Thirty-one Number Ones
EAT FEATURE-March 2011
Edited by Susan Grisanti
Photographs by Dan Soley
In the October 2009 issue of Bon Appétit magazine, restaurant editor Andrew Knowlton gave Portland the prized title Americas Foodiest Small Town. He wrote, My scouting (aka eating) trips to Portland, Maine, resulted in some of the best meals of my life. The New York Times also took notice. Author Julia Moskin wrote in her 2009 story for the Times, In the last decade, Portland has undergone a controlled fermentation for culinary ideascombining young chefs in a hard climate with few rules, no European tradition to answer to, and relatively low economic pressureand has become one of the best places to eat in the Northeast. And last April the Travel Channel aired Anthony Bourdains visit to Maine, where he feasted from Portland to Rockland to Milo. The significant attention being paid to food in our state is due largely, if not wholly, to the remarkable chefs who have chosen to do what they do hereworking alongside our farmers, fishermen, artisans, and purveyors to make food that the world has taken notice of.
“Bar Lola is hard to put in one category. We serve small plates of food, but we are not a tapas bar. We are not a Mediterranean restaurant, but we cook food inspired by Spain and Italy. We love French techniques, both rustic and refined, but we are not a bistro. We play with juxtaposing flavor profiles, but do not consider ourselves fusion. We look at each dish and try and strip it down to its bare essentials then execute each one of its components to the best of our ability. We want every element to play an integral role in the final dish. I like to think a dish is done not when you can’t add anything else to it, but when you can’t take anything else away. Then to take fourteen of these stripped-down dishes and compose them into two seven-course meals for a pair of diners and have them respond to the arc of the meal is extremely rewarding.”
LOOKOUT FOR the five-course prix fixe tasting menu-For $39 select one option from each of the menu’s five sections or pay another $5 and have the chef select seven courses for you.
Bar Lola | 100 Congress St. | Portland | 207.775.5652 | barlola.net
“One thing that keeps me excited is how our audience has enthusiastically accepted so many of the foods we offer, from less-familiar seafood species to whole-beast meat cooking. That contrasts with my experience first working in Maine restaurants in the late seventies. At the time, I found my audience to be fairly conservative, squeamish even. In the eighties, I invited Maine diners to try urchins, monkfish, offal of all kinds, rabbit…and would end up serving just a few portions to a tiny fraction of the dining public. That has completely changed. We love to serve roasted or grilled fish that people often think of as bait: Atlantic herrings, small mackerels, Acadian rosefish. And some invertebrates folks may not have tried before–squids, cuttlefish, and razor clams, to name a few. And over the last two years, we’ve been able to add an expanding variety of chilled raw fish and shellfish to the menu, far beyond oysters and littleneck clams.”
Fore Street | 288 Fore St. | Portland | 207.775.2717 | forestreet.biz
“I’m especially excited about my pigs. We raise heritage breed pigs on our property. They are fed Primo scraps, garden scraps, and organic feed. They sleep under apple trees, and they forage in the woods. We raise them until the fall, when we harvest them for the table. We celebrate their life with a tradition we call “Pig Day”the entire staff and some of our staff from Orlando and Tucson make a delicious breakfast with our farm eggs and fresh sausage. Then we split into teams and prepare several recipesmortadella, prosciutto, guancialejust to name a few. Lots of smoking, turning, brining, drying, and curing ensues. We then offer a nose-to-tail menu to our guests for the following couple of weeks.”
LOOKOUT FOR the ever-changing additions to the menu from Primo’s gardens, beehives, and farm. And don’t miss Primo’s dollar oyster nights (Thursdays and Sundays).
Primo | 2 South Main St. | Rockland | 207.596.0770 | primorestaurant.com
Shepherds Pie + Francine Bistro
“At Shepherd’s Pie, I’ve charged ahead with the goal of having the best pub food north of New YorkÑusing the best ingredients and making everything very affordable. Our wood grill is my biggest inspiration here. I never suspected that wood-grilled scallops would be such a miracle of goodness. Apple-wood-grilled duck is breathtaking; the char on the skirt steak can’t be duplicated any other way. I am obsessed with foraged local seafood. New Meadows littleneck clams, wrinkled whelks, limpets, wild oysters, urchins, seaweeds. Hen clams for ceviche, grilled mackerel, smoked alewives for Caesar dressing, sculpin, sea raven, and cunners for perfect fish soup. And blueback herring for pickling.”
