This little nook has to be on your go-to list

There are the restaurants I go to a few to several times a year, those I check out once or twice in that period, and those I don’t even get to annually. Munjoy Hill Italian/American restaurant Blue Spoon falls in the middle. Trying to come up with someone to feed us on a Saturday night, my wife and I couldn’t agree on any one place, each of us repeatedly objecting to the other’s ideas. When she mentioned “The Spoon”, it seemed like a fine choice and I couldn’t think of a reason not make my first visit of 2018.

When we called for reservations, they had bar seating available, which was perfect because I’d been wanting to experience the quaint, little slab ever since my first time there long ago. With five seats and one person already sitting in the middle when we arrived, I chose the outside so I wouldn’t jab the person to my left with an elbow. The bar was petite, but my spot offered an opportunity to peer into the kitchen, watch drink-making activity, and enjoy its great character and interesting vibe.

As we sat looking at menus, I had trouble figuring out if I wanted a beer or a cocktail. As I leaned toward a mixed drink, I saw an unmixed one, The Ben Jackson (an educational experience) – a flight of scotch: Glenlivet 12, Laphroig 10, Johnnie Walker Black. None of them were new to me, but I went with it anyway just for fun. She ordered a glass of the Angeline Pinot Noir Rose.

My eyes opened wide as the whiskeys were much larger than I had anticipated. At 12 bucks, I assumed a serving size of a half shot each, but the reality came closer to a full shot as the careful pours were finished. I accepted a side of ice to add at my pleasure to the three glasses. I started with the JWB, washing it down with some bread and olive oil, and found the combination a solid companion to choosing food.

We eventually settled on some eats, starting with Charred Cauliflower – garlic tahini, mint and dates, toasted bread crumbs. I went with the Bistro Burger – Wee Bit Farm Beef, warm potato salad, toasted bun – as my main course, not having had that in a while. She went with fish, opting for the Roast Atlantic Pollock – beets and fingerling potato, pea greens, dill broth, yogurt.

One scotch deep, our app came out – a sizable amount of cauliflower on a board with a squiggle of the tahini, a sprinkle of mint and dates, and a fair share of crumbs. I took a large bite which included all the parts. It was probably the most interesting cauliflower preparation I’d ever had. Sweet from the dates and minty fresh, those flavors stood out the most and offered quite a contrast. The tahini and crumbs added less potent notes.

It turns out that Glenlivet and cauliflower go together like a half rhyme in a good poem. I enjoyed the pairing as I took my time savoring both, eventually scraping up the last crumbs and sending the empty board back whence it came. It wasn’t too many sips of scotch down the road before we saw the entrees appear from the kitchen. The bartender slid them our way and we were off to the races.

The burger was a little on the small side. It had been stabbed with a skewer and had two tiny pickles impaled on top with lettuce, tomato, onions, and ketchup on the side. Since I had ordered without any extras – smoked onions, bacon, egg, and mushroom were available – the burger was plain, but I threw on the condiment and veggies. A bite took me back to the last time I had eaten it. It was a good, solid burger. There were no frills, but it was high quality meat with the requisite additions.

After a few bites of my sandwich, I moved to the tater salad. It was obvious the potatoes had just been heated and the tangy, mustard-based mix-in was brilliant. It was actually a tad too hot for me, so I took a few more bites of the burger before going back to enjoying it. I thought the salad would work well as an all-season dish in virtually any setting even though it was warm. I quite liked its uncommon construction.

Mrs. Portlandeater and I finished every morsel of our food and made a quick decision on dessert after listening to the three or so options. We just couldn’t turn down Tri-colored Carrot Cake with cream cheese frosting. As we waited for it to come out, I moved onto the smokey Laphroig and quizzed the bartender on the colors of the carrots in the cake. She passed it on to the kitchen who guessed purple, yellow, orange, and white. “Maybe it’s quad-colored,” she said with a shrug.

I felt a special kind of joy when the frosted flour mass came out, flanked by two small piles of whipped cream each topped with a blackberry. With a swipe of the fork, I consumed my first piece. Carrot cake I’ve eaten has in the past has all been much the same, but this one was different. More dense than I was used to, the frosting kicked it into overdrive. It was less sweet than the others which brought out a remarkable cheese flavor. “They’ve got the carrot cake down,” my wife noted.

Dessert was done quickly, but we were very pleased with it. We settled up as she sipped a decaf. The final tab was just over $90 with tip. Blue Spoon made great food and was streaming The Clash on Pandora while we ate, which was the best dining score I’d heard in a long while. The overall experience left little to be desired and the general atmosphere was absolutely enchanting.

Here’s what I recommend when you go to Blue Spoon: sit at the bar, order the trio of scotch, keep your ears open, and enjoy what they offer, because every time I go, I like it more. They hit all the marks for excellence in a restaurant and because of that, they are becoming one of my favorites. Go there ready to eat and relax and maybe they will be one of yours too.

Blue Spoon 89 Congress St.

Stay hungry.

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