Portland's Fore Street Restaurant
Phenomenal dinner last night. For a Thursday evening the place was rocking, seating started around 5:30 and they filled the dining rooms by 6 in a metered flow to get the exposed kitchen up to speed without an initial slam. Reservations were for 6 pm and we were seated within minutes of that.....we had arrived about a half hour early to enjoy their comfortable bar area with well prepared cocktails.
Service from front of house host through final clearing was nothing short of perfection. We asked to be in the main room close enough to the wood grille station to watch the cook staff and that is where we were seated. Our server was cordial, very knowledgeable of a menu that has nightly changes, and followed our cues for pacing the srervice. She conversed with us enough to make it a very personal dining event but never hovered or intruded or interrupted....in fact she was attentive and helpful every time we needed anything from a replaced dinner knife to an explanation of sauce ingredients.
We started, as always, with a shared order of the wood grilled mussels. Having enjoyed this preparation at least a couple dozen times over the past decade, these proved to be one of the freshest, plumpest tray of mussels we've enjoyed. Perfect balance of wine, garlic, butter and salt in sufficient
Quantity to be soaked up with the very crusty, rustic bread from the bakery downstairs. The only miscue of the night is that the bread was not warm but soaked in the mussel broth, that was by no means a deal breaker. Paired with a very reasonably priced St Veran, well chilled and opened up with crisp, lovely citrus notes, served as a perfect foil to the seafood.
We then shared the chilled seafood platter consisting of four exquisite preparations that for the $12 price was the equivalent experience to going to one of our favorite sushi restaurants in NYC. The preparations were precious, well conceived and deftly executed starting with a crevice 'ccoked' day boat scallop using grapefruit, lime and lemon in a very delicate balance. A piece of house cured and smoked king salmon with a maple bourbon cure that was so delicate rendering the salmon completely unctuous.....so delicious we offered to buy their entire evening's supply. A piece of impeccablly fresh yellow fin tuna was dressed simply in a fresh pea, micro-green 'salad' that only took a back seat to the incredible salmon. Finally a very lightly poached, very tender piece of lobster tail with a green 'slaw' of citrus zests and perhaps scallions. It was a complete triumph of subtle distinction and made it's way onto our top ten best dishes.
We then ordered main courses and enjoyed the switch to a young Catena Zapata cabernet one of Argentina's flagship wineries that offered rich, smokey and yet'sweet fruit flavors (not in the sense of residual sugars) but rather in the sort of light young cherry flavor profiles that can straddle roasted meats or grilled fish preparations. The pork loin was enormous, cut 2" thick, spice rubbed with what seemed a middle eastern blend zatar, junipers and rosemary in delicate balance, the grilled loin cut was lightly pink, very moist and completely luscious. Paired with a pickled sauerkraut that was outrageously flavored it made this carnivore very happy. A whole black sea bass was lightly grilled with a brown butter basting and then patiently and expertly deboned table side that had the richness and delicacy that impeccably fresh fish can offer, We shared a side of broccoli with an acidic tomato/corn purée sauce that could seriously tempt a return to vegetarianism, but then the balance of the entire night would have been missed.
We finished by sharing the most intense chocolate flavored, chocolate flan with the texture of a souffle and yet the intensity of a decadent chocolate truffle that left us almost speechless.
It was a complete tour de force dinner and yet elegantly restrained, seemingly simple in preparation but the effort from an extremely skilled cook staff and first class purveyors. Fore Street was full, tables were being turned around us and yet in our nearly three hour dinner, not once were we hurried or made to feel like we were a mere commodity to then. Fore Street continues to fire on all cylinders, inventive, luscious, classic elegance free of any pretense or molecular gymnastics. Based on our experience, no wonder Fore Street continues to attract new and returning cliental in the numbers they do. Incredible dinner that will not be forgotten.
Great report. It really is amazing me how they are able to serve such great food that appears so simple. I think you touched on something that other restaurants could learn from re. being so unrushed even though they were turning tables. By keeping 1/3 of the tables available for walk-ins they manage to give the front of the house a tremendous amount of flexibility. They do not necessarily need YOUR table for the 8 pm reservation. You're obviously taking your time, ordering wine and dessert - why would any restaurant want to rush you? They can seat that next group at one of the many unreserved tables. Sure, the walk-ins may have a longer wait but that's the risk one takes by not making a reservation. Like their food, so simple but so brilliant at the same time.