggestion of my brother Orson W. (food blog -- www.eatwellslivewells.com), I'm taking my family to Street & Co., which has a very seafood-centric menu. As Zagat would say, there are some dissenters, but the majority of reviewers love the place. I will provide a full report. At places like this I often make a meal out of appys/small plates, so I will be able to provide comments on multiple dishes.
For superlative, extremely fresh seafood in a completely non-touristy environment, check out Fisherman's Grill on Forest Ave. Order a lobster roll and watch the meat get picked right before your eyes.
Miyake is still my favorite restaurant in Portland. It's not cheap but you would pay 2 to 3 times as much for a similar experience in a large city. Can't go wrong with Fore Street. The chef/owner of Duckfat, Rob Evans, recently sold Hugo's (still one of the top places anywhere) to a couple of his employees and he is now concentrating all his efforts on Duckfat which I believe is better than ever. As Bob W says, Street and Co. is a great, pure seafood choice. The new owners of Hugo's have opened Eventide Oyster Co. next door to Hugo's which has some great (duh) oysters and interesting cocktails - the oysters are on the pricey side but a great selection from Maine and away.
Fisherman's Grill is a great stop - zero ambiance - but best fried clams anywhere. If you make the trek then you should stop by the Great Lost Bear, also on Forest Ave to sample the local brews. Don't eat there. Drink there. They probably have the best/widest selection of beers from Maine.
Not known for local beers, but a great stop is Nuvare Res in the Old Port. Finding it is half the fun. Gritty's was one of the original brew pubs and is still worth a stop for a pint - I tend to stop there during the day when the crowd is more... mature.
Porthole for breakfast (during the week - weekends can get too crowded). Everyone goes to Becky's (which is why I don't) but it's an OK breakfast. Favorite breakfast place is Bayou Kitchen but it's another drive on Forest Ave. Marcy's by the Civic Center is a good greasy spoon.
Standard Bakery on Commercial St is a must stop.
A great lunch is to grab a "slab" of pizza at Micucci's on India St. (go up the stairs in back of the shop). Unbelievable thick crust (really a dough) and the whole process of waiting in line, folding your box up and taking it out (you can also eat in at one of two tables) is an experience on its own. Great Italian meats and cheese as well and a small but nice wine selection. Get a luna bread (above the pizza on the rack) - you won't be disappointed.
Many will send you to Two Lights for a lobster roll but I like the lobster roll food truck at Fort Williams (Portland Head Light) where you'll probably go anyway.
3 Sons Lobster Company off Commercial Street next to RiRa is about as basic as you can get for a lobster in the City. They cook it for you, give you some newspaper and paper towels and you eat at some picnic tables basically in a parking lot - it has a certain grungy appeal to it.
Had no idea that Evans sold Hugo's. Hugo's was one of the best. Admittedly, my visits of the last year or two had less of a "wow" factor....one of my favorite and most memorable dishes was a Foie Gras Panna Cotta with a Tangarine aspic-type layer....but recent visits used more "normal" ingredients with mainstream preparations. They used to have a menu section of more adventurous dishes that used offal and unconventional ingredient pairings, but that has been gone for a while. Even so, the new direction was still better than what I've had in Boston and elsewhere. Was planning on going this weekend. Will find out if the transition was seamless.
Good luck with Hugo's; it used to be one of my favorite restaurants in Portland, but I've found that the kitchen has become overly obsessed with sous vide since the change in ownership (four courses in a row prepared sous vide, including rabbit, which was awful) and many of the portions were too small (this was for the 8-course tasting). I think they've really discarded the "mg" techniques that Evans was known for, and that's a shame given that he was the only one cooking that way in Portland. Here's hoping your visit goes better than mine.
We've eaten at Hugo's twice since the transfer (admittedly we found out after that it had been sold), and thoroughly enjoyed both meals. there was some sous vide, but certainly not everything was prepared that way. The portions on the 8 course tasting are small, but I'm a large man, and have never left Hugo's hungry (and the tasting is how we always roll there). Hugo's remains my favorite restaurant in Portland (and one of my favorites anywhere - I live in Boston).
