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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: May 1, 2015

The review that got John banned from 3 Portland restaurants: The Honey Paw: ‘Fabulous, fun and utterly fantastic’

The owners of Hugo’s, Eventide and The Honey Paw warned John Golden not to write a review. He did and they told him he was no longer welcome.

Written by: John Golden

Update: John received an email last week from Arlin Smith, Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley – who collectively own Hugo’s, Eventide and The Honey Paw – telling him that he is no longer welcome in any of their establishments. Read the story on PressHerald.com: Food blogger told he’s had his last meal at 3 Portland restaurants

Everything John’s written about The Honey Paw, Eventide and Hugo’s

John’s original Honey Paw review:

It’s a no-brainer to have predicted that the newly unwrapped The Honey Paw would be an outright success since opening on April 15.  It’s also no surprise that given the breadth of talent that is the domain of these wonder kids who cook and own the place — chefs Mike Wiley, Andrew Taylor, and Arlin Smith, who oversees the entire operation — would bring Portland anything that isn’t just fantabulous. And why the heck not? With their arsenal of awards, nominations, magazine spreads and substantial financial backing they must feel pretty good about themselves as though re-inventing the rose.

The exterior of The Honey Paw on Middle Street. All photos by John Golden

The exterior of The Honey Paw on Middle Street. All photos by John Golden

Of course one can’t help but ask Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter (for you 30-somethings that was a 1957 movie starring Jayne Mansfield and Tony Randall — a satirical comedy on the travails of success)?

But it’s the man behind the scenes here who I’d like to know more about, their chef de cuisine, Thomas Pisha-Duffly.  I’m sure he and the trio worked long and hard developing such an accomplished menu. As for the food, it’s fabulous, it’s fun and it’s utterly fantastic. Compared to their other establishments, it’s not precious and luxurious like Hugo’s or the essence of simplicity and flavor that is Eventide.  Instead the cooking is a mixed bag of a lot of styles — all thoroughly unique.

The throng of diners noon and night

The throng of diners noon and night

The team describes the restaurant as a nondenominational noodle bar—meaning noodles without borders. I don’t know what that means, really. Seems a little pretentious and far-fetched. But who am I to criticize the thinking cap of genius? It’s furthermore somewhat odd that they portray themselves this way as stated on their website: “Our globe-trotting menu celebrates the comforting and delicious experience of eating noodles.”

It’s way more than that and in the six visits (yes, I’ve moved in) I’ve bypassed most of the noodle dishes easily with so much more to enjoy from its international fusion menu.

Consider the lobster tartine—a visually beautiful dish on the flakiest panel of bread ever devised and flanked with circles of radish, giving a good acidic bite.  And what’s in the lobster mix is just otherworldly.  Or the smoked pork shoulder: this is really a version of roast pork Chinatown style, similar to Empire’s dish though with more paw than honey!

Lobster tartine and smoked pork

Lobster tartine and smoked pork

The kitchen truly holds a worldly passport and takes you to such plates as the highly recommended vitello tonnato — thin, tender slices of veal, dazzled  with squirts of demi-glace and the tonnato part didn’t taste like creamed tuna but, I swear, was more like potato salad (it wasn’t, but that’s what it tasted like to me) with its flecks of capers.

The overall menu is small plates arranged in sections from 1 to 5. The menus of modern-day cuisine are so inventive nowadays, but this little twist doesn’t have much significance as far as I can make out. It’s not like crisp, cool, big, sassy and savory menu headings. 1 to 5? Harrumph! Be aware that curiosity and the high cost of each dish (small plates go from $5 to $15; large plates start at $27) might make you spend more than you’re used to.

Pork pate with marmalade toast

Pork pate with marmalade toast

Let’s see what else have I had? Under #1 is an offering called Meat Snacks. This changes as a daily whim or two from the kitchen. On one visit I had a pork pate with marmalade toast. This was a capricious little fandangle: A thick slice of rough pate is topped with a perfect square of bread, toasted side up slathered with a thin sheath of orange marmalade on the underside. I wasn’t sure how to eat it, however.  Knife and fork?  I merely took my fork to the pate and ate the bread separately.

Sundry dishes including tuna poke, ice cream wantons, gnocchi, collards

Sundry dishes including tuna poke, ice cream wantons, gnocchi, collards

Interestingly the place setting wrapped in a cloth napkin includes knife, fork and red chopsticks.  That’s a stylistic embellishment stating that the kitchen is all over the culinary map from Asia to Antarctica.  On my many visits I’ve used all the utensils.  Certainly for the wontons with beef or noodles in the ramen, chopsticks were needed. But there’s a fourth utensil — your fingers.

Ah, yes.  Don’t leave without ordering one (or all) of the three large dishes, especially the bevy of quail, which you must eat caveman style out of hand, licