Eventide Oyster Co., hot weather dining, hugo's, Maine seafood, new restaurant, Oysters, Raw oysters

Magnificent Shuckers

 

It’s a personal rule to not review a place that hasn’t been open long. In fact, it’s a pet peeve of mine. Any restaurant, regardless of who is in the kitchen or running the front of the house, always goes through some growing pains. So, I’ll tend to back off reviewing them until they’ve had time to the expected bumps worked out.

But..

Then there are those times when the first experience is fantastic and blows away any expectations. Doesn’t it then benefit the establishment to get positive reviews and word of mouth so early on?

And so, with Eventide Oyster Co., I’m going to break a personal rule and I do so because Eventide’s opening is, for me, the most anticipated one since Pai Men Miyake. Not only was I excited at the prospect of there being a new oystercentric restaurant in town (I’ll go on the record as not being a fan of J’s. Sorry.), but I was also curious as to how it would be executed.  Would it be more subdued and ‘rustic’ or would it be in the image of Hugo’s, who shares the same owners, and perhaps a bit hard to approach for the average Joe (I will also go on record to say that The Missus and I had one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ meals at Hugo’s on our birthday. So, we’re definitely smitten)?

Now that the doors are open, I can say that I think they’ve struck a wonderful balance. Eventide has the finesse and culinary playfulness of Hugo’s, but establishes itself as a unique entity with its distinct, but familiar, menu and casual atmosphere. The bright sea blue walls and open space eases the pain at the loss of Rabelais to Biddeford within moments of opening the door.

When my co-worker and I sat down for lunch, their doors had been open for a little over a week, but you wouldn’t be able to tell. Our server at the bar, Jess, was relaxed and informative (we had many questions) and when we couldn’t decide on all of our oysters, she quickly suggested filling in the rest with a selection from Maine. Fine enough with us and, with seven varieties from in state, we knew we’d get a great representation of their raw bar.

Speaking of bars.  Can I tell you that I was mesmerized by their draft beer taps, particularly the Dogfish Head one?

We opted to start our meal splitting a dozen oysters. My companion ordered the Wellfleets (MA) and Winterpoint Selects (ME), which are exclusive to Eventide and ones that I had sampled at Taste of the Nation. Having remembered getting some super briny Pacific Northwest oysters at Miyake, I chose the Shigoku (WA). 

The remaining oysters on our tray were Johns River, from South Bristol, Dodge Cove, in Damariscotta, and Wiley Points, also from Damariscotta. For the accoutrements we chose the mignonette and fennel orange, which had the consistency of an Italian ice. The above photo and menu shows them in order, and we ate from the bottom of the plate, up.
 

The briniest oysters were definitely our preferred ones and were the Shigoku, Johns River and Winterpoint Selects, which my friend said, “It’s like when you’re a kid and you go into the water off Maine and get a mouth full of ocean. This is Maine.”

We were only half way through our oysters when the other dishes started to arrive.  My friend ordered their ‘Lightly Grilled Local Squid Salad’, which came served with potato, egg yolk and paprika.  

It was absolutely stunning and the plate held the most tender squid I believe I’ve ever tasted. There was no chew, no objectionable texture. Had I closed my eyes and taken a bite of the dish I never would have guessed that it was squid. It was buttery, from the egg yolk, and tender, like soft noodles. The flavor was light and delicate, the cubes of potatoes adding the slightest bit of texture, was topped with a simple smattering of olive oil and smokey paprika. By this time, I believe we were both close to swooning off of our bar stools.

Then my plate of ‘Lightly Cured Artic Char’ was set in front of us and I was completely blown away by its composition. Pickled red onion, creme fraiche, fried bagel pieces, grated hard boil egg and caviar (Artic Char?) all set together on the plate so that each bite would contain all of the components. I wish I could have captured this dish into my memory better because I’m having the hardest time describing just how good it was. I can, however, easily say that it was unlike any lox plate I’ve had before it. More subtle than traditional lox, it was definitely enhanced by the bite of the pickled red onions and the pop and salt of the caviar.