LOOKOUT FOR seasonal sides: morels and local asparagus, vinegary dandelions with garlic, and fried fiddleheads with chili and fish sauce.
Francine Bistro | 55 Chestnut St. | Camden | 207.230.0083 | francinebistro.com
Shepherd’s Pie | 18 Central St. | Rockport | 207.236.8500
158 Pickett Street Cafe
“The idea for 158 began while working at Street and Co. A friend asked my former partner and me if we ever thought about making bagels. We gave it some thought, and he put numbers to it. A couple weeks later, I rode my bike past our current location. I peered in the window, and it struck me that the idea was beginning to take shape in my mind. Soon we were in the lawyer’s office incorporating. With minimal start-up capital, we began working nonstop to refine our recipe until we had the best bagel around. We added breakfast and lunch to our plan. The experience we were trying to create was the best food possible from scratch in a relaxed atmosphere that would feel something like grandma’s house. Our mission has evolved several times since then. We went on to open Scratch Baking Company and then Bar Lola. I ended up becoming a chef through a sincere love for food. I’ve tried to do a few other things, but food consistently calls me back.”
158 Pickett Street Cafe | 158 Benjamin W. Pickett St. | South Portland | 207.799.8998
“I grew up in downeast Maine in a small fishing village. I love it here for the landscape, fishing, seasons, and especially the people. There is no better place to open a restaurant. At Caiola’s, we want the food to be both interesting and familiar. We create a menu that changes based on the local ingredients available seasonally. I ended up as a chef by chance, really. I answered an ad in the paper looking for a cook, no experience needed. After twenty-one years of hard work and dedication, I am still learning, teaching, and working with my hands. As an artist, what’s not to love? I am exactly where I want to be.”
LOOKOUT FOR private wine-cellar dining for parties up to thirty, and of course, Caiola’s renowned Sunday brunch.
Caiola’s | 58 Pine St. | Portland 207.772.1110 | caiolas.com
Hugos + Duckfat
“I always enjoyed cooking, but it’s creativity that drives me as a chef. The primary idea when we first opened the restaurant was to serve local cuisine revisited with modern technique—to let people experience familiar flavors in new ways. Since then Hugo’s has evolved into the restaurant we hoped forour current dinner is very adventurous. Many of our patrons order tastings, which is what we enjoy doing the most. In the kitchen we’re always excited about serving anything local, especially wild or foraged.”
LOOKOUT FOR the tasting-menu specials at Hugo’s.
Our vision for Cafe Miranda was not what was expected in Rockland in 1993an open kitchen, wood oven, medium-rare pork chops the idea of a constantly changing menu with multiple ethnic and classic influences was maybe far-fetched, but here we are eighteen years later, thanks in large part to the commitment of our staff. Now the focus in the restaurant world is farm to table. I have a farm, I have a table, and I have been sourcing locally since we opened. It was not the marketing tool it is nowit just was and is the right thing to do. Im always looking for ethnic ingredients and styles while also serving familiar comfort foods: spaghetti and meatballs, meat and potatoes, burgers, sandwiches, and pizza are among the offerings on our ninety-plusitem menu.
LOOKOUT FOR Kerrys cooking classes: March 19Traditional Hand-Shaped Pasta: traditional hand-rolled spaghetti, tagliatelle, and fettuccine. April 9Flavorful Vegetarian Food: Discover intensely flavored menu items featuring European pastas, roasted vegetables and greens, Asian noodle bowls with local tofu, and spicy Thai coconut-curry dishes.
Cafe Miranda | 15 Oak St. | Rockland | 207.594.2034 | cafemiranda.com
El Camino + Flipside
I woke up one morning in Maine and realized how much I missed Mexican foodto me it is like eating sunshine. There wasnt a Mexican restaurant around, so my sister-in-law and I decided to open a restaurant that would bring the five senses aliveall while offering locally grown, affordable food. One of the highlights at the restaurant is having a connection with area farmers. We get beautiful greens from Six River Farm well into December. I always considered myself a chef. (I began cooking when I was thirteen.) I moved to San Francisco from New York City sight unseenI knew if I didnt like it I would move to Maineand twelve years later I did. I found my soul in San Francisco. I came to Maine to use it.
