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John Golden

John Golden writes about food and has a highly opinionated blog, The Golden Dish.

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Posted: December 26, 2014

Portland restaurants: The best and brightest endured in 2014

From the best dishes at the best restaurants in Portland and beyond, here is a look back at the 50-plus dishes (out of many hundreds) that made a difference in 2014

Written by: John Golden

Simply amazing!

What a year for Portland restaurants.  At last count nearly 25 new establishments opened for business in 2014 with a veritable whirlwind of talented chefs  commandeering professional ranges all over town.

Notable debuts included Central Provisions, Lolita, Sur-Lie, BaoBao, Slab, Ebb and Flow, Tandem Bakery, Bramhall, Timber Steak House, the French renaissance at Petite Jacqueline under chef Fred Eliot and the controversial Vinland, which I’ve included in this list because it opened at the end of 2013. Adding to the diversity were a host of new openings in the prior year including Empire Chinese, which maintains the high standard for Chinese food in Portland.

And the momentum continues unabated into 2015.  The upcoming restaurant, for example, in the highly anticipated Press Hotel is being run by star chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier who sold their famed restaurant, Arrows, several months ago.

Clockwise, left, Boda, Hugo's, Fore Street kitchen and the mystery lady

Clockwise from top left: Boda, Hugo’s, the mystery lady,  Fore Street kitchen.

And another intriguing candidate is Tempo Dulu, a Southeast Asian restaurant that will be done to the nines of luxury in the fabulous Danforth owned by hoteliers Raymond Brunyanszki and Oscar Verest whose Camden Harbour Inn  was anointed this year as a Relais and Chateaux.

What’s also intriguing is the new restaurant, Isa, which is under construction at 79 Portland St., boasting a moderately priced menu of bistro fare. It’s located right next to Portland favorite, the venerable Back Bay Grill.

What’s astounding is Portland’s ability to absorb all of these restaurants in which the best are always busy.  The established all-stars like Fore Street, Back Bay Grill, and Five Fifty-Five are pretty packed nightly. And such relative newcomers as Eventide, Hugo’s,  Central Provisions, Lolita and Sur-Lie are hardly running on hype but fill up too because the food is so good. Hugo’s, however, remains the most expensive where the average tab hovers at $150 per person.

In the last week I’ve had the good fortune to have dinner at two of our core dining haunts, Fore Street and Five Fifty-Five, and featured here. Then to cap off the holiday, Christmas dinner took place at Empire Chinese where a gala feast was had by all.

A packed room at Empire Chinese for Christmas dinner 2014

Off the radar, without announcement or press fanfare, Empire Chinese was packed for Christmas dinner

Fore Street dinner December 2014. Served by best bartender Greg Aruda, dinner included chilled seafood platter with Penobscot Bay sea urchin roe with broiled duck egg mayonnaise and grilled sugar kelp, casco bay sea scallop ceviche with gin and citrus, Machias and Bajg's Island pickled periwinkles and smoked mussels witih rocket pistachio pesto; Atlantic wolfish filet, celeriac, parsnip and turnip hash, grilled leeks, beef chive butter.

Fore Street dinner December 2014. Served by best bartender Greg Aruda, dinner included chilled seafood platter with Penobscot Bay sea urchin roe with broiled duck egg mayonnaise and grilled sugar kelp, Casco Bay sea scallop ceviche with gin and citrus, Machias and Bang’s Island pickled periwinkles and smoked mussels with rocket pistachio pesto; Atlantic wolfish filet, celeriac, parsnip and turnip hash, grilled leeks, beef chive butter.

Bartender Greg Aruda and the Fore St. open kitchen

Bartender Greg Aruda and the Fore Street open kitchen

Christmas Eve dinner 2014 at Five Fifty-Five, clockwise, torchon,  duck with chestnuts and sweet potatoes, xmas eve diners, pepper-crusted diver scallops, vanilla emulsion; guest and 555 kitchen

Christmas Eve dinner 2014 at Five Fifty-Five, clockwise from top left: torchon; duck with chestnuts and sweet potatoes; the dining room on Christmas Eve; friends for dinner; the Five Ffty-Five kitchen; pepper-crusted diver scallops, vanilla emulsion.

