Among those who live in or visit Portland and love to eat, Fore Street has attained legendary status. Opened in 1996, the restaurant with a menu that changes at every sunrise focuses on what’s fresh and available to them that very day. The wood-burning oven, grill, and turnspit add not only great scenery, but are the key to many of the flavors which exit the open kitchen and land on the eater’s table.
Their use of only the highest quality ingredients and supreme cooking technique has earned Fore Street a number of awards and they rightly command a high price for their fare. For that reason, my visits have been infrequent, but a return was due. We made early-ish reservations for a Friday evening and looked forward to a special meal, hoping the menu of the day would suit us well.
We hung our coats upon arrival and were promptly seated by the window, provided menus, and poured water. I looked over the wine and spirits menus, longing to find a drink that was “different”. One caught my eye quickly, the El Nuevo Old Fashioned – Herradura Reposado Tequila, agave, mole poblano bitters. An old fashioned with tequila sounded interesting enough on its face, so I went with it. She opted for a glass of Pinot Noir Rose – Domaine de Corbillieres, Touraine.
It was strange, but my drink really did have the feeling of an old fashioned and came complete with an orange peel garnish. Not exactly what I expected, but it was great. I took a few sips and poured over the two-sided food menu. The front page consisted of starters and the back had entrees and vegetables to share. There were plenty of options and the descriptions of each item were thorough, so it took some time to scan them all.
My wife beat me to making decisions and fell for the Simmered Beet and Roasted Hokurei Salad – rocket and red Russian kale, seared raddichio, mandarin, spiced cranberry, toasted pistachio, cranberry mandarin vinaigrette – and picked the Atlantic Monkfish Loin – Gulf of Maine, roasted flat fish broth with mushroom and fermented adzuki bean, garlic roasted carolla potatoes and carrots, pickled pepper vinaigrette, leek butter – as her entree. She threw in Aroostook County Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Hard Roasted Carrots with Cider Vinegar Marinated Red Delicious Apple to share with me.
I was thinking about a salad to start, but also gave some consideration to the smelts. For entrees, it was scallops, arctic char, or chicken. Salad won out over a fish app as I chose Warm Roasted Exotic Mushroom and Scarlet Turnip Salad – small kale and spinich, roasted cabbage, bacon, pickled red onion, brown butter, thyme and sherry vinaigrette. My entree would be the Arctic Char Filet – smoky ham hock, simmered marifax beans with bacon, maple and mustard, beet and red onion slaw with tarragon and citrus.
As we were nibbling on bread, our salads arrived looking glorious, hers a little greener than mine. I took a few bites and found it to be light and refreshing. No one part was overly potent. The mushrooms were delicious and buttery and the vinaigrette mild. The bacon added a little strength which was nice, but not required. It didn’t feel like it had to be overwhelmingly powerful. The flavors were smooth and eazy like the perfect jazz quintet, and that was enough.
After the salad was done, our entrees and veggies didn’t take long to make their appearance. Both mains were prepared in the wood oven and mine came in a pan I was warned was “too hot to touch”. My dish was layered with beans underneath, fish above, and then slaw on top. Her potatoes and fish sat side by side in a puddle of broth. It was time to dive in.
The fish was wood-fire delicious, but best delivered with the beans at the bottom. Call it a “Maine thing” if you want, but beans done right – and bacon, maple, mustard is about as bean-right as humanly possible – work with almost anything. The arctic char enveloped the smokey wood goodness and took on added flavor from the beans creating a torrent of tastes that had some snap. The slaw, which I mostly ate on its own, poked at the dish with fresh flavors of slight citrus.
In between bites of fish, I threw down some potatoes and carrots and they were spectacular. The potatoes were creamy and garlicky, both to perfection, the carrots tender and sweet. Both were excellent additions to my hearty fish dish and all the items worked so well together. Eventually I finished my food, eating more than half of the veggies as my wife struggled to finish her meal.
There was some debate about whether or not to order dessert, but reading down the menu we stumbled upon cheesecake after bypassing variations of panna cotta, chocolate cake, and pecan pie. With a wink and a nod, it was agreed upon. We ordered the Apple Crisp Cheesecake – clove caramel sauce, candied pistachios, pomegranate sherbet. She threw in a decaf coffee for insurance.
Our sweet ending was modest in size, but its presentation flamboyant. The small, round cheescake with the crisp top layer was flanked by a perfectly rolled pink sherbet. Both sat on the caramel with the pistachios scattered about like tasty, edible marbles. I gave my wife the eye, knowing I was unable to wait for her to ready her fork and dug in without remorse.
My first bite was good, though perhaps a little heavy on the apple. Luckily, I didn’t stop there and took a second try that had an ample sampling of actual cheesecake. In combination, the crisp/cheesecake combo felt pure. The two, both having achieved greatness on their own, partnered for what I felt was a delightful marriage. Sugary crisp topping, sweet apples, and cheese – the dessert had it all.
It was only right to make sure I next tried the caramel sauce. Caramel is not usually on my list of favorites, but in combination with the cake, it was undoubtedly the best use of it I ever consumed – a natural pairing. The pistachios were marvelous too and the sherbet was tasty, but probably necessary only as a way to cut the sweetness, if you want that sort of thing. We slowly finished the cake, making room one bite at a time as space inside us became more and more limited.
Once we finished the cheesecake, it was time to make our way out. Our meal came to about $153 before tip. They’re not inexpensive by any means, but Fore Street means business when it comes to food. Freshness, seasonality, and methods of preparation all play a critical role in they way they create flavors. And they present a wonderfully diverse menu that offers something for everyone who likes wholesome, real food that will put a smile on your face.
When you walk into Fore Street, you are immediately greeted by the smell of wood smoke, but the smells, colors, flavors, and textures around you will continue to provoke your senses throughout. Even the sounds of the kitchen will add to the experience. For me, this time at Fore Street was even better than the last. The meal was outstanding from cocktail to cake and while the boldest flavors came at the end, the palate throughout the meal painted a beautiful picture one happy, little bite at a time.
Fore Street 288 Fore St.
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