Of course as everything is opinion, I've eaten at 555 only once, and had one of the worst expensive meals of my life. Utterly forgettable food, finished with their "famous" donut as it was advertised which was a small hard ball of grease. I may have hit it on a bad night, but when things go that badly I'm not inclined to return, unfortunately, especially since generally when I'm visiting Portland, I only have one night free for dinner.
For local beer, Great Lost Bear in Portland is a great suggestion. Gritty's and Sebago brewpubs in town will also provide local beers. Be sure to try some Allagash and Maine Beer Company beers if you see them who have production breweries in town as well.
For local beer and one of new england's premier brewpubs in Portsmouth, check out the Portsmouth Brewery -you can't miss it. They will also have affiliated Smuttynose beers on tap.
The good news is that both Miyake and Duckfat are great for lunch. Eventide would be a good stop for 1/2 dozen and a drink, leaving two places for dinner, and late evening beers at GLB (although I prefer Novare Res too and it'll be closer to the other restaurants). I agree with the other poster who said don't eat at GLB... just drink. The food is forgettable (though the burgers can be OK if you must eat there).
I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who is thoroughly underwhelmed with 555. I've been 3 times now (because each time I go, someone says, "you just went on an off night") and simply don't see the hype. I've found the food to be really unimpressive. Everything has been cooked nicely (scallops a nice medium rare, mussels beautiful, lamb tender and pink in the middle, etc) save for one steak, but the flavors have been woefully uninspired. Bland even. I'm quitting on 555. I've wasted too much money and feel it's just too overrated. At best it's inconsistent.
That said, Fore Street is excellent. Duck Fat has, to this day, my favorite fries. The dipping sauces are all made in house and are all very good too. Their poutine is excellent, but it's almost criminal to drown the fries in all of that gravy and cheese curd. Underrated are Duckfat's shakes. Hugo's has been nothing short of outstanding each time I've gone; but I haven't been since the change in ownership.
Street and Co. has always been sort of "meh" in my opinion. It's not bad, but I don't really see the hype. I feel the same way about Street and Co. that I did about Legal Seafoods down here (I'm in Boston) before they blew up... It's just OK, but some people seem to go nuts for it. You'll probably get a decent meal there, but there are FAR better options for seafood in Portland (Hugo's and Fore Street being a few notches above). You can't go wrong with Miyake either. He's an artist.
Here's the report back. Went for a late lunch at Duckfat on Friday. Place was still packed around 3pm but we didn't have to wait long for a table. We shared the meatloaf and duck confit panini and some fries with the smoked tomato aioli and truffle ketchup. The meatloaf was definitely better, duck confit a bit one-dimensional. Fries were good (I would not call them Belgian fries, I am Belgian, these were not) but they were yummy nonetheless. Truffle ketchup was a bit gimmicky but the aioli was great.
We went to Standard Banking Co. to pick something up for the next day. The pizza (more bread than anything) was so-so, the madeleines were fantastic and the morning buns sticky and sweet. Great bakery!
We walked around town, got to Fore Street around 6pm and all their walk-ins were booked for that night. So went to Eventide Oyster Co. instead. Only had to wait for 5 min to be seated, so we enjoyed a drink adoring the slab of granite filled with ice and oysters. I had an excellent white Negroni, GF had a glass of white wine. Yes, their drinks have a full pour here :-). We had a dozen of wonderful Maine oysters with rhubarb sorbet and mignotte, enjoyed lemon cured bluefish with summer squash, tuna tartare (japanese style) - brought out by accident, so on the house, and another fish with seaweed nd toasted rice. All very good. The tempura summer squash was lovely as well and the fried oyster bun was killer (served on a chinese style steamed bun). We also had the lobster stew, that was more like a bisque but very yummy. Dessert was ice cream sandwich and the deep fried french toast that was satisfyingly wrong in a very good way. We really loved this place, sitting at the window enjoying the last sun before sunset. Service was great and knowledgable.
The next day we went to the Portland headlight and enjoyed the lobster rolls from the food truck there and a very zingy ginger ale. GF had the Maine style lobster roll, I had the Wasabi one. I guess the only difference between the 2 was that the Maine style had some some chives sprinkled on top and I had 3 small dollops of wasabi. But that was enough to accent the flavour and not overpower it. We also enjoyed our pastries from Standard Baking Co. That evening we went for a beer on the patio of Novare Res. Great spot, what a list! And then to dinner to Miyake.