But, those unsuspecting fried bagel bits. When the plate was set in front of us, my co-worker and I were talking about traditional New York style bagels. I quickly popped one of the fried bagel nuggets into my mouth and instantly put my hand on her arm and said, “And there it is.”  Perfectly chewy center, nice crunchy, seedy crust. The catch, though, is that it’s not even a bagel. It’s a flat bread that they make in house and prepare to look like little bagel pieces. You deceptive, magnificent bastards!

We weren’t done there, however. There were two last glorious dishes to dig in to.

My friend ordered the “Fried Oyster Bun,” which was served in a bun very similar to those used in the pork belly buns at Pai Men. While she offered me a bite, I left it all to her as she went on about how perfectly fried and fresh the oysters were. She also really enjoyed the uber thinly sliced pickled tomatoes and onions that were served underneath. I believe her exact words were, “These are the perfect undergarments for the oysters.” 
My “Eventide Lobster Roll” was served with ample amounts of freshly cooked, still slightly warm, sweet lobster tossed in a house mayonnaise and the tiniest bits of dill. While I’m a fan of the more traditional style, toasted bun and all, this easily rises to the top of the best rolls I’ve had in the area. The soft, steamed bun  made me wonder if toasted buns are used more often as a way to counter a heavily (over)dressed lobster salad.  This roll didn’t need the textural contrast, in fact this roll was enhanced with a softer bun. It complimented the tenderness of the lobster and it all seemed to melt together with every bite. While they play with tradition a wee bit on the roll, I don’t think there’s a Mainer out there that wouldn’t put this towards the top of their list of local favorites. 
For most of our lunch, we saw a lot of this:

People gathering outside of the windows, peering in like we were on the inside of a fishbowl. It happened so many times that it made me laugh. I don’t know if it was the blue walls, the huge carved boulder that houses the oysters or the fact that they weren’t from the area, but they gathered in groups and every once in a while one would venture in to take a picture.  If my mouth wasn’t full most of the time, I would have yelled to them to stay, pull up a chair and start with a dozen.

But, I didn’t.

So, instead, I’m telling you: Go. Sit at the bar, be dazzled with envy with how effortlessly they make shucking look and enjoy some of the best seafood this area now has to offer.

Eventide Oyster Co.  on Urbanspoon

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burger-o-rama, district, new restaurant, o-rama, restaurant week, trying new restaurants

Burger-O-Rama pt2: Fine Dining

I’ve been looking at the lights of District for over 4 months now. Literally a stones throw from our apartment, the Missus and I have found ourselves saying over and over again, “We really need to check it out.” But, as days became weeks and then turned into months, we found ourselves still saying but never going. So, when the ‘Fine Dining’ was the next theme of our reviews, and I saw that District was available, I chose it to finally force our stomachs into going– especially after hearing a friend call their burger one of the best in the area.

I will say that my one regret is that we didn’t go at night, instead opting for a lunch visit late last week. The space, which was extremely quiet at lunch time, has a larger interior than the outside lets on and I could easily imagine the space packed with happy, buzzy diners. I wanted to see it at it’s full stride because it felt like we were seeing it a bit out of context. It’s not that the service lacked(in fact our waiter was very sweet and engaging and obviously loved working there) or that the food was sub-par(nothing could be further from the truth, in fact)–it was just the space itself seemed awkward not full of people. Of course, this desire to see it at it’s full potential just motivates me more to get us over there for dinner sooner than later. The quality of the food also already has me wanting to go back.

Falling at the beginning of Restaurant Week, we had their lunch menu available to us–which included a full offering of their apps and a few sandwiches–as well as a special 3 course (app, entree and dessert) offering for only $15. I will say that I was a bit miffed that my burger cost($12.00) nearly as much as the Missus’ choice for the special menu, but that was soon dissolved when her choice of in house made charcuterie arrived and she cared enough to share it with me.


