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Susan Axelrod

Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business for 15 years before turning to journalism. By day, she is the social media editor for Portland Press Herald. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs, preferably followed by a cocktail or a Maine beer. Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or saxelrod@mainetoday.com On Twitter: @susansaxelrod

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Posted: October 30, 2014

Restaurant Preview: Ebb & Flow opening soon on Commercial Street in Portland — plus a peek at the menu

Written by: Susan Axelrod

All photos by Ted Axelrod.

When Ebb & Flow opens in the next week or so, it will be the third restaurant in the large space at 100 Commercial St. in about five years. The most recent tenant, Spread, sputtered to a stop in May after a shaky two-year run; before that, Gaucho’s, a Brazilian steakhouse, lasted close to three years before it tanked. But Melissa Santos, Ebb & Flow’s general manager says she and chef/co-owner William D’Auvray (the two are also a couple) aren’t fazed by the revolving door history of the location.

“We’re used to running large restaurants,” she said. “Some people have expressed concern that we’re opening after the season, but we think of it as a good thing — we can have locals in and get their feedback. And we’ve set up Open Table (the online reservation system) so there will be ‘secret’ available tables even when we’re busy. We want our staff to get to know our local customers — we don’t want anyone waiting 2-3 hours for a table.”

D’Auvray’s partner is Angelo Ciocca, longtime proprietor of Nova Seafood, a Portland-based wholesaler who has supplied D’Auvray’s previous restaurants for years. Most recently, D’Auvray was the chef at Thasos Greek Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. A native of Los Angeles, he helmed kitchens in Raleigh, North Carolina, including two of his own — the seafood restaurant Fins and the international street food eatery bu.ku — before moving to Florida. In 2008, Fins was named one of the 10 best seafood restaurants in the country by Bon Appetit.

“If I can’t make it, I won’t serve it,” says the chef, who will be baking all the bread and desserts for the restaurant in-house. “The way the menu is designed there’s going to be something for everyone — the adventurous eater and the person who wants roast chicken and potatoes.”

Keeping prices reasonable is a consideration too, said Santos. “Appetizers will be $8 to $14; mains will be $15 to $25, with some steaks higher.”

Those steaks will be grilled in a custom-made Beech Oven that heats to 1,000 degrees and has a grill on one side, a hearth for baking breads on the other.

Where dark floors, flowing draperies and glitzy chandeliers gave Spread the feel of a glamorous nightclub, Ebb & Flow is more rustic, styled to reflect the restaurant’s mostly Mediterranean menu. “We’ve lightened everything up,” said Santos; this includes the floors, which have gone from almost ebony to light pine, and the now fabric-free windows.

“We want guests to be able to look out to the street,” she said. “It’s great for people-watching.”

The view from windows looking out across Custom House Wharf to a brick building ornamented with wrought iron fleur-de-lis provided the inspiration for the same design stenciled onto Ebb & Flow’s floors. A formerly awkward, bus station/wine storage area has been transformed into a crudo bar and D’Auvray has added a chef’s table, just outside the kitchen, which will seat 8-10 guests in chairs that look like they’re made from driftwood. At the very back of the restaurant, a raised platform holds more tables with a view of the wharf.

In center of the restaurant behind glass-paneled doors are a wine-storage area and a grow wall for microgreens. D’Auvray said they will be growing the rest of their greens themselves, off-site.

With the chef’s table, Ebb & Flow will have a total of 130 seats, said Santos: 40 in the bar, including 13 at the U-shaped bar itself; and 50 in the side dining room (with the crudo bar), which will also be used for private parties.

Other design elements bring Europe to the Portland waterfront, including photography by Nancy Ciocca, Angelo’s sister.  The dramatic back bar was modeled on one in Spain, said Santos; the old white columns on either side came from the first fraternity at Bowdoin College, via Portland Architectural Salvage.

One of the most significant changes to the space is the host area, which was previously confusing with nowhere to wait — now it is larger and better defined.

As for the name, it was inspired by two factors, Santos said. “We’re right on the water, so we have ebb and flow of water in our basement at high tide — you need waders to go down there,” joked Santos. “And our menu will ebb and flow with the seasons and availability of ingredients.”

Because of the Mediterranean theme, D’Auvray said he will be serving local fish as well as sustainable varieties from away. To give you an idea of the menu, here are a few items from what D’Auvray shared with me, but asked not to be revealed in its entirety. The menu is still being tweaked before opening day, which will happen after a few nights of “friends and family” trial runs.

Appetizers
Truffle croquetas, 5-year Iberico ham
Grilled sardines, fried capers, Greek oregano, socca

Mezze
Taramasalata: Whipped roe, almond milk, our bread

Sopas
Roasted artichoke, garlic crumble.

Mains
Sauteed skate wing, pine nuts, caper, beurre noisette
Short rib tortelloni, parsnip broth, baby kale, Grana

At 1000 Degrees
Prime skirt steak, salsa verde, scallion, roasted turnips

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