LOOKOUT FOR Flipside, the farm-to-table pizza place on Maine Street in Brunswick brought to you by Eloise, Daphne, and the El Camino gang.
After graduating with a degree in anthropology, I knew I wanted to do something more sensual with my life. Rather than studying culture, I wanted to participate in the creation of it. I actually began cooking as a volunteer in college, never thinking it would blossom into a career. My girlfriend is from Maine, and when we came to vacation in Portland from New York City I was seduced by the citys charms. The pace is relaxed, but the city still pulses with a vibrant and artistic energy. Ive found Mainers to be genuine and down to earth, yet savvy and knowledgeable, and this seems like a perfect fit for me. Grace is the kind of visually stunning restaurant that awes people the first time they walk in. I wanted to create a bold menu that would stand up to the grandiosity of the spacefood that is refined and thoughtful without being too precious.
LOOKOUT FOR the book-release dinner for chef Gabrielle Hamilton, of Prune in New York City. Also, after the successes of Graces Halloween and New Years Eve parties, the restaurant will be throwing a summer solstice celebration.
Grace | 15 Chestnut St. | Portland | 207.828.4422 | restaurantgrace.com
Originally, and still to this day, my objective at the restaurant is to serve traditional American food made from scratch. Food has become fast in every sense of the word. It used to be just burgers and fries; nowadays everything from precooked high-end cuts of meat to frozen oysters on the half shell are available in the marketplace. I wanted to create a restaurant that not only served food you would recognize, but food that was prepared from the heart. Vegetables are our primary focus year-round. In the summer, our farm (Easter Orchard) supplies us with almost everything we serve, and in the winter we work with the root vegetables that harvested in the fall. We feed about 800 people a week, and having plates full of fresh organic vegetables that were picked that day is hard to beat.
LOOKOUT FOR Joshuas seasonal recipes including strawberry cosmos, fresh pea ravioli with sage butter, stuffed squash blossoms, and a summer specialty: lobster pie.
Joshuas | 1637 Post Rd. | Wells | 207.646.3355 | joshuas.biz
Its a real challenge to describe the genre of cuisine at BandaloopId say its an eclectic mix of bold, worldly flavors. Something for everyone, from the carnivore to the vegan, the old and the young. We have learned that there are many people with food allergies or intolerances, so we have made the menu more flexible to accommodate those needs. I am not afraid to change menu items to suit people. Youre paying for itI want you to have what you want. We offer many creative vegetarian options, something that was lacking in our community. Vegetarian food can be exciting, especially when it comes to soup. My soups are always vegetarian and most of the time vegan. Some things Im especially excited about on our menu: I like spicy foods, so anything I can make with a little heat to it. Ive been experimenting with my desserts a lot more lately and having fun with chocolate and pastry.
LOOKOUT FOR Scotts tuna dishes. He says, Im able to get beautiful Hawaiian yellowfin tuna. Its my favorite to eat and my favorite to serve.
Bandaloop | 2 Dock Sq. | Kennebunkport | 207.967.4994 | bandaloop.biz
Sea Glass at Inn by the Sea
After cooking in Buenos Aires and Patagonia, I came to the United States to work at LOrangerie Restaurant in West Hollywood, La Palme dOr at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, and PlumpJack in Lake Tahoe. For Sea Glass menus, I try to source food locally and offer traditional favorites in a new light, such as sumptuous, pan-seared jumbo Maine scallops served with parsnip puree, gaufrettes, and beurre monté. The scallops are fresh from the sea year-round, and parsnips flourish even under a blanket of snow at neighboring Alewives Brook Farm. My favorite dish, gnocchi, is my soul food. I continue to make handmade gnocchi with the same wooden tool used by my grandmother in Argentina. One of my favorite dishes is lobster gnocchiits a true amalgamation of cooking techniques learned in the past and in my new life in Maine.
LOOKOUT FOR the March 19 Chefs Cooking Demonstration showcasing signature Sea Glass dishes (including techniques, tastings, and recipes) and the March 31 Blind Wine Tasting Educational Event exploring a variety of regions, varietals, and price points.
