Friday, September 7, 2012

Bresca (Portland, Maine)

Bresca deserves all the James Beard nominations that it has gotten.

This quaint restaurant - on a relatively quiet road in Portland - looked like someone's dining room. With tables relatively close together, it barely sits 16.

Someday if I have a country house, I'd like some of this decor... small metal animals that hold candles and business cards, funky flower arrangements, and porcelain pieces like these napkin rings:

Despite the homey feel, the food was anything but. It was modern yet rustic, innovative yet nostalgic, and completely blew my mind.

It started with this prosecco with mulberry-infused syrup. I've been known to trespass for mulberries, so this was a must. Delicious, but so far so... only slightly unexpected.

The waitress was going over the specials, and their special tartine was uni on foccacia. I did a double take. Didn't seem like a great combination at first, but I wasn't about to turn down uni from a seaside town, so that's what we started with.

9/10: This was not focaccia (that was the point deducted) it was just a very nice ciabatta-like bread with lots of olive oil. The uni was unbelievably fresh, and yes that's salmon roe. To avoid the dish tasting like melty and popping sea-on-bread, they put on fresh sprouts and basil, which was quite strong and acted as a palette cleanser during bites.

The menu said that we were ordering caramelized bacon, but what we got was closer to pork belly.

8.5/10: The pork was tender but mild. There were big globs of warm gooey fat that went nicely with the tangy pluot sauce on the bottom.

We almost didn't get this spaghetti because it would have been too much food, but the restaurant kindly offered to serve us a half-portion. I think that's really sweet of them given the size of the operation, and that it takes about the same amount of time to make a half portion as a full portion.

10/10: Apparently the best spaghetti - and the most complex spaghetti - that my bf has ever had. And he's had more spaghettis than I have. I was worried at first at the soupy appearance, but at the first bite I tasted fresh tomato! fresh mozzarella cheese! and smoke?! They had smoked the mozzarella, which was brilliant! There were at least 3 different kinds of fresh tomatoes of varying flavor and texture. It was simply unbelievable. We were spooning up the sauce on the bottom by the end.

And then, the worst part of our dinner. There was a 30 minute lull before the entrees. We surmised that the fresh duck had run away.

Since the picture is very dark, I will give you more details. (yes that's my hand trying to hold it to the light haha) It was a very tender medium rare duck breast sliced and served with mascarpone polenta, a slightly sweet honey or maple based sauce, and "smoky cherries". The green stuff were really bitter dandelion greens.

7.5/10: My bf liked the duck more than I did, but I'm usually the duck person. There was just nothing special about it. They sliced the duck at an odd thickness. It was too thin for a traditional duck breast entree; I didn't get enough in each bite. And if they were going for a more thinly sliced duck, then the sauce and polenta were much too heavy.

I assume this pork chop was why our entrees were so late.

9/10: It was at least an inch thick, and evenly cooked all the way through. It was so tender that I could have cut it with a single swipe of a butter knife. Although my bf, ever the sauce addict, didn't think that it had enough flavor, I thought it went very well with the peaches and petite kale salad. It turns out the petite kale is much more flavorful and fun to eat than the kale that I'm used to.

The meal had gone so well that despite being full, we wanted to try their dessert. We decided on this panna cotta with fruits and white pepper sorbet.

10/10: Once again, it was absolutely surprising. The dessert soup was balanced but had new fruits in every bite, the panna cotta was perfectly light and creamy, and the white pepper sorbet was off the charts. It was almost like a very light vanilla at first, and then you get a small kick, and then it melts into sweetness and leaves behind a hint of the peppery taste. It was a fine creation.

Overall, it was one of the best restaurants that we've been to in a long time. Everything was cooked to perfection. We were talking about how NYC would eat this restaurant alive. It would be all over the magazines and blogosphere, and it would be packed for 6 months straight. But I love that it's here, in Portland, because eventually NYC will find something new and move on and the restaurant would be forgotten. Here it seems more likely to preserve its personality. Finding such refinement during my mad quest for lobster and wilderness makes our trip all the more interesting.

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