Traveling coast to coast, this Seattleite just had the opportunity to be in the country’s two biggest Portlands within a one week period. This meant a chance to try two of the “Hot 10″ dubbed by Bon Appétit as “The Best New Restaurants in America 2014.” After briefly experiencing both places, I applaud the accolades based on food, but service left something to be desired.
It seemed like every food writer and chef attending Feast Portland found themselves in the small Måurice “pastry luncheonette” at some point during the festival weekend. I’ve praised Kristen Murray since sampling her sweets at the long-closed Fenouil restaurant, and have always appreciated how she incorporates savory elements into her desserts. So it was fun to finally see her charming little restaurant, and strange to feel at times alone there while witnessing service issues.
Oh…the food is fine (the nice thing about a roomful of colleagues is that I could sample some other dishes, even when I came just for dessert), with Courier Coffee (the coffee roaster, which I especially like, is located right next door) available and black pepper cheesecake ($10) with wild plum sorbet quite divine. But upon entering Måurice, I was surprised how long I had to wait for someone to acknowledge me, and then when I inquired about seating, I was head-pointed to a couple of open spots at the counter. Not sure whether to go immediately or not, I waited before walking to two seats in front of an uncleared/unclean counter. Ordering only the cheesecake (and coffee), the wait was inordinately long. Servers twice brought dishes they thought were mine; hungry, I almost reached the point of taking one, but fortunately someone I know claimed the neighboring seat and offered me (delicious) bites of a couple of her dishes (which, yes, came before my dessert). The food quality is fantastic at Måurice, but with portion sizes often as precious as the restaurant itself, quality service should come with the price, and hopefully will over time. (During the Feast Portland weekend—perhaps even because of it, given that Murray was making an amazing dessert for the High Comfort event—other writers reported similar service hiccups during their visits.)
Several days after Feast I found myself flying to Maine, where in the other Portland I had time for lunch at Central Provisions. I deliberated the menu carefully, making choices that I thought would demonstrate the best of the kitchen skills. When my server returned for her second order-taking inquiry, I asked to start with the tuna crudo before getting lobster toast accompanied with a side of cole slaw. Light to heavy, I thought, plus a chance to compare a contemporary take to my previous day’s lobster roll with cole slaw.
Quickly, the lobster toast ($10) appeared before me. Confronted now with crudo for “dessert,” I took photos at a slow pace to allow time for the slaw to appear. It never happened. The folded, crisped lobster toast (panini-like) was fascinating, accompanied with a coconut green curry dipping sauce, full of flavors of ginger, cilantro, and a sprinkling of other herbs (mint and Thai basil, I believe). I’d still take a good lobster roll over it, but the toast was unique and delicious.
Next, as the crudo was being delivered, I heard a chef talk about cole slaw, but I told the server to kindly cancel it, as I had wanted it with the toast. (I’m sure it would have been a great complement, countering the fattiness with bright, fresh crunch.) The bluefin tuna crudo ($14) was again high quality, with thin slices of radish and the flavors of mustard and sesame shining through. Crispy shallots were in both dishes, unfortunately dominating at times just a bit.
As with Måurice, slightly high pricing at Central Provisions ($24 for my two dishes), but no qualms about quality of the food. Just the service.
Central Provisions bonus: I spied (and shot) this beautiful plate of heirloom tomatoes, burrata, fairytale eggplant, and tahini ($13).
Bonus #2: I alluded to it, so here’s the clearmeat lobster roll ($8.99) and cole slaw I ate at Belanger’s in Fairfield the day before my meal at Central Provisions. As I couldn’t decide between the lobster roll and the fried clams, I decided to get both. These, of course, are the whole clams, with the bellies ($10.49). Nicely fried! I wanted to try a slice of the housemade tortierre, but was too full!
Bonus #3: Still hungry after Central Provisions, I stopped by Ten Ten Pié. This multi-ethnic market is home to a Japanese pastry chef, so I sampled a chocolate kinako croissant (the “pastry” can’t compete with what we have in Seattle, but I liked the peanut-like flavor of the kinako as a twist) and got some inari for my plane trip home.