Sea Glass | 40 Bowery Beach Rd. | Cape Elizabeth | 207.799.3134 | innbythesea.com
Keiko Suzuki Steinberger
When we opened, we served more or less the standard American sushi bar fare. Gradually, we moved from the usual suspects to local, seasonal ingredients, and to making in-house more and more of what we serve. For example, we began with frozen shumai from a big supplier, but soon moved to making our own with local shrimp. The key to our ability to move from the ordinary to the extraordinary has been that our customers have been willing, even eager, to support it. We have friends now who are growing things and foraging for things just for us. Suzuki is as close to a traditional Japanese sushi bar as you can find outside of Japan. Not like a sushi bar in Tokyo, where fish from all over the world comes to the Tsukiji Marketwe are like a sushi bar in a small town on the northeast coast of Japan (like the town I grew up in), where the fish comes directly from local fishermen.
LOOKOUT FOR Keikos spring recipes with dandelion greens, fiddleheads, mizuna greens, glass eels, flounder, and local bluefin tuna and toro.
Suzuki | 419 Main St. | Rockland | 207.596.7447 | suzukisushi.com
Pier 77 + The Ramp
Its both good fortune and a challenge to have two distinct menus for two dining rooms coming out of one kitchen. We cover dishes that entail a wide variety of preparations, from fish-and-chips to duck cassoulet, paella, and our Lamb Three Ways, not to mention our famous burger. It can get pretty crazy in the kitchen pumping out the volume we do, and it keeps us on our toes. Were making some aesthetic changes to the dining room that weve wanted to do from the beginning. Its nice to make changes not only to the menu but also to the design of the room. When we reopen in the spring, the dining room will have a completely fresh look.
LOOKOUT FOR Pedrosthe new Mexican restaurant in Kennebunkport Pete is opening with his wife and partner, Kate. Pedros will draw on Petes twenty years of experience cooking in San Francisco, where he learned about Mexican, Guatemalan, and El Salvadorian food.
Pier 77 + The Ramp | 77 Pier Rd. Cape Porpoise | 207.967.8500 | pier77restaurant.com
Pedro’s | 181 Port Rd. | Kennebunk | 207.967.5544
Cinque Terre + Vignola
We wanted to create an atmosphere where people could come and share plates of food and explore an Old World wine list with tasting portions as well as European craft-style beers. I wanted, specifically, to share the food experiences I had in central Italy, where the cuisine is driven by the many influences of location, fresh pastas, cured meats, dairy cows, and aged vinegars. Im most excited by the seasonal menus that we create and incorporating foods like local rabbit, house-made duck sausage, lamb, and hand-crafted cheeses, which Im especially interested in right now.
LOOKOUT FOR the many food and wine and restaurant events at Vignola and Cinque Terre, including the Whole Hog Dinner in April, a Spanish wine tasting in June, the Harvest Dinner in September, and their annual Allagash Beer Dinner.
Krista Kern Desjarlais
When we first opened, Bresca was viewed as Italian in genre, and I offered food that fit that mold. Now I find myself wanting to just cooknot to fit into a specific cuisine, but to cook for the love of it. I have been consistently shrinking the menu and aiming to eventually have it change daily. My dream would be to write a small four- or five-course menu each day and present it, handwritten, with a few suggestions for wine or beer to accompany it. This year marks my thirtieth year in this industry. At this point in my career, I am most excited about revisiting the food I grew up with and that I prepared as a young cook. I am making gravlax and pickled vegetables, smoked meats, and fish. I also cooked from many of Julia Childs, Richard Olneys, and Elizabeth Davids books. Revisiting their recipes and modernizing them for a restaurant kitchen has been wonderfully rewarding.
LOOKOUT FOR Kristas daily small prix fixe menu (in addition to the a la carte menu) celebrating her three decades of cooking. The menus will be seasonal and based on a theme of time, place, event, or ingredient.
Bresca | 111 Middle St. | Portland | 207.772.1004 | restaurantbresca.com
Growing up, I worked in kitchens here and there to get me through school. After college, I brewed beer professionally, and while I thoroughly enjoyed this vocation, the job became very solitary. With advances in equipment, small-scale breweries were easily operated with one or two brewers, and I missed the back-and-forth banter that happens in the kitchen. After a short stint in Portland (now twelve or so years ago), I headed off to Vermont to attend the New England Culinary Institute. After spending time in Napa, the heart of the farm-to-table movement, I returned to New England and found that Portland had evolved into quite an interesting culinary destination. Inspired by my experience, I wanted to pay special attention to not only sourcing our ingredients locally but also supporting often unnoticed vendors as well. Due to these relationships and others throughout the Portland food scene, we were, thankfully, welcomed into the community. And the rest, as they say, is history.
