2 Portlands, 2 Tasty Restaurants, and Too Troubling Service

Black pepper cheesecake at Måurice

Black pepper cheesecake at Måurice

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.

Måurice's handwritten menu

Måurice’s handwritten menu

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.

Central Provisions' lobster toast

Central Provisions’ lobster toast

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.

Bluefin tuna crudo at Central Provisions

Bluefin tuna crudo at Central Provisions

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).

Central Provisions tomatoes

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!

Belanger's

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.

Ten Ten Pie kinako croissants

Måurice on Urbanspoon

Central Provisions on Urbanspoon

Belanger's Drive-In on Urbanspoon

Ten Ten Pié on Urbanspoon

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5 Responses to “2 Portlands, 2 Tasty Restaurants, and Too Troubling Service”

  1. elaine
    September 30, 2014 at 4:38 pm #

    I’m generally not comfortable up on a high horse, but isn’t bluefin tuna one of those species we shouldn’t be eating at all due to overharvesting, and the resulting dangerous population depletion? I just thought this might be worth noting.

    Unrelated: do you know if anyone in the Puget Sound region serves fried clams with the bellies attached?

  2. Jay
    September 30, 2014 at 6:40 pm #

    Guilty as charged, Elaine. Poor excuse, but as the restaurant has gotten great reviews for its crudo, I knew I wanted to order it, and with only one choice on the lunch menu, I didn’t read the description. (Plus, I thought I had seen albacore listed on a recent sample menu.) At one point after I realized what I ate, I asked the chef in a non-accusatory way about serving bluefin. He said it was line-caught locally instead of netted, but of course this doesn’t address the overfishing issue.

    As for clams with bellies, I recall a Chowhound discussion lamenting the lack of them here. It’s an east coast thing! The only place that I’d suggest trying is Chippy’s in Ballard, which lists “east coast clams” on the menu. Please report back if you go!

  3. elaine
    October 3, 2014 at 6:09 pm #

    Jay,
    Thanks for the response. You did what I probably would have done with the bluefin situation. I think that politely inquiring about why a chef would choose to serve that fish is a good idea. Maybe if enough customers question a restaurant, they’ll reevaluate the validity of their reasoning.

    I’ll definitely let you know about clams at Chippy’s. I haven’t been yet, but it’s on my short list. I had clams with bellies in Rhode Island in August, and I’ve been obsessed ever since.

  4. elaine
    November 14, 2014 at 11:12 pm #

    So I finally made it to Chippy’s to try those fried clams. They are indeed fried with the bellies intact. They’re called East Coast Clams on the menu, and they are in fact Ipswich clams shipped from Massachusetts. They were big clams, with a belly full of briney goodness, but also a little sand, unfortunately. They were bigger than the fried clams I’d had in RI, and breaded with a cornmeal crust. I honestly didn’t enjoy them as much as the smaller, sweeter, flour battered clams I had back east.

  5. Jay
    November 15, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

    Thanks for the report!

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