Fore Street, Portland, Maine

 

For me this dining experience sits in the same cache of memorable experiences as the Fish Market in Reijkavic, the restaurant in Albany (where we gave the chef $60 each and asked him to just prepare what he wanted), and even beats the Heston Blumenthal dining experience at his London restaurant, (“Dinner”) – and for me this is the benchmark for the 5* tripadvisor review.

 

And it seems that in 2016 with our country’s (England’s) direction wavering because of Brexit, the loss of our PM and subsequent power vacuum, our honour besmirched by Iceland (they beat us at football), I may have to add to this another defeat. America has a better food scene than us. I can’t think of a town in England that even comes close to what Portland (population 66k) has achieved.

 

Fore Street is perhaps (but maybe not even) the jewel of the city and certainly representative of everything that Portland values. Local food, creativity, lack of greed, spontaneity and good taste. The menu changes daily based on whatever is sourced locally that day and the chefs come in and essentially play Masterchef. Even the desserts change daily. This is all printed up in designer font on custom modern parchment (slightly larger than A4 so no one must cram these wonderful dishes even in the written word).

 

So everything is local. Okay – the pork was from Quebec, but even that’s not too far. The menu was kind of boastful. It included grass-fed hangar steaks, whole bass fresh caught from the Gulf of Maine, raw milk cheeses, offal (lamb and chicken’s heart), platters of terrines, and when the food was gone it was gone.

 

The dining area made the most of the characteristic red brick interiors, with its huge cast iron square windows, wood boarded ceilings with hanging exposed beams and industrial piping. The kitchen stations were open to the dining area and each station was used as a category to divide up the dishes on the menu and chefs in order to manage daily variation presumably, so dishes were wood fired, smoked, pan seared and spit roasted if I remember correctly.

 

Earlier we had ambled to the restaurant up fore street stopping quickly at J’s Oysters for an unscripted raw bar appetizer so we fancied more seafood delicacies and ordered the cold / raw seafood platter ($26). It came with slices of scallop ceviche, charr with beets, smoked something with cecily (a fennel like herb), mackerel (I think) covered in pesto made with green garlic, lobster with garlic aioli (sweet and tender) and heavenly smoked mussels with daikon relish. The mussles  tasted like delicatessen smoked meats. Every morsel was considered. I feel like this would do the Japanese proud.

 

After the surf came the turf. The infamous Quebequoi pork loin for him ($28), and the lamb chop for her ($40). Both were stunning. My lamb was served on a mound of dark leafy garden vegetables sauteed together with pieces of pulled lamb shoulder. The sparing amount of sauce was based on a kind of red wine reduction was slightly sweet but in an understated and realistic way. I was very happy indeed.

 

The pork was simple, huge, perfectly cooked, and served on top of a bed of red cabbage sauerkraut. Fermentation! The fat on the pork was very good and Josh was also very happy indeed.

 

Lets not forget the bread and butter. The sourdough bread baked downstairs was soft, simple and delicious. The Maine butter – a constant in our Maine dining by now, already threatened to be the star of the show by the time we ordered. Smothering bread in this butter is a good idea.
As we ate this delicious meal we both felt very fortunate. And I pondered the progression of good living in small town America. England has undoubtable resources – we have a coast, we have fisheries, we have pigs that live in their own little houses on English hillsides, we have cows and rugged dairy farmers. We have game fowl and rich tradition of shooting. Some would say that the EU has dampened all of these attributes, or sought to share them among nations. But I don’t know if we have enough pride and enterprise at this current moment. Because it’s not all about the food, it’s about culture, community and attitude. Portland Maine, and Portland Oregon (named after its East Coast sister city) are known for their food but also lifestyles you want to devour. Portland Dorset, England, is known for sailing and a world heritage coastline. I’d like to visit the original English Portland to see how they really compare before awarding the rosette to the Americans, but I do tip my hat to them.

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