Get Thee To Tao! : Pan Asian and Fusion in Brunswick: Lovely Space and Food
Man, what is with the Portland CH community? Youse guys hasn't been to Tao yet?
What, Brunswick is like, west of the Mississippi ? ! (just joshin' you)
But really, you need to tool up the ol' VW bus and get yourselves over there to dine at the new Tao.
What a perfect little spot. Welcoming, friendly, lovely decor, and terrific food. Cara, the chef/owner, while only in her mid 20's, has been cooking in restaurants since she was 16 and, after years of stage-ing in France and Asia, returned to the U.S. with the goal of working with her talented mom in her parents' new homeland of Maine.
Proof of the fact that one CAN design a smart restaurant space with just a brilliant mind and no previous restaurant eperience, Cara's mom,Cecile, designed a space where the room components and spatial layout work extremely well. One enters into a clean airy open space divided and made intimate by moveable soundproofed asian partitions that double as carved fretwork screens and painted cherry tree panels. The front wall has a cozy arrangement of a long comfortable settee and upholstered chairs that form an intimate alcove on the edge of the long curved bar. Asan inspired chairs and tables dot the space. The back part of the room is lined with a banquette and is divided from the front by those decorative moveable panel screeens.
Dinner options are epansive with a particularly appealing Wednesday Date Night choice of four different six and eight course prix fixe menus. Lunch begins with an appetizer duo , followed by a choice of five entrees with beverage. The minute our appetizers were set before us, a pretty asian red cabbage slaw and delicate zucchini 'fritters' (really pan fried dumplings) we knew we were in for a flavorful meal. The Five Spice anise infused duck confit with fried rice was the stellar choice; the duck offering a succulent and beautifully aromatic counterpoint to the toothsome rice. The beef pho,a vietnamese soup of thin rice noodles in a beef broth with silky sliced beef, crunchy bean sprouts, basil and mint,was a comforing choice on a cool autumn day, but the broth itself benefitted by an addition of soy sauce, lime and hot sauce. Black iced tea was light and refreshing.
An almond cake dessert was good but not stellar; moist and simple.Big eaters might leave the pre-fixe lunch table hungry but most people will probably find the meal a perfect size. If we had a place like Tao in my town, I know with certainty that we would be regulars. Maine wins again!
Because the OP is one of my favorites to follow on the Boston board we decided to try Tao on a recent trip outside of my beloved Portland and all I can say is WOW! We sat at the bar (walked in at 5:00PM and the tables were all booked for the night) which was great. Excellent bartender with great knowledge of the menu and a terrific view of the kitchen and chef Cara at work. They recommend 3-4 items per person for a full meal - we tried 7 items together - which we thought might have been one too many but everything was delicious from those steamed pork buns which looked big yet tasted so light to the cucumber salad which we rationed throughout the meal to take the sting out of some of the hotter items like the Short Rib Ma La Tang which they told us translates to something like "numbing the tongue". Everything we tried was a home run.
Without going into too much detail, this place can hang with anything in Portland and this chef is going places. Stop by and be able to say you had her food back when she had that small place in Brunswick, Maine. Oh yeah, make a reservation.
It's so hard to get in the car to drive out of town when we have so many options that I can walk to but Tao is well worth it. I forgot to add that you really only look into the kitchen from the, I believe 8 (maybe 6) seat, bar. If you're a 2 top that's where I'd sit. I also forgot to add that we thought Tao quite affordable. We shared 7 dishes with maybe 1, the short rib, more than $10. DH had 2 glasses of wine and I had a beer - the beer was the odd duck of the night price-wise at $9. I want to say it was an Oxbow. Only 1 other draft choice, a rice beer at $12. So, beer, wine, and 7 dishes of some of the most creative small plates + tip totaled right at $100. Well worth it.