|Back from our annual Maine adventure. Two nights in Portland brought us two great dinners. Hugo's and Fore Street. Both would be at home in NYC in terms of quality and price.
Hugo's is perhaps a bit more experimental with pistachio encrusted lambs tongue being the standout of my meal (with an honorable mention going to the tongue in cheek "general tsao's chicken" made with sweet breads.) The room is tiny though, and not really in a good way, while the wine list left me severely underwhelmed. Reading on Chowhound I see a lot of complaints about portion size. Possibly the restaurant read these too as our waitress went to great lengths to describe how all the dishes on the menu are appetizer size and you really want to order a minimum of three. We ordered three each and then two more to share (at her urging) and of course it was way too much food. Still a very nice meal from a chef who was the 2009 James Beard Foundation winner of Best Chef Northeast.
Fore Street, in contrast, is a beautiful room. Huge open warehouse loft with the completely visible kitchen in the middle of the room. Great great energy. Lots of fresh fish and vegetables on display in glass enclosed walk in refrigerators. Staffs seemed a bit more professional as did the over all feel. Not quite as experimental as Hugo's but that might be a good thing. The focus is fresh local ingredients and they don't get in the way of them by trying anything too fancy. I had some of the best oysters I've every had to start and tasted an incredible (tender!) squid dish. My dinning mates had an incredible lobster dish for their main and I had a nice pheasant. The wine list is very interesting including some old Lopez which is a fav around these parts and not something I necessarily expect to find in Maine. And it didn't seem out of place on the list.
If I had to go back for one night I'd do Fore Street for sure, but Hugo's definitely has some interesting cooking going on.
One of my top ten meals ever was at Fore Street, blown away by the open kitchen, it seemed like there were four or five wood fires going on at once. I had local rack of lamb with panfried mashed potatoes (a childhood leftover fave). And rosemary infused pear tart tatin for desert. It was a good 8 or 9 years ago and the first time I ever saw a farmer credited on a menu.
Looks very nice. Dave and I lived in Blue Hill one summer. Beautiful place.
Have wanted to try Sam Hayward's food after Saveur did 15 pages on the place 5+ years back, have not made it.....
Sam Hayward Biography