LOOKOUT FOR Petite Jacqueline, the new casual French bistro Steve and his wife and partner Michelle will be opening this month at 190 State Street.
Five Fifty-Five | 555 Congress St. | Portland | 207.761.0555 | fivefifty-five.com
Clark Frasier + Mark Gaier
Arrows Restaurant, MC Perkins Cove + Summer Winter
Our food is heavily influenced by our travel, what we read, and whats out our back door. We frequently travel to Asia. We have traveled in the Middle East to several countries including Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel. And we enjoy traveling in Europe and around our own country. This coming year will be a very exciting year for us. On the heels of winning the James Beard Foundations Best Chef in the Northeast award comes the spring publication of our long-awaited second book, Maine Classics. The thing that makes this most compelling for us is that it examines the thread of cooking going back to colonial times in this state and delves into how these traditions still shape the way we cook, farm, and create food.
LOOKOUT FOR Arrowss spring and fall Travel Dinnersdiscoveries of foods and flavors from the Far East to the Near East to the far South.
Arrows | 41 Berwick Rd. | Cape Neddick | 207.361.1100 | arrowsrestaurant.com
MC Perkins Cove | 111 Perkins Cove Rd. | Ogunquit | 207.646.6263 | mcperkinscove.com
Summer Winter | 1 Mall Rd. | Burlington, MA | 781.221.6600 | summerwinterrestaurant.com
The White Barn Inn
I was asked by the great hotelier Lawrence Bongiorno to come and work for him. Once I met him and saw the White Barn Inn, it quickly became a no-brainer for me to move my life to Maine. I was working in Switzerland at the time and was very fortunate because it was my last few days on a winter contract in a hotel. Laurie had contacted me because I worked in America before at a fellow Relais & Chateaux property. The manager there knew I wanted to come back to America and recommended that he call me. What I came to discover is that Maine is a wonderful and challenging place to work, especially in light of my passion for cooking tied to the seasons. I am sincerely excited about all the foods on our menu, but I have a partiality for creating and cooking fish dishes. At the moment, I am very pleased with our warm smoked lobster and halibut dish.
LOOKOUT FOR the 2011 International Guest Chef Program, which brings guest chefs from around the world to the White Barn Inn.
The White Barn Inn | 37 Beach Ave. | Kennebunk | 207.967.2321 whitebarninn.com
The Fiddlehead Restaurant
One of our customers just brought us some Icelandic lamb. Im not familiar with this meat, but he shared some instructions on the best way to prepare it, and I cooked it up. Its exciting to try and guess how something will turn out or how it will tastewhen it turns out that Im dead-on, it gets me super excited. Its like spelling a word right at the spelling bee! Everyone has a comfort food that they likesomething that is specific to each person. I wanted to put things on the menu that would be comforting to all people: Bulgogi-style marinated Korean beef with white rice and house-made pickles. Lobster pot pie. Spaghetti squash latkes with apple chutney. Pickled fiddleheads and a Thousand-Island-dressing-topped burger. Nonsterile foods, so that people can look at the menu and find something they like, whatever their background is or wherever theyre from.
LOOKOUT FOR Fiddlehead Fest. During fiddlehead season, the restaurant offers daily additions to the menu. And the house-made sangria in the summer months, cocktail-inspired food tastings, and wine- and beer-pairing dinners are not to be missed.
The Fiddlehead Restaurant 84 Hammond St. | Bangor 207.942.3336 | thefiddleheadrestaurant.com
My goal for the Inn was to have a menu that changed nightly, incorporating the freshest local ingredients and adding an ever-changing international flair. Our small dining room caters to twenty diners each evening, which offers a really nice environment for an intimate dining experience. Im especially passionate about cooking Maine seafood with a Caribbean influenceits a favorite of mine. The flavors of the Caribbean work so well with Maine seafood. And soufflé is my signature dessertwe offer over thirty-five flavors. Mary Jo (my wife) and I run the restaurant ourselves; I am the chef, and she greets guests and provides them with personal service. After twelve years of experience in the luxury hotel industry, we chose to keep the restaurant small enough to provide a consistently high level of guest service and food quality.
LOOKOUT FOR the Inns cooking classes. Groups or individuals can become Chef for the Day and work alongside Michael in the kitchen from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., as he creates the evening meal. The upcoming In the Spring Garden class uses a variety of herbs and vegetables from the grounds and includes a garden tour and gardening tips.