A perfect quinelle of duck rillette, paired with caperberries, cornichons, mustard and crostini. From the first bite, we were believers. The rillette, one of many offerings of in house made charcuterie, was one of the best we’ve had in Portland–and we’ve had some damn fine rillettes in this town, from the former Evangeline to Bar Lola. It was creamy, flecked with whole grain mustard and cornichons and had the perfect amount of gaminess from the duck. I wanted to walk upstairs to the kitchen and give a giant hug to the chef who made it and ask him for a mason jar of it for the road.

But, you’re here for the burger, right? Now, I will admit that this is probably the first and only time I’ve ordered a hamburger at an upscale restaurant. I don’t equate the two at all in my head. Upscale dining gives you dishes you can’t make at home while it tends to be the greasy spoons that give you the burger you rave about for the rest of your life. However, it can easily be said that District makes a hell of a burger.

House cured bacon, cheddar cheese, tomato confit and the ever popular brioche bun combined with a huge 1 1/2 inch thick patty cooked to a beautiful–just slightly over rare–medium temperature and a whopping side of fries. I assume, because so much of what District offers on it’s menu is house made and local, that the beef was ground on site and traveled less than 100 miles to get to their door. Beautifully marbled meat made for an interesting time of trying to out pace the juices that ran down my chin. Though, I must admit, it was a bit odd to be wiping it away with a crisp linen napkin instead of a throw away paper one. But, it was worth the effort as the burger was beautifully seasoned and satisfying.

The ‘buttered bun’ was a fine vessel for the dense patty, airy crumb and slightly toasted. The bacon, thick cut,slightly smoky and crisp seemed to melt into the fat of the burger and made for the perfect meld of beef and pork. The cheese, a cheddar, was something I actually never order on a burger, was alright though it didn’t seem plentiful enough, or sharp enough, to really stand up to density of the whole thing. But, we know my affinity for cheese and sometimes it needs to be pretty definitive to stand out. The only thing that was kind of ‘meh’ about the whole thing was the tomato confit–which I’m still not sure that was the dressing on the burger– that was below the bibb lettuce leaf beneath the patty. It gave a slight acidic note the whole burger but, for the most part, was lost beneath the richness. After a week of barely eating,the whole meal proved to be too indulgent and half the plate came home that evening to also be my dinner.

Now, was it the best burger in Portland, as a friend mentioned? Sadly, it was not–but I didn’t really expect it to be. I expect them to rock my face off with bone marrow salads, braised beef and Schnitzel–not a burger. In fact, I would say that the pulled pork sandwich that the Missus had as part of her RW menu was a slight step above the burger as far as all around enjoyable. But, because the burger was as good as it was, and because that little taste of the duck rillette sent us over the edge with joy, we’re more likely to pop around the corner for a bite to eat–and you should too. It’s obvious, by the care, flavor balance and presentation, that there’s a hell of a lot of talent in that upstairs kitchen and I can’t wait to see what else they can do.

District on Urbanspoon

Want to read about some other burgers, visit the O-Rama gang and their reviews here, here, here, here, here and here.

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Boda, food bliss, food memory, new restaurant, thai

33 dishes, 5 restaurants, 3 days, 2 people–Day One

The Mission: Challenge myself to dine at 4 restaurants during “Restaurant Week” over the short course of two days; consume approx. 6 courses over the span of 5 hours. My partner, whose dishes are also included in this count, joined me on 4 of , what turned into, 5.

This was all well and good until we decided to start things a smidge early and stop by for a first look at Boda.
They were not “officially” participating in Maine Restaurant Week, but they are a restaurant in Maine, so I think they qualify to be counted.

Boda
March 4, 2010–7:30ish

First impression: I want to live there or, if I can’t, then I want to steal all of their wood tables (salvaged wood that was shipped from Thailand). The walls are earth tones and decorations simple. Stripped down and comfortable, it was homey. I can see why they wanted this to be the antithesis of Bangkok and it’s mass of take out–here, they make it so you never want to leave. The only odd piece is the large tv above the bar in the back. When we were there they were playing BBC America, so it wasn’t obnoxious as say, COPS. On first glimpses this was a far cry from Bangkok and I was already grateful.
We were seated, ordered House made Mango Iced Teas and proceeded to have an unexpectedly amazing meal.


