When my wife told me about a new Asian restaurant coming to Portland that would be serving dishes from Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, I wanted to go there without hesitation. The preliminary reviews had been magnificent and Asian is one of my favorites, so I thought this place might be the type of culinary awesome-bomb I always like to visit. Plus, I had every indication they would be serving up some Asian-style seafood which I could only imagine would create a supergroup of flavors akin to a Metallica/Pearl Jam combo jamming on the moon.
Tempo Dulu is located in the beautiful Danforth Inn at the former site of other now defunct eateries. We arrived a few minutes before our reservation, climbed the stairs to the front door, and upon entrance, were greet by the house manager. We were immediately seated and offered water and menus, and in the process walked by the bar which was small, but absolutely beautiful. It was busy, while the rest of the restaurant was slower. We were in a room by ourselves and I took in the atmosphere which was spectacular with a great historic feel and some modern touches.
I began to peruse the food and drink menus. The drink menu was extensive with cocktails, beer, lots of wine, sake, and liquor. When the waiter came over, we weren’t ready to order drinks yet, but he offered to have the bartender/mixologist come over if we had any questions and provided us with a Mango Shooter with Sprouted Basil to cleanse our palates. I didn’t have any questions, but did want to inspect the menu further. Before finalizing our decisions, we tried the mango shooter. It was incredible and we sipped it as we came to conclusions about our drinks. My wife decided to go with the Mai Tai – Clément Rhum, Myers Dark Rum, Pierre Ferrand Orange Curacao, orgeat, lime. After some delay, I decided on the Jakarta – Knob Creek Rye, Averna Amaro, Cynar, Carpano Antica Vermouth, Coastal Root Bitters, absinthe mist, smoked with Chinese 5 spices.
After the drink orders were placed, I gathered my concentration and focused it on the menu. Tempo Dulu has three fixed price options – the three course menu where you choose the appetizer, entree, and dessert; the lobster tasting with five items including dessert; and the chef’s tasting menu which includes a number of selections with entree items served family style. After some discussion, my wife decided on the three course menu while my hunger warranted the chef’s tasting.
Our drinks arrived promptly. My wife’s looked beautiful in her very nice glassware with a tiny, tiny, tiny clothespin holding some sort of leaf to the glass. My drink came out with a really unique presentation – on a board, a small carafe held the contents of my drink while an overturned glass confined the smoking spices to add some smokey, spicy flavor to it. The waiter turned the glass right side up, poured the concoction into it, and served it to me. We then placed our food orders.
It was time to try the drinks. I actually tried the Mai Tai first. It was delicious and fruity. I then tried my Jakarta. It was an excellent take on a Manhattan. I was most intrigued by the smoked spice flavor. It worked well with the rye, giving it a bit of scotchiness. I was very happy. We sat and sipped, waiting for some food to come out and it was hardly a snap of my fat fingers before something did.
Tempo Dulu doesn’t serve bread, but rather multicolored Shrimp Crackers with both peanut and chili sauces for dipping. They were interesting to me as I usually have an aversion to shrimp for the texture, but was sure that shrimp crackers would not have the same texture as shrimp. I was right. The crackers were mild with some shrimp flavor and lots or crunch. The peanut sauce was very good and more or less what you might expect from a peanut sauce. The chili sauce was outstanding with heavy spice, a hint of sweet, and a ton of flavor. I knew right there that Tempo Dulu was not afraid to put the heat on the food and it pleased me so. After some saucementation, I discovered that mixing the sauces together made them even better!
As we ran out of crackers, we had another meal precursor delivered in the form of Pineapple with Pork Belly, Peanut, and Cilantro. I got to eat both since Mrs. Portlandeater is also Mrs. Noporkeater. They were extraordinary – pineapple sweet, po-bel rich, and a cilantro touch via a single cilantro petal. After the pineapple, we were promised the start of our meal was coming right up and, without fail, it indeed did.
My wife’s first course was Maine Crab Cake – lemongrass tomato confit, fried lemon, hot mustard coconut butter. I had Green Papaya Soup with lemongrass tomato confit. I again tried my wife’s first. The crab cake was small, but somewhere in the vicinity of 100% crab. It was glorious and the coconut butter was so incredibly flavorful I nearly dipped my face in it. Next, I folded my confit into the soup as the waiter had recommended and gave it a try. Wow! It was ultra creamy with a fairly light, but exceptionally delicious taste. It was among the better soups I’ve had. We had no problem finishing our starters.
Our next course brought me a Fried Lobster Spring Roll – Foie Gras Satay, Indonesian peanut Sauce and my wife a scallop topped with some spicy relish. Hers was not part of the regular meal, but rather one of the interludes which we had already become accustomed to at that point. Keeping with a theme, I tried hers first. It was incredible. The perfectly cooked sweet scallops paired very well with a relish that added more of the same plus a substantial kick. My lobster spring roll had lots of lobster and the peanut sauce for its was even better that the one I had with the crackers. It was darker and spicier. The foie gras – something I would never order off a menu – was beyond delicious. This was all adding up to quite a meal.
