Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bar Lola - Portland Maine

So, I haven't uploaded my Portland pictures yet... not that I took any of Bar Lola anyway (falling down on the job there)... nor can anyone at Flickr bail me out, since the few pictures of the restaurant are "all rights reserved." So the only Web 2.0 content I can offer is, sadly, Google Maps... which, in a seemingly useless development, apparently added 3D to their street view at some point. Great. Anyway, Bar Lola is the place with the red facade and guy in front of it with the dog/small sheep. It's located in Portland's West End, which is a residential area and not particularly touristy... however this stretch of Congress street has a few good restaurants (Blue Spoon, Front Room, in addition to Bar Lola) all packed into a tight area, so it's worth visiting.

The whole impetus for this particular trip to Portland was to see how doable a day trip to Portland was from Boston that didn't involve driving. Getting up to Portland more is something I've wanted to do because, as I've highlighted before, it has a surprisingly robust food culture for a city of 65K. I mean, if you compared it straight up with my town of Cambridge (100K+) for restaurants it would do pretty well... I mean they have two James Beard winners (Sam Hayward at Fore Street, and Rob Evans at Hugo's) and numerous other well regarded places like Evangeline, Vignola, and Bar Lola. So the idea of being able to hop on a train Saturday morning, wander around the city, have a four star dinner, and then hop on the train back to Boston is pretty appealing. That way we can have a wine pairing with dinner, or a couple of beers at Novare Res, without worrying about making the two hour drive back home. I'm going to save the in depth examination of the feasibility of this plan for another day, but I think yesterday's post makes clear that our initial foray... with the missed train and all... was not a smashing success (great brunch though!).

The reason why we missed our train wasn't because service was terrible or we couldn't get a cab or whatever... it was because we had a leisurely paced five course meal with wine pairings, and decided we didn't want to ask them to hurry it up so we could make our train. Certainly they could have done so... we could have even made it if we decided to take our dessert to go, but there was just something very pleasant about not feeling like people are breathing down your neck waiting for you to finish your damn dinner so they can turn the table over. It's a feeling I don't often experience in Boston... especially not on a Saturday night at 6pm on a beautiful spring day.

I'm not going to post an in depth review of the meal, but I thought I'd put up the list of our courses for the record. I'm a little chagrined I didn't make note of the wine pairings, since the sommelier appeared to be making the parings on the fly... to the extent of opening up a couple of bottle for Anna's meal... and her explanations of 'why' were interesting for someone who knows next to nothing of wine.

My 5 Courses:
  • Select Charcuterie (chicken liver pâté, pork belly, and a salami of some kind) with Crostini and Whole Grain Mustard
  • Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Beets with Greens and Bagna Cauda
  • Heritage Pork Belly Confit with Spicy Celery Root and Radicchio Slaw
  • Grass Fed Meyer Hanger Steak with Potatoes and Spring Parsnips
  • Chévre Cheesecake
Everything was delightful. I've been avoiding pâté for years, and I was quite pleased to find it is in fact delicious. Though I can't say I was bowled over by the bagna cauda dressing on the potatoes. It was more subtle and less assertive than I expected... but I had never had it before... and the potatoes were still quite delicious, they were just not what my naive self thought was coming. So who did I just criticize there? Hmmm.

Anna's 5 Courses (vegetarian):
  • Sautéed Radish Tartine with Butter and Maldon Sea Salt
  • Chickpea and Herb Salad with Pickled Onions and Garlic Croutons
  • Miso Broth with Noodles, Spring Vegetables, and a Forty-Five Minute Egg
  • Ricotta and Local Goat Cheese Filled Crêpes with Perno and Leek Cream
  • Pineapple Upside Down Cake with Basil Slaw
She was a little creeped out by the egg in the miso broth, being new to the whole "lacto-ovo" thing... but she dug in like a trouper and didn't even make a funny face. In fact, I believe the miso broth was her favorite part of the whole meal. The crêpes also drew rave reviews.

So... really enjoyed it, if that's not obvious... and the meal itself (not factoring in getting to Portland and whatnot) was actually pretty reasonable. $36 for 5 courses and then another $24 for the wine pairings is obviously expensive, but it struck me as a good deal for food and service of this quality... since I've paid closer to $100 per person for a similar experience and not regretted it.