Hartstone Inn | 41 Elm St. | Camden | 207.236.4259 | hartstoneinn.com
Local 188 + Sonnys
I became a chef because pre-med was just way too hard. But heres an alternate beginning: what started as an art gallery serving beer and wine developed into Local 188, a restaurant inspired by classic Old World cuisinetapas, paellaand a very laid-back atmosphere. At Sonnys, we wanted to bring that same casual mood downtown and bring the food emphasis to a New World Latin approach. Even our wine lists reflect this tack: Local 188s wine list is made up of Old World wines, while Sonnys wine list focuses on wines from this side of the globe. I want there to be a synergy between the twosame flavors, different takes. Now our challenge is creating awareness among the dining public. Unfortunately, theres a stigma when it comes to Latin American food. It can be quite complex and adventurous, not just your typical margaritas. Not that theres anything wrong with that
LOOKOUT FOR house beers at Local 188 and Sonnys. Jay has filed for a brewers notice and hopes to be brewing by late spring or early summer.
Harding Lee Smith
The Grill Room, The Front Room + The Corner Room
After opening the three Rooms, our evolution has mainly been my working to be a better chefbetter at providing consistently solid food and not trying to be something that I am not. There are many great chefs in the area. I have learned to be myself. One of the very cool things we have going on now is our two-acre farm in Windham where we grow some of our produce. We have 700 chickens that provide the fresh eggs for our Front Room breakfast. And we raised four pigs this year and produced incredible things with them. We are curing our own prosciutti and other cured products that let us stretch the pleasure of the harvest throughout the year.
LOOKOUT FOR the Italian Wine Dinner at the Corner Room this month.
The Grill Room | 84 Exchange St. Portland | 207.774.2333
The Front Room | 73 Congress St. Portland | 207.773.3366
The Corner Room | 110 Exchange St. | Portland | 207.879.4747
Fuel + Marché
Our intent for Fuel was to deliver a French-bistro experience with a twist. So, although our food is mostly classic French bistro, we offer a four-course tasting menu that is totally off the cuff, every night. Our approach to food is really, really simple. Country French, classically prepared. Pure and simple. Steak Diane, braised pork shank, tuna nicoise, charcrute. Simple, classic country French. Everything from scratch. Were most excited right now about sous vide [a method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags submerged in a water bath for an extended period of time]. We have two immersion circulators, and both of them are running all the time. Sous vide has a huge role in our kitchen at this point and this will continue to grow.
LOOKOUT FOR Fuels Fifth Annual Kentucky Derby Party on the first Saturday in May, which includes a five-course, Southern-influenced dinner and live bluegrass music.
Fuel | 49 Lisbon St. | Lewiston 207.333.3835 | fuelmaine.com
Marché | 40 Lisbon St. | Lewiston | 207.333.3836
Miyake + Pai Men Miyake
I was going to be an artist, clothing designer, or cook. Kitchen work allowed me to be creative and explore my interest in food and eating. I enjoy when people say, Wow I didnt think I would like that. Some of our more unique products like local welks, cod sperm, or monkfish liver may be unappealing to many people, but if I can open up our patrons sense of adventure, and they are able to enjoy delicacies that are new to them, that is extremely exciting to me. My family and I came up to Acadia National Park for vacation when we lived in New York. It is very beautiful and similar to the area of Japan that I grew up in. It just made sense to open a fish-focused restaurant on the Maine coast.
LOOKOUT FOR Miyakes new location: the restaurant is moving to 470 Fore Street. Sadly, we will not be BYOB anymore, but we will have many interesting additions, Masa says.
Miyake | 129 Spring St. | Portland | 207.871.9170
Pai Men Miyake | 188 State St. Portland | 207.541.9204
I became a chef by accident really. The two years I spent at Johnson & Wales was lost on me. I really didnt get it until I started working at the former Snow Squall Restaurant in South Portland in 1998. My first week there, I was so amazed by the food, the systems, the environment, and the lifestyle that I immediately realized I was where I wanted to be. All the food we work with is really exciting to me. Offal is fun, and so are premier cuts of meat, but if I had to choose, it is probably desserts. I have always gravitated to the sweet side of the kitchen. Its the last course of the dining experience, therefore the last thing the customer sees, and it is an opportunity to leave a wow impression with them. Desserts can also be much more artistic than the savory items, and having a love for art my entire life, it gives me a chance to create and satiate my artistic hunger. And who doesnt like dessert?