We only had entrees left before the dessert was to be served and I was a bit confused. My entree was to be served family style, but still, it seemed there were too many foods left from the menu to be served as a single course. The waiter showed up with some pineapple ginger sorbet before all that though. It was another great offering and the second palate cleanser of the evening. We had very clean palates at this point and were ready for our entrees. When the waiter returned once more with a miniature heating table, he said the meal does take a lot of space, so it appeared that I would indeed have many options arriving at once.
Soon, my wife’s entree of Lobster Fried Rice arrived. It had a crispy egg and crab roe relish on top and was made with seasonal vegetables and served with a side of the chili sauce. The waiter spooned some white rice onto my plate along with Chicken Satay and Egg Sambal Telur or hard boiled egg with spicy sauce. I tried my wife’s rice and it was just magical. I could hardly wait to dig I to mine. The egg came first – even before the chicken. It was absolutely excellent, but to be honest, I’m pretty sure I would have eaten fried AA batteries if they were covered in that chili sauce. Then I tried the satay. It was even better than the foie gras satay – unquestionably the best satay I ever had.
A couple minutes after my satay, rice, and egg experience started, the rest of my meal came out, and it was absolute food madness. On the heating table were placed some medium bowls of Banana Leaf Steamed Halibut, Sumatra Lamb, and Beef Rendang Padang. Then a medium bowl of Wok Charred Squid hit the table along with a large bowl of yellow rice and small bowls of spicy eggplant, pickles, peanuts, chili sauce, green beans, and carrots. Eleven bowls of food seemed like enough, so now I had to see how much of them I could actually eat.
The bowl of lamb was my first victim. It was topped with both brown and golden rasins. It was tasty in a good sauce, but a rarer than I prefer. I ate a few pieces and moved on. Next, I sampled the halibut. The halibut was good, but very mild. It paired well with the rice which I felt added some flavor. Next I tried the beef. It was shredded, saucy, and topped with some papaya sticks. On the first bite, I fell in love. It was very strange, but the beef reminded me of cinnamon and sugar fried dough from the fair. It was sweet and so incredibly flavorful. Next I ate some of the squid. Again, these paired exceptionally with the yellow rice. There was something about the rice that just complimented both seafood dishes perfectly. All the accompanying items to my meal were delicious. The vegetables were all very fresh and crunchy, including the pickles. Even the eggplant, of which I’m not normally a fan, was pretty good. I was in food heaven.
Most of my entree was consumed and as a result, I felt like somewhat of a whale. I still anticipated the dessert anxiously though. Of course, we first got an unexpected item – Lime Gelee with Candied Cherry Tomato. It was definitely unusual, but pretty damn good. Then we waited patiently. I probably would have happily waited a while because I was already quite full. My wife had just enough time to order some decaf coffee and our dessert made it’s way over. She got the Indonesian Spekkock – blueberry, star anise, cinnamon, coconut ice cream. My trio had some of that but also a crepe and some sort of passionfruit dessert. My favorite was the crepe, but all were good. At that point, I was pretty much ready to unbuckle my belt, but Tempo Dulu is a classy joint, so I avoided it.
Just when I thought we were done, we were presented with a glass of complimentary Prosecco because we were celebrating a special event. Even though I had an idea of how much the meal was – and it wasn’t cheap, I almost thought I was ripping them off because we were getting so much. Okay, maybe not, but I was certainly satisfied that they were doing everything in their power to earn our business. We finished our glass of Prosecco and were ready to fly though I suspect our bellies would have gotten in the way of our wings.
With our bill came some green lollipops of a flavor I don’t recall. It didn’t surprise me because I got the feeling the presents would never end. Tempo Dulu did set a record for the most expensive meal I have ever had at $240 after tax and tip. My wife’s meal was $68, mine was $85, drinks were $15 each, and coffee was a mere 3 bucks. While not every, single item was my absolute favorite based solely on personal preference, notably the rare lamb, most were outstanding. I always think that’s sort of the fun of a tasting menu – you get to try new foods, some of which you’ll love and some which might not be exactly to your liking. Everyone has different tastes. Think about this too – I got to try somewhere around 25 different foods which doesn’t even include the food I tried from my wife. It’s hard to argue that the price was unreasonable based on that alone.
In case the number of foods I tried wasn’t enough, add to the fact that the food was often beyond words – so very magnificent. The waiter was very knowledgeable and super friendly, but completely unpretentious and genuine. His service was top notch. The amount of silverware and plate exchanges alone were close to enough to earn his money, but the multitude of courses really required a ton of effort on his part. I can only imagine if the restaurant had been busy how much more complex it would be to provide a high level of service, but I have no doubt he still would have. The restaurant itself is beautiful. It looks and feels historic because it is.
I give Tempo Dulu my highest recommendation. I assure you that it is not just a meal, but a complete culinary experience highlighted by both eating and learning about first rate Asian cuisine using lots of local ingredients in the best and most elegant of locations. Like most Maine restaurants of any quality, there is no dress code, so you can go and relax while feeling like king for a meal. Save your money and make this place your very next special occasion go-to. You can thank me later.
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