Empire Christmas dinner: shitake chive dumplings, curried beef shumai, lobster lo mein, szechuan  lobster lo mein, Chinatown roast pork, the Empire kitchen

Empire Christmas dinner: shiitake chive dumplings, curried beef shumai, lobster lo mein, Szechuan lobster lo mein, Chinatown roast pork, the Empire kitchen

Beyond that here’s a look back at some of the best dishes I’ve had all year in the photo montage that follows.

Panzanella salad, 555; halibut, Earth at Hidden Pond. lardo Back Bay Grill

Panzanella salad, 555; halibut, Earth at Hidden Pond; lardo Back Bay Grill

Cucumber salad and buns, Bao Bao; quail eggs, Boda

Cucumber salad and  dessert buns, Bao Bao; quail eggs and Miam Kum-Som-oh, Boda

Funky Bow at Funky Bow bash; bologna sandwich with egg at the East Ender,"Simpsons" burger Linda Bean's Topside Tavern, Freeport

Funky Bow Beer at Funky Bow bash; bologna sandwich with egg at the East Ender,”Simpsons” burger Linda Bean’s Topside Tavern, Freeport

Bao Bao cabbage slaw; Boda bar, tuna melt at the Palace Diner, Biddeford

Bao Bao cabbage slaw; Boda bar, tuna melt at the Palace Diner, Biddeford

Mussels in cider, Caiola's; halibut and tuna poke, Earth' turkey platter with all the fixings, Miss Portland Diner

Mussels in cider, Caiola’s; halibut and tuna poke, Earth’ turkey platter with all the fixings, Miss Portland Diner

First dinner at Ebb and Flow, hummus, pita bread and langoustines

First dinner at Ebb and Flow, hummus, pita bread and langoustines

Fritters, El Rayo Scarborough; braised short ribs, In'finiti; perogi, Hugo's; ice box cake, Palace Diner

Fritters, El Rayo Scarborough; braised short ribs, In’finiti; perogi, Hugo’s; ice box cake, Palace Diner

Central Provisions, tuna crostini, smoked carrots

Central Provisions, rillettes, smoked carrots

Bucotini with ramp pesto, Lolita; Pai Men, Downeast Breakfast, Marcy's Diner

Bucatini with ramp pesto, Lolita; smelts, Pai Men, Downeast Breakfast: smoked pork chop, baked beans, eggs, Marcy’s Diner

Tuna crostini, crabs, Salt Water Farm, Little Big's version of  cronuts, Brent Dedalaires dessert, Foire Street, chicken breast with gnocchi at Back Bag Grill, roast pork buns at Empire

Tuna crostini, crabs, Salt Water Farm, Little Big’s CNDs, Brant Dadaleares dessert, Fore Street, chicken breast with gnocchi at Back Bay Grill, roast pork buns at Empire

"pig", Central Provisioins; vegetable buns, Miyake diner; lobster roll, Eventide; turnip soup and beet chips, Vinland; blueberry glazed pork chop, Tiomber

“Pig”, Central Provisions; vegetable buns, Miyake Diner; lobster roll, Eventide; turnip soup and beet chips, Vinland; blueberry glazed pork chop, Timber

 

Bone marrow, LFK' pizza Calderwood Hall, North Haven; old-fashioned buttermilk; sticky duck legs, Fog Bar, Rockland; my caramel apple pie and lemon meringue pie; swordfish, Natalie's, Camden  Harbor  Inn; swordfish, Salt Water Farm, Rockport; torchon, Petite Jacqueline

Bone marrow, LFK’ pizza Calderwood Hall, North Haven; old-fashioned buttermilk, farmer’s market; sticky duck legs, Fog Bar, Rockland; my caramel apple pie and lemon meringue pie; swordfish, Natalie’s, Camden Harbor Inn; swordfish, Salt Water Farm, Rockport; torchon, Petite Jacqueline

 

Chocolate Chips, Tandem Bakery; donuts, Urban Sugar; pork and chive dumplings, Empire Chinese

Chocolate Chips, Tandem Bakery; donuts, Urban Sugar; branzino in black bean sauce, Boone’s; shiitake and chive dumplings, Empire Chinese

All photographs by John Golden

 

 

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