Have you ever been to Portland? It's such a charming little city, even when winter doesn't want to release its grasp on it just yet! The Chef and I drove up from Boston on Friday afternoon for a quick overnight to explore the Old Port a bit. We left at half past noon, made a pit stop in Portsmouth for gas and snacks, and arrived at the Hyatt on Fore Street at 3pm, just in time for check-in.
Talk about a perfect spot to stay - the Hyatt was easy walking distance to all of the locations we had on our list to visit.
Vena's Fizz House was the first stop on our grand tour of Portland. This is the perfect place to pick up a gift for the cocktail lover in your life! From vintage cocktail glasses and serving trays, to small batch syrups and tinctures, to a vast array of craft bitters, Vena's has just about anything a home bartender would want. Bonus? There's a bar in back! Before 5:30pm, they serve non-alcoholic drinks using all of the bitters they sell on site. And they recently got their license to serve alcohol after 5:30 as well - just look for the red light over the front door! Despite being there before the red light went on, we still enjoyed our mocktails. I got the Almond Joyful (coconut cream, chocolate syrup, orgeat), and The Chef got a Gingertini of sorts (pro-tip - add a touch of ghost pepper extract for a bit of heat!) Both drinks were affordable and mighty tasty, the staff was knowledgable and welcoming, and I was completely charmed by the curating, decor, and general presentation of this place!
Next up was Eventide Oyster Co. on Middle Street. Fitting that we showed up at about 5:30, as the definition of "eventide" is the time before evening; the transition from day to night. And what a pleasant time to go! Not yet packed, we sidled up to a window bar and grabbed two stools to perch on. Knowing we were just there for a taste made this the perfect spot, although we commented that in general, this type of seating is less than desirable for a full meal. Whatever! The food we were about to consume made up for it! We started with some refreshments - me, a glass of Muscadet, and for The Chef, a bottle of Daymark American Pale Ale. Next of course, the main attraction: OYSTERS! A dozen of Maine's finest, and an order of yellowfin tuna crudo with ginger, scallion, radish and a sesame oil.
Of the oysters, our favorites were the Otter Cove (Newcastle, ME), Bagaduce (Brooksville, ME), and Wild Belon (Damariscotta, ME). If you have never tried a Wild Belon oyster, know they are not for the faint of heart! Wild Belon oysters are meaty, pungent, metallic, and oh so unique. I described them this weekend as the Guy Fieri of oysters - perhaps a bad analogy, but he was on TV in the hotel room, so he was on my mind! I guess if I had to describe an experience eating a Wild Belon, I'd say it will be more pinky orange in color than other oysters. The shell is round, almost like a scallop shell, and often dark, bright green with algae. Upon first taste, you'll notice it being slightly more dry than others - not a ton of brine. The meat is more firm, and the taste is like pennies. But in a good way! That's probably not convincing you to try them, but know that only something like 5,000 are sold each year, making the Wild Belon one of the rarest oysters in the world!
Anyway, back from my tangent, Eventide was an invigorating breath of air to our food tour of Portland. The oysters were well shucked (only a few shells) and served at a good temperature (so important!), the decor was bright and crisp, and the service attentive but not overbearing. I'd certainly go back for a few more dozen!
A jaunt up the street led us to our next destination: Central Provisions. By now, it was 6:30 on a Friday night, so our luck at getting an immediate table had run out. Not to fear though! The Chef's friend Chris had been to Central Provisions a few weeks back and recalled there being a door to the lower level bar out back. So while we put our names in for a table for 3 upstairs (a 45-minute wait), we snuck around back and entered the bar for a drink to get us started! I enjoyed a killer Old Fashioned (I think they used Old Overholt Rye as the base) while making small talk with a regular and sneaking envy-eyes at the girls down the way who ordered punch. Note to self: next time, order the punch! The Old Fashioned was still good! Our table was ready quite quickly, so upstairs we went for some small plates.
I'm just gonna put it out there: there was no time for pictures at Central Provisions. Everything we ate was phenom. Of all the places we visited, I'd be most excited to go back to Central Provisions to see what those guys are cooking up. On the menu, we ordered the beef tartare, crab cake and waffle, boquerones, and black truffle risotto. The stand-outs were the crab cake and waffle (bonito flakes for the win!) and the black truffle risotto (I have no words. Just splurge and get it.)
You'd think we'd be done by now, right? Not quite. The Chef had made us a 9:15 reservation at Fore Street, which we just couldn't bring ourselves to cancel. And I'm so glad we didn't. Luckily, we had some down time after Central Provisions to meander a bit and rest our tummies.
Fore Street was just spectacular. The space is grand with exposed brick and beam, and there's an open kitchen right in the middle of it all. It was really cool to watch the kitchen staff do their thing throughout the meal. We splurged at Fore Street, ordering a lovely bottle of white wine from Burgundy, a plate of house-made charcuterie, a fabulous grilled squid appetizer with fennel, rocket, and a sumac vinaigrette (this was one of my favorite dishes of the day), and main courses of flounder (for me) and lamb (for The Chef). In the interest of full disclosure, the only complaint I'd say about Fore Street was that our mains were a little over/under. Mine was slightly over; The Chef's slightly under. Neither were enough to complain though, especially after a nice surprise of house made chocolates to top off the meal! We left - stuffed to the gills - and practically had to roll ourselves back to the Hotel for the night.
Our last stop on Saturday before making the trek home was at Duck Fat for brunch. The space is small with more stool seating and lots of wood and warm tones. We sat at the back and ordered coffee while waiting for our food: duck fat fried brussels sprouts, pork belly, poutine with a fried egg, and a short rib panini with arugula, spicy mayo, and kimchi. Again - a home run on the food! The sandwich bread for the panini was S O G O O D ! And the poutine? Be still, my heart!
After sharing a few photos on Instagram, it seemed like there was an endless list of places we had yet to see. We didn't even get to any breweries! Needless to say, are return to Portland is in our near future. I think it would be a wonderful place to visit in the fall when the leaves are changing. We'll see! I hope that you too get a chance to visit this growing little New England city - it really was a wonderful weekend trip!