Split:
Fried taro sticks: seasoned with sea salt. Served with spicy chili Sriracha sauce
Pork belly skewers: marinated with salt, sprinkled with chopped scallion.

The presentation on the Taro Sticks was great: simple spider cradling a decent batch of fresh taro fries. And it’s served with Sriracha. Really you need more? Ok, they were perfect. Now, fry them in duckfat and I would dub them “Grandruler of All Fries in Portland!” They would be stern, but gentle rulers.
Grilled Pork belly was nice, nothing overly fancy. The ridge of fat at the top had a decided crunch that was a bit surprising. I’m still debating if they would have benefited from some sort of sauce or if they were served as they should be and I’m just missing it.

The Mrs.: Pork hocks braised with Star Anise Simmered in a rich dark stock made with “parlow spice”(Chinese five spice). Served with jasmine steamed rice, hardboiled egg, tofu, Asian mustard green pickles, and spicy & sour chili sauce. One of the most popular street foods in Thailand.

Me: Beef Panaeng: Braised beef in a flavorful panaeng curry paste (salty and sweet with aromas of Thai basil and lime leaves with a background taste of peanuts) and coconut cream, served with jasmine steamed rice. Panaeng curry is one of the most popular dishes in the Thai repertoire.

Ok, I do have to confess that I got nearly a bit weepy when my meal was placed in front of me and I was taken back to BABA, a Malaysian restaurant in NYC that closed after 9/11. Only there, it was Beef Rendang. And it was my favorite dish in the world. And I’ve been chasing that particular dish, or one to match it of that level, for nearly 10 years. The beef was painfully tender, slightly spicy and drizzled with coconut cream to bring the dish around with a bit of sweetness. While this one had it’s particular regional differences, it was just as comforting. Though the portions are generous there, I have to say that I held back on my hunger so I could have something to bring home to savor later on. I tried to convey all of this to the waitress, she just smiled and looked a bit sad for me.
But, through my own Oprah moment at my plate, my partner was presented with the most tenderly shredded ham hock I have ever seen. And, god, the sauce that was served with it was rich and earthy; peppery with a bit of sour. I picked at her plate as often as I could tear myself away from my own. The only odd thing for me was the pickled egg–just odd. She, too, ended up having enough to take home and enjoy later that night.
The last course was inevitable. I wouldn’t stop going on about how happy the food made me and how I truly didn’t want the experience to end until I was at complete and utter sensory satiation.

Dessert:
Chinese Doughnut: Fried dough, coffee served over ice cream
Thai Rice Pudding
Vietnamese Coffee

First, I’m going to be a 5yr old and state that ‘Chinese Doughnut’ is my new favorite term for a highly inappropriate sex act. I know it’s wrong and immature, but it’s funny..so it’s mine. For a doughnut, of any sort, it was kind of meh.
However, the black thai rice pudding was striking in appearance and delicious beyond words. Thick with coconut and sweetened condensed milk, the only thing missing were some black eyed peas and I would have been food bliss overdrive. I’m not sure if this is a regular item that they make, but I highly recommend you order it if given the chance.

Actually, I hold that to all of the dishes that we sampled.

Breakdown:
Ambiance:
I want all of the furniture in my next house. No campy decorations, tourism posters or weird animals hanging from the ceiling.
Service: Younger waitress, a bit inexperienced or just flighty. Ok, but not great. Hostess/Manager was definitely on top of things, swooping in behind our waitress when drinks were refilled or dishes cleared. Probably one of the most attentive hosts in Portland.
Food: Brought Thai in Portland to a whole new level. We left very happy and it actually made us very interested in trying their other venture, The Green Elephant.

Overall 8/10

Boda on Urbanspoon

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