LOOKOUT FOR the $25 three-course prix fixe menuits what Clementine is all about.
Clementine Restaurant | 44 Maine St. | Brunswick | 207.721.9800 | clementinemaine.com
Back Bay Grill
I ended up as a chef I think the same way many do. I grew up in Kennebunkport, working in the local restaurants there and just fell in love with the industry. The kitchen environments similarity to athletics is what hooked me at first. When I first came to the Back Bay Grill as a young chef in 1995, I was full of big ideas. I had worked at high-end restaurants, and I wanted to just plug in that style here. I learned quickly that, for me to be successful, I had to adapt to customers desires. I did not want to be a flash in the pan chef; I wanted to build trust. So at first it was a bit of a struggle to find a way to cook what I wanted to cook and also appeal to what guests had come to know of the Back Bay Grill. Having worked here for many years, I have been able to develop a confidence level with our clientele. I can be far more adventurous than I ever thought possible.
LOOKOUT FOR Larry prepares a seasonal multicourse feast at the Maine Botanical Gardenss Kitchen Garden Dinner on April 13.
Back Bay Grill | 65 Portland St. | Portland | 207.772.8833 | backbaygrill.com
Allison Martin + Elmer Beal Jr.
The Burning Tree
Twenty-five years ago, very few people were serving local fish in the area. Using the seafood that was plentiful and at our fingertips became our identitycod, sand dabs, monkfish, gray sole, halibut, haddock, hake, pollock, and the occasional ocean perch, skate, or wolf fish. We decided to avoid other meats, except as accompaniments, so that we would always keep our inventory moving and impeccably fresh. I used to feel apologetic about not being formally trainedin fact, it took me probably fifteen years to finally recognize myself as a chef. I was free to experiment and make mistakes, and in most ways I feel lucky to be free of the rigidity and indoctrination of some culinary education styles. I have come to understand the raw ingredients, learning the nature of each species of fish and trying, as most good chefs do, to let the flavors speak for themselves.
LOOKOUT FOR Burning Trees whole salt-coated, stuffed fish or smoked fillets served with spicy crab and cabbage in a pressed sushi. In addition to fresh fish, they serve scallops, crab, clams, mussels, northern shrimp, and of course, lobster.
The Burning Tree | 69 Otter Creek Dr. | Otter Creek | 207.288.9331
Davids + Davids 388
My two restaurants have developed from different ideas. Monument Square came from a desire to turn away from formality and to offer a broader choice of dishes without culinary borders, ranging from pretty simple presentations to intricate and complex flavors. I wanted people to be able to eat great food and wear jeans while drinking great wine without dropping a ton of cash. With Davids 388, I wanted to provide a neighborhood meeting place and offer smaller portions at smaller prices so patrons can eat many different flavors without eating too much. We are all about blending a traditional idea with a twist, and often those twists come from blending culinary cultures for exciting and unexpected resultsfor instance, combining fresh stuff from the farmers market with things from all over the world that we keep as staple stocks in our pantry.
LOOKOUT FOR A seven-course food and wine pairing in collaboration with Cellardoor Winery, featuring a sneak peek of Cellardoors new artist series wines, on May 19.
Cleonice + Table
My wife Cary and I immediately thought tapas bar when we first saw the space that would become Cleonice, inspired by the thirty-foot mahogany bar that dominates the room. For our other restaurant, Table, we found another beautiful restaurantthis one on a millstream facing Blue Hill Bay. We conceived of Table as a meeting place for farmers, fishermen, and artisans to dine with other community members and visitors. The cuisine was imagined as sort of a fusion of French country dining and old-timey Maine flavors. The Blue Hill Peninsula is rich with farmers, fishermen, and cheesemakers, and we are continually challenged with how best to use this bounty. I get a call from a fisherman announcing a just-caught halibut, or a scallop diver shows up with glistening scallops and still-alive urchins. A farmer comes to tell me of a heritage breed of turkey or pig they want me to try. A forager comes with chanterelles, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, fiddleheads, blackberries, or sea beans. In August, the farms are bursting with tomatoes and peppers and corn and all the great bounty of our growing season.
LOOKOUT FOR Tables seasonal reopening on April 1.