My expectations we're very high and I have to say I was slightly dissappointed. We went for the Omakase tasting menu (seated at the bar, close to all the action) and while the fish was amazingly fresh, 2 dishes were a dissappointment: a squid salad with beetroot and goatcheese (a riff on the classic), and the angus steak with grilled veggies. Don't get me wrong, the dishes were good but I just felt this was not the best the kitchen could offer. Not the best showcase of their skill, technique, creativity or interesting flavours IMO. Top dishes were the raw lobster with garlic oil, the clams in broth, scallops with yuzu salt and the sashimi. I enjoyed 2 sakes: a junmai and a cedar aged one , both wonderful. After the tasting course I was still hungry and since I saw the kitchen make dozens of scallop shells filled with rice, topped with scallops, crab and lobster, covered with kewpie mayo and chili flakes, I ordered one of those. Perhaps not the most elegant ending, but satisfying. The yuzu pudding was refreshing but nothing more (tasted more like cheesecake). So yes, it was a good meal but the squid and steak felt like they did not belong in the tasting menu. If I spend a couple of hundred dollars on a meal, everything should be perfect and it wasn't.
Next day before driving back to Montreal we returned to Eventide for brunch. Apparently the best kept secret because the place was empty. We had the lobster roll with brown butter vinaigrette and the fried oyster bun (again on the steamed chinese bun), lobster benny and pork belly with beans and tomato jam. Again very wonderful.
Next time I'll go to Fore Street. The smell of the wood oven in the restaurant was mouthwatering.
Side note...can we get a definition of "Belgian Fries"? According to what may very well not be the ultimate resource (belgianfries.com), the Belgian fry is:
1. freshly cut, irregularly shaped (check)
2. cooked (fried) twice (check)
3. fluffy on the inside, crispy on the outside (check)
4. a distinct potato taste (pretty much check, though I suppose the duckfat flavor diminishes it)
5. at least 10 mm thick (check - i think?)
6. preferably served in a paper cone (check)
Just curious I suppose.
First of all skin-on is a big no-no. The type of potatoe is important as well. In Belgium they use a variety called bintje. I typically use Russets here in Canada because of their similar texture. But the colour is off, a bintje is a very yellow starchy potatoe. I've never tried it with Yukon Golds though (less available here).
The frying temperature is important. A long slow first fry (more like blanching) typically at 150-160C. Then after at least 30min of resting the blanched fries (the potatoes continue to steam and cook) a quick high temperature fry (180C-190C) to crisp up the outsides to attain a golden colour (more difficult with white potatoes). Most fries I've eaten in the US and Canada are always brown (and not golden).
Finally they should be fried in tallow or a mix of tallow and oil (granted not many places in Belgium do this anymore, but if they do ... oh boy).
Based on that, I don't call Duckfat Belgian fries, just fries .. good fries though :-)
Best Belgian Fries I've had this side of the pond was at The Publican in Chicago.
Glad to hear that Eventide was good. I'll have to drag myself away from Hugo's one night to check them out.
I hope you enjoyed your visit to "foodie" city Portland! We live here and love the high-end restaurants and variety. Favorites include Petite Jacqueline, Bresca, Local 188, Five Fifty-Five, Fore Street, Eventide Oyster Co., Duckfat, Otto Pizza and sushi at Miyaki. I also like the unique cocktails at Sonnys ("Hemmingway Daiquiri"), Bar Lola ("Lost at Sea"), LFK, Armory Lounge & Gingko Blue. That said, would you have comparable recommendations for Montreal? Staying in the "Latin Quarter" for a long Labor Day weekend 2013. Want upscale places with great food, but nothing too formal (ie. black jacket) and also where non-French speakers (I don't know a lick!) would feel comfortable. Thanks! Cheers!
As a New England foodie who visits Montreal I would say that you should not miss Jumpin Jays Fish Cafe in Portsmouth. Nothing like it on Montreal. If you want lobster, head down 1A to Rye Beach and grab dinner at Petey's. Owned by locals and is right across the street from the beach for a nice after dinner walk. Nothing fancy, but a good lobster joint.