When it comes to eating in greater Portland, there are so many places I haven’t been to that it feels like I’ll never get to all the places I want to try, especially as more keep opening. I figured I’d knock one off the list though and went to Sur Lie on a frigid Saturday. January in Maine doesn’t make leaving the house a fun time, but I hoped that some delicious food would warm my soul and give me the kind of experience that would blanket me in a little culinary joy.
Sur Lie opened about four months ago on Free Street in Portland, serving a tapas-style menu. Their food is created by chef Emil Rivera and is very eclectic, offering many options on an ever-changing menu. We arrived early for our reservation. The interior of the restaurant was sizable and quite nice. To the right was a great bar and to the left was the main dining area. We were immediately seated at a sweet booth by the window and provided with food and drink menus. In addition, we were offered some blood orange soda which I declined as I don’t drink soda. We had an out of town visitor and decided before ever looking at any menus that we would all order food to share with the table.
We looked at the drink menu intently. In between discussions about the paranormal, abnormal, and the completely normal, I set my sights on one of two drinks. I was considering either the Man Made with Bulleit Rye, Cynar, apricot syrup, and whiskey barrel bitters or the Nectar of the Bogs with 8 Bells Rum, vermut, cranberry shrub, decanter bitters, and angostura. When the waiter came to take our order, my wife got some wine, our guest had the nectar of the bogs, and I went with the man made. We anxiously awaited our drinks and focused on choosing some food.
The food menu at Sur Lie consists of lots of sections of all small plates. Categories of food included Fromage, Charcuterie, To Settle and Nibble, Crisp, Pleasant, and Bold. Each section had at least one option that looked appealing to me. Although we had decided to share, I really wanted to have some of the Clam Chowder – clams, potato cake, and herbs. I didn’t envision sharing it with anyone, but my table mates were okay with that. My wife decided that she wanted to try the Sweet Pea Hummus with mint oil, lemon sabayon, and lavash. Guesty McGee ordered the Fried Milk-Braised Cauliflower with honey soy glaze after exclaiming that he loved cauliflower. We received our drinks and shortly thereafter conveyed our choices to the waiter.
Our drinks looked ready for sipping. Mine came with a large square ice cube. For those in the know, a large, single square or circular cube creates a cold drink that isn’t watered down. We were off to a good start and I didn’t waste any time getting it to my lips. I made a pouty face and sucked in the delicious drink. It was excellent – strong, but with just a slight touch of fruity goodness from the syrup. It was a win. Everyone liked their drinks and I eyed the nectar as a potential second slurper.
With our drinks positioned in front of us and a substantial amount consumed, the sweet pea hummus made a visit to the table. We all took a crisp and tried it. I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but I did. The smooth, green concoction and mousse-y sabayon dollop made for a flavorful cracker topping with a hint of sweetness. Soon the rest of our food was delivered. My chowder was presented with two whole clams in shell with herbs, the potato cake, and a couple lardons. The food deliverer poured in some warm milk. The cauliflower came on a plate in the glaze. I waited for a spoon and once it arrived I tried my clam chowder. It was very good with a special shout out going to the potato cake which I found to be especially delicious. We all tried the cauliflower and it was utterly fantastic. The crispy coated cauliflower combined sweet and salty with great texture. My wife felt it was one of the best things she had eaten in a while. It was a hit with the table.
After our first round of food was done, we needed more. We ordered another drink, the nectar for me, and a beer and wine for the rest of the crew. Then the discussion started about what to order next. After careful consideration, we went with BBQ ‘Shrooms – oyster mushrooms, house bbq sauce, and cornbread. I love all manner of mushrooms, so I was very hopeful that this one would be special. We also decided on Brussels Sprouts with salmorra, lardons, and marcona almonds. We threw in Fried Baked Potatoes – peewee potato, aioli, nori dust and added the optional haddock. Lastly, we asked for the Country Fried Chicken Biscuit – house made buttermilk biscuit, butter lettuce, gravy. It was a lot, but we weren’t sucka MCs, so I knew we could handle it.
Out came the second round of drinks and I was excited to try my ruby red concoction. I took a sip. The nectar of the bogs was a cousin of the cranberry martini. More complex than a simple vodka cran or rum punch, the cranberry wasn’t overwhelming and the drink was smooth and light. I was pleased with my choice. We waited for round two of the food to follow our drinks and it arrived with little delay. I started with a taste of the sprouts. They came in a red sauce which zipped them up a bit. They were great. I quickly moved to the mushrooms. I started with a few crumbs of the cornbread which I found dry. Then I are a mushroom. It was drenched in sauce. I reconsidered the bbq mushroom situation for a minute and then I combined a bite of the mushrooms and the cornbread. Well holy shit on a solitary shipyard! The cornbread soaked up the sauce making it moist and flavorful while reducing the potency of it on the mushrooms. Separately – not great. Together – Wowee! It was like a magic trick.
Soon I was prepared to move on to the chicken and biz. They were solid. The chicken was expertly seasoned. The biscuits and gravy were standard, but good. I then went for the only other item left. I took a potato and some fish and dipped them in the aioli. Yes! Again, we had a winner. Both parts were good plain and even better with aioli. No one seemed to disagree and we all ate like we were woodchucks chucking wood. It’s off topic, but I wonder how much wood we would have chucked if we were indeed woodchucks chucking wood.
As we were finishing the myriad delights, the chef came to our table to ask how we liked the food. We liked it a lot and told him so. After inquiring, I found out he came to ME from DC by way of Puerto Rico. We made note that we really loved the cauliflower and he indicated that he had about thirty preparations of it in his wheelhouse and also noted that vegetables were some of their top sellers. It’s no surprise, the vegetable dishes we had were simply amazing. We continued to chat with the chef for a bit and then looked at dessert menus we had requested.
Dessert was a must and the menu made a choice very simple. As I scanned it, I stopped where it said Catbird Creamery Ice Cream – eggnog ice cream, bruleed French toast brioche, almond brittle. Anyone who knows me or follows my blog knows that I’m utterly obsessed with Catbird Creamery so I ordered that for the table without wasting any time. I didn’t even worry that the menu indicated it was $66 and hoped that was just a misprint.
Ice cream was delivered and came out over the brioche and stabbed with the brittle. I really can’t say anything about it except that it was outstanding – basically French toast topped with creamy deliciousness and crunchys and a little smear of what I believe was strawberry sauce. Just saying that brings back the joy it caused me. I refrained from eating it all as quickly as possible and not leaving any for others. Instead, I attempted to act like an adult and actually share it. We finished it in due time and were ready to bring closure to a fine night of food.
The meal came to $156 with tax and a good tip. The service at Sur Lie was great. The visit from the chef was particularly fun. The food was super. This place knows what’s up and they got the right guy to put out food that will make peoples’ bellys sing a song of happiness. There’s just not anything about Sur Lie that wasn’t up to par. It was nice to be able to try a bunch of different foods and experience much more than a normal meal might offer. Sur Lie isn’t going anywhere. They clearly know what they are doing and they appear to keep switching things up to keep it interesting. Make a reservation and go. Quick.
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