Italian restaurant comforts but the bill leaves me with questions

It had been a few years since I was last at JP’s Bistro. The busy Woodford St. neighborhood restaurant lives in my memory as having had an insanely long wait for food. I gave it a bit of a pass at that time however, since I assumed they were having an off night and because the waiter back then was relatively attentive during our time there, even while we were sitting hungry without anything to eat. I figured I should go back to give it another try and maybe update my thoughts.

This time, we made reservations for 4 o’clock on a Saturday – right when they opened – because it was all they had available. That was fine. We just wanted to grab some food and spend the night in after a long week. I was fairly certain that our early slot would enable us to avoid pretty much any wait at all that could arise as a result of them being really packed.

We got there and were seated promptly. I took a picture of the specials board – which is larger than the permanent menu – and sat down. It’s actually a necessity to take a pic, because unless you are seated with a view of it, there’s no good way to look at or remember it. I don’t have any problem that and I understand what they are doing, but maybe a print out might be helpful for some.

My wife ordered a drink first – Sables d’Azur Rose – and when that arrived, I requested a draught Hidden Cove Summer Ale. Once we had our libations, she ordered the Small Caesar Salad – homemade dressing served with romaine lettuce garlic croutons and shaved parmesan, sans anchovies. I asked questions about the specials which included items like Chicken Sorrentina, Pork Chop Theresa, and Haddock Casco Bay, eventually deciding to start with Short Rib Ravioli – four pan seared jumbo cheese ravioli topped with braised short rib jus and gorgonzola cheese.

Mrs. Portlandeater went with the main course of Parmesan Crusted Haddock – pan sauteed and served over a bed of sauteed spinach, grape tomatoes and garlic. I found a few of the specials to sound quite appetizing and decided on the Scallop Andrew – topped with crab and crumbs with mushrooms and tomatoes in a wine and butter sauce. We both chose garlic mash over rice pilaf and were told the meals also came with vegetable medly.

Since it wasn’t busy, our apps came out quickly as anticipated right as we finished eating complimentary bread with delicious garlic butter. My starter looked exactly in line with it’s description. If anything struck me about it, it was the generous portion of short rib and gorgonzola on top. Being a newcomer to the world of blue cheese, I was mildly concerned that it might be too much for me, but I was still ready to dig in and try it.

A sip of the jus was a little strong with the blue, but I moved to cut one of the ravioli in half and took that with the rib and cheese all together on my fork. I was impressed. The dual cheese and relatively thick short rib combined with the dough to create excellent textures and flavors. This was a hearty appetizer with plenty of meat and eating it all together was where the gorgonzola had the opportunity to shine. My wife noted that her salad was standard fare, though up to par.

Our remaining food also came out without delay. I liked the look of the meals – colorful with plenty on the plate. Though my scallops were difficult to see since they were covered in crumbs, it seemed like there were enough there. A bite of one on the edge of the plate confirmed a delicious, fresh offering if still a little hot on the mouth. The crumbs and sauce were tasty compliments to the tender scallop.

As I delved further into my plate, I was pleased with the combination of flavors. The mushrooms and tomatoes were dispersed in the perfect proportions, not overpowering the scallops and the crab was so good as a second seafood flavor. It was an item that had all the right ingredients to combine into an well put together dish. The potatoes and vegetables were sound sides.

I finished my food, though my wife couldn’t quite eat all of hers. We both were pleased with the meal and I only half seriously suggested ordering the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake. That cake, though it was exactly my style, would have put both of us over the edge of any reasonable fullness. We decided to call it an end to the meal and head out on our way.

Upon receipt of the bill, I noticed a “TW MW Surcharge” of 2% right below the tax line which brought the total to about $86 before tip. A quick search of the internet indicated that some restaurants in other cities – I couldn’t find anything about it in Portland – were using a surcharge by that name, but in varying amounts, to account for the increase in minimum wage.

The additional $1.56 charge was hardly a shock price-wise, but prices should be increased by raising the cost of items on the menu, maybe with a note about wage increases on the menu or reciept if it’s important to the restaurant to make that known. If they must absolutely increase the price with a separate surcharge, it should be clearly stated in some very visible location that all prices are 2% higher than the listed cost so the customer is aware prior to ordering.

Will most people care about a 2% surcharge? Maybe not, but I think surprising people with a cost different that what is clearly printed on the menu will bother some because it feels deceptive even if that is not the intention. JP’s Bistro serves excellent Italian comfort food including all the staples and a fair number of more unusual, but delicious options. However, I think they should reconsider how they charge. The prices are not out of bounds, but should be perfectly clear up front.

JP’s Bistro 496 Woodford St.
207-899-4224

Stay hungry.

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