TEW Tour of Portland
As the older sister of its west coast namesake, Portland, Maine is no Portlandia, but an old-school New England town that has a nation of eaters all a flutter and plate chasing. With an urban appetite and a farmer’s flair, Portland’s dining scene has come of age and is ready for courting. From Hugo’s on Middle Street that first opened in 1999, to Central Provisions and Vinland, both opened just this year, Portland has become a destination for everything local on the plate from umami to briny, to supple creams and tart berries.
Remodeled by its new owners (Chefs Andrew Taylor & Mike Wiley with Arlin Smith) in 2012, the interior at Hugo’s is earthy and intimate, much like its fare. Offering three tasting menus (“Foraged & Farmed”, “From the Sea” and “Forest & Field”), Hugo’s serves the most amazingly complete Fried Mussel Salad that I’ve ever tasted. With salted black beans and braised shiitake, there was no better pairing for such fermented flavors than the Bodegas Gutiérrez Colosia Oloroso Sherry. We spoke with Wine Director, Bryan Flewelling, who’d just added the Clos Cibonne Tibouren to his list. “I’ve turned back the bramble patch of the list and started putting on bottles that are reflective of where they come from,” said Bryan. “The food here is food de terroir. So much of our products are sourced from a 60 mile radius. If you wanted to taste what grass-fed beef from Maine tastes like, you’d come here.” And though they offer wine pairings with each menu Bryan doesn’t subscribe the the idea that there’s one wine for each dish, and so he varies what he pours from night to night. “If I’m dogmatic about anything, it’s not to be dogmatic,” he added and laughed.
Located in a corner brick building that was originally constructed to house provisions for the East India Trading Company, Central Provisions opened in February of this year. Owned by Chris and Paige Gould, this rustic duplex with an open kitchen was recently named “The #6 Best New Restaurant in America 2014” by Bon Appétit. On my first attempted visit, there was a two hour wait for a single seat at the bar. The next night I arrived earlier, added my name to the list and grabbed a pour of Maine’s own Oxbow Loretta at Novare Res Bier Café, while waiting to be called. After just one bite of the Corn and Cavier (pictured above), I closed my eyes and the crowd of awaiting diners all but disappeared.
Chris Peterman, the Wine Director, has assembled a wine list that includes some of our favorite producers: Billecart-Salmon, Domaine Jean-Michel Gaunoux, and Cesar Florido. And he’s also tapped into kegs with Tullia Prosecco on draft. Chris, a veteran of NYC’s Ouest and OTTO, circulates the floor as a supporting act of direct contact to the performance that prepares and plates. Peekytoe Crab with black lime, greens and mango; Heirloom Tomatoes with burrata, fairytale eggplant and tahini; Carmelized Sheep’s Cheese with nectarine and 15-year aged balsamic, paired with a glass of Grant “La Garrocha” Amontillado Sherry. Heaven.
Following their April visit to our office in NYC before they opened, I was delighted to dine at Vinland, owned by Chef David Levi (who trained at Noma and Faaviken in Europe) and bartended by Alex Winthrop. The first restaurant in the world to serve 100% local, organic food, Vinland was recently named one of Zagat’s 10 Hottest Restaurants in Portland, Maine. While it’s no small feat to cook without olive oil and citrus, but as pictured above, Levi is committed to not just organic and local fare but also to aesthetics. Here, the organic wines of Pierre Frick, Domaine Tortochot, Sylvain Bock, le Mazel, Fuoristrada and Casa de Santa Eufemia are a perfect accompaniment to Levi’s pledge to use only to foods that “promote physical and soul health” and to employ only food systems that better the total community.
“Presenting foods in their pure state is at the heart of what we do,” said Levi. “When I drink natural wines, it’s like drinking kombucha or yoghurt, it’s a live product. We’re not looking for neat edges and for things to be the same all the time. I want to have wine and support winemakers who take care of their land and represent place. With Pierre Frick, I’m not going to confuse that with a wine from Tuscany.” Having studied poetry, Levi is well versed on the benefits of structure and form. “It’s an interesting form to work within,” he said of the food program at Vinland, “but to apply that to the wine program, it’d be like translating Dante into English while using the same form.”
Unfortunately there wasn’t time enough to dine at all of the hot spots in Portland, but I met a number of amazing folks who have all helped put Portland on the map. Andrew Folk at Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, came from Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon to open this craft cocktail bar, complete with private membership options, with his wife Briana. Mark Ohlson at MJ’s Wine Bar offers a wall of vinyl and a turntable that’s open to the public in lieu of a jukebox. And Eventide Oyster Co., sister restaurant to Hugo’s, offers the freshest and best oyster selection in town, along with the most amazing steamed roll, brown butter lobster roll that you’ll ever devour. If seeking a hilltop view of the Atlantic, hit Outlier’s Eatery, managed by Joe Hardy who embodies on the restaurant’s namesake, inspired by Hunter S. Thompson.
And as if these destinations weren’t enough to quench one’s thirst, there’s also a number of really cool folks who ensure that one’s palate stays sated at home with their amazing selections of juice. Jen Flock at Flock and Vine in Cape Elizabeth, won our hearts back in March with her carefully curated selection of wines that share space with her husband Ken’s bike repair shop. Rosemont, where we often stop for lunch on the run, dots the Portland cityscape with it’s co-op like shops that emphasize their relationships to local farmers, while offering a healthy selection of wines that vary from store to store. And last but not least, there’s Anne Tessier-Talbot of Tess’ Market in Brunswick. Having learned her love of food and wine from her father, Anne also inherited his cellar and shop. Every night she takes a bottle home and prepares a dinner for she and her husband; and every once and a while she’ll pull a few bottles from the cellar and place them randomly throughout the store, leaving those in the know something to hunt for.
Photos by Karen Ulrich for T. Edward Wines