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Tough Choice in Portland

We want to have a fine dinner in Portland ME in two weeks, and the problem is an overabundance of choices!
We've eaten at Five Fifty-Five and enjoyed it very much, but are also tempted by Hugo's or Fore Street. Possibly Cinque Terre and Vignola?
Suggestions on how to break this tie, and why?????

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  1. I typically suggest Fore Street or Hugo's. I know they're typical recommendations and have been for some time, but there's good reason for that. I guess Hugo's has changed ownership, but people seem to be pretty content for the most part. Fore Street has never disappointed. Given the fact that Hugo's Bear winner has left and that Fore Street may be one of the most consistently good restaurants anywhere, I'd go with Fore Street.

    Cinque Terre was among the worst dining experiences of my life. Overcooked pasta and meat and deplorable service. I have a hard time figuring out how they manage to stay in business. I've read reviews on yelp (which I take with a grain of salt anyway) which seem to range from good to horrible. I guess it's hit or miss. I'll give most places a second try, but Cinque Terra is not worth it to me.

    1 Reply
    1. re: youth_in_asia

      Okay, well we just ate at Cinque Terre and really had a good meal, generous portions for small or app sizes, enjoyed it and felt service was fine. Some of the minor issues were the balcony in back was unlit, and a bit too much A/C, and they let a table do toasts, with speeches running a bit loud and long..but food was great, for what you might expect app basics or pasta basics.
      Price was good for quantity..I ordered the duck confit with port cherry, asked for chef to pick a cheese to go with it- delivered with a great tasting brie. Generous portion, easily could be for 4. Then ordered the antipasto app small, and it was very generous could serve 4, or 6 as app- I had as meal. Excellent squash matchstick with fennel and pesto side, zucchini ribbons with fennel and herbs, excellent, and a quinoa salad that was slightly spicy, excellent. Generous portions of speck, soppresatta, mozzarella, olives and more. Husband had a great soup, forget which one, as well as the Bolognese pasta. They paired it with great wines, we really enjoyed our meal and found it well priced for the amount of food.

    2. Haven't been to Hugo's for a while; Fore Street is always good, but just note that (a) it can be noisy; and (b) it's pretty meaty. I agree that Cinque Terre has had downhill notches of late, and Vignola is the same ownership. Here's an alternative suggestion or two: (a) Bresca, a Beard nominee, small, intimate, and delicious; and my favorite, (b) Bar Lola, on the East End (Congress St.): small, eclectic and innovative.

      1. Every time I've been to Fore St. It's been excellent. Very consistent. If I was to knock it at all it would be a lack of "wow" factor. It's great but predictable and when I want a sure thing it's near the top of my list. Then there's Hugo's... Wow. I haven't been since Evans left but the guys who took over were mentored by him and even if things eventually deteriorate, it will take more than the few months since he's been gone. They opened Eventide next door and and it's such a hit that I believe Hugo's will be just fine. Much more of a risk than Fore St. but with potentially greater reward. They take much greater risks with their menu especially is you do the tasting. Probably the most expensive restaurant in Portland. I've done OK at Vignola Cinque Terre (now one combined restaurant) but definitely a notch below the others.
        I hit up Emilitsa, near 555, the other night for the first time in a year and was reminded that it's one of the best overlooked places in the city along with Back Bay Grill. I think it's worth a look.

        1. I would consider the Salt Exchange on Commercial Street. In my mind, this is the most consistently outstanding restaurant in Portland.

          1. I have eaten twice at Hugo's since Rob Evans sold it, and it was still an awesome experience (and he sold them the recipe for their addicting potato biscuits! Fore Street is consistent in my opinion, but won't have the possibility of really wowing you the way Hugo's can.

            6 Replies
            1. re: kimfair1

              I'm glad to hear it's still exceptional. I would agree, if Hugo's is still top notch, it's a better choice than Fore Street.

              1. re: youth_in_asia

                Disagree; Fore Street isn't my favorite restaurant in Portland, but IMO it's a much smoother operation than Hugo's. I used to be a fan of Hugo's under Evans, but my more recent meal there was a disaster from start to finish. On the 8 course tasting the two meat courses were quail and rabbit (redundant) and the pacing between courses was wildly inconsistent. I've noticed that the mg techniques are no longer as prominent so I think that Hugo's has sort of lost its niche. I just reviewed Fore Street the other night (http://diningsense.wordpress.com/2012...) and they are still executing at a very high level. Also, their dining room absolutely trumps the awkward space at Hugo's.

              2. re: kimfair1

                ha! there you are again, kim! well you saved me having to look for you on the strip t's thread to tell you that rob had left and maybe he got his St Bart's house as i conjured!!

                We'll have 2 30th Anniv. portlnd dinners next mid wk,(followed by damarscotta, bar harbor and blue hill) and i'm on this thread to learn. we've had 3 exc meals at bresca in recent yrs; i just wish it weren't so teeny. So far, it looks like i'll be pulling up the hugo's, bar lola and bresca menus to explore....... We gave up on fore st long ago. Just not special food imo. Diff strokes.....We also can't and won't go to real loud places except at opening time.

                We have really liked Local 148? for brunch/lunch and also 555 Congress for brunch, though overpriced i thought. Btw, i have that biscuit recipe, sent me by Rob yrs ago -if you want it. I altered it for us but it's the only biscuit recipe i use. you can reach me via my member pg.

                1. re: opinionatedchef

                  Email has been sent. Thanks! I use a gmail account, so if you don't get it, check your spam folder as I've noticed a lot of gmail addresses get sent to spam folders. Going up to Portland this weekend, looking forward to our Hugo's dinner (though I have some Fore St gift certificates and we were going to go there, but they were fully committed). Now if I could get some of that farm butter Hugo's uses on the biscuits, it would be perfect!

                  1. re: kimfair1

                    "if they can buy it, you can buy it" ?

                    1. re: opinionatedchef

                      Yeah, I'll have to ask on Saturday where the buy it.

              3. Fore Street won the toss. It was loud, hopping, and great fun to be part of the buzz. Nice welcome (thanks to Open Table). Service good, ambiance as advertised. Bread terrific. Oysters to start --- delicious, only not enough! And three types of terrine/pates, with suitable accompaniments. I didn't like them all equally but that was my taste, and part of the experiment. (Rabbit and almond terrine unexpectedly luscious.)
                Hub had pork loin rubbed, gigantic portion, perfectly cooked. I had quail (it wasn't too expensive, it's hard to find quail, and I wanted to give the smoker a try. Alas, I'm not too crazy about smoked. But it was a big and tender quail, too much for me to finish.)
                Hub had a 2008 Cotes du Rhone, quite complex, easy drinking, good mouth feel. (What he goes for.) I had a Riesling that blew me away --- and that's really not simple to find! Riesling selection in this country leaves a lot to be desired. If I were given to two glasses of wine at dinner, I would have had a second glass.
                We were pretty full, but decided we had to try one dessert, so we went for the Peach Bread Pudding with Bourbon and vanilla ice cream, and it was a real winner.
                I see what people mean about the meal not necessarily being astonishing. But I don't know, astonishing for me doesn't trump satisfying food and an exciting ambiance and the feeling of being a part of a happening whole. So I turn thumbs up for Fore Street! Lucky Portlanders (or whatever they call themselves) who have this panoply of restaurants, one of which is better than the next! I'm back in the culinary desert of the Pioneer Valley, but with happy memories. Thanks to everyone for their comments.

                1 Reply
                1. re: BerkshireTsarina

                  As I noted elsewhere, I was at Hugo's this past weekend and found it to be just pretty good.

                2. Photos and story here about dinner at Fore Street, from my blog:
                  http://touch2touch.wordpress.com/2012...