The interior is one of the nicest I’ve seen in recent memory. The brick walls…modern, rustic, Brooklynesque, alluring globes of light overhead. Nothing avant-garde, just warm, inviting beauty. First the dining room with a trio of seats at a bar looking into the kitchen (no one was sitting there) and an incredible wet bar in a room off to the side – two tables parallel to it – that give the feeling a day could pass rather quickly if you were sitting there.
Elda made an impression from the second I walked in. From appearance alone, few restaurants could compete with it. But I was curious about the follow up and, seated at a centrally located table, started to get a feel for their menu. The drink list had many bottles of vino and also a fair selection of beer, glasses of wine, and signature cocktails on the opposite side.
Eventually, I chose Ashes & Pears – milagro blanco, mezcal, spiced pear, lime, habenero – as my drink to start. Mrs. Portlandeater kept it light with a soda and lime. The food menu was small and the current date at the top suggested it changed daily. There were four courses with three or four options each. We could either order off the menu per usual or for a flat price of $42, could choose one of every course.
Menus, like food, are subjective in their appeal, but theirs – at face value, anyway – had much to be excited about. More than half the menu was seafood based and everything had a creative, artistic feel to it. My wife and I both decided that the four course meal was the best deal for us and would provide the most opportunity to try a variety of items.
My drink had only a hint of mezcal smoke and the habenero was light too. The pear was more present and made up the bulk of the flavor. It was a mild, smooth cocktail and fit the chill music and the atmosphere all too well. My wife’s soda/lime came with a metal straw, which I found to be a touch of class. Shortly after receiving the drinks, we were presented some sourdough bread with butter and sea salt and a cute wooden butter knife.
We had received a shitake and oyster mushroom broth around the time our drinks arrived and it had finally cooled enough to sip. If you could imagine liquid mushrooms, that was exactly how it tasted. Brilliant, strong flavor and slightly herbed, it was a perfect food liquid and a tasty start to a meal, along with the uncannily delicious sourdough which was some of the best bread I’d ever had.
Her first course was a Black Cod doughnut with preserved lemon, mine Mussels roasted in juniper branches with pickles and toast. The toast was served with seasame aioli on top. The five mussels in a pot on the juniper were accompanied by a small set of wooden tongs. The pickles and toast were on a separate plate. I plucked the meat from the mollusk and placed it on the toast with a few pickles.
With a hint of citrus and lemon, the mussel toast went down beautifully. I love the bivalve and found the concoction tasty, if a bit adventurous. The juniper and pickle pairing was a little out of the ordinary, but that definitely put me in the mood for more of the same. I hoped it was a bit of foreshadowing for the rest of the meal to come.
Warm Crab with egg yolk and carrots was the second course for both of us. With a little pile of both the crab and carrots, the dish was mostly covered in what the person delivering the dish called soft-serve egg. The frothy yolk, shaved carrot, and lumps of crab sat in a salty broth pool and presented a pleasant combination of ingredients. The crab was insanely fresh and sweet and the carrot added some solid texture.
After the crab was finished, it was on to main courses. I had ordered the Roasted Chicken with fennel and dandelion and she the Buttermilk Fried Skate with spinach and yogurt. My plate had a fair portion of shaved fennel and a small hill of dandelion. A light covering of herbs and greens sat on top. Her fish came encrusted in batter with a small bowl of greens and what appeared to be a yogurt-based sauce akin to tzatziki.
It didn’t take long for me to realize how beautifully prepared my chicken was. Two pieces of thigh meat were salty seasoned and had the crispiest skin imaginable. The flavor was excellent, the meat was tender, and the non-chicken parts threw in a nice compliment which always kept the focus on the fowl. Avoiding the bones in her dish which were like organ pipes laid down sided by side, I tried the fish which was mild even with the sauce. I enjoyed the delicate flavors and the crunchy outside.
As our final course, I went with New England cheeses with seasonal garnishes and she ordered the Warm Rhubarb and yogurt cake. I actually started with two bites of hers. I find rhubarb to be utterly delicious with just a hint of sweetness, but the rhubarb topping on the sponge cake didn’t even have a hint. It was all tart. Fortunately, I figured out that I was doing it wrong and grabbed a piece with some of the yogurt filling. That made a world of difference and turned the cake into a little bit of magic.
I moved to my cheeses which were accompanied by orange marmalade (with a small wooden serving spoon), pickled apples, and buckwheat crackers. The cheeses – one soft, one hard, and one blue – weren’t my personal favorites, but on the crackers and with some pickled apple and occassionally a dab of marm, they made pretty decent, little open-faced sandwiches. The apples were new to me, but added a mild, sweet tang to each bite.
In the end, our meal came to $102 before tip. Ordering the four courses was the perfect choice and saved us $21 off regular prices. I thought that to be a great deal and also liked that the service was very good, eveen though I hardly ever noticed our server was around. None of the dishes we had were particularly large, but after four each, we were plenty full and that was good reason to be happy as we left. But Elda definitely has a lot more than that going for it.
Elda has a truly inviting, comfortable atmosphere. The food and drink is crafted in a way that makes it more exciting than even most of what I’ve seen a few exits north on I-95 recently. And there’s certainly a touch – maybe more – of genius in the way its presented too. From the little wooden utensils and metal straw, to their incredible bread, they make an impression with every detail. Elda gave us a stunning meal that will bring me back, even if it’s out of the way. And I’ll be sending people to Biddeford now when they need a “good place to go eat”.
140 Main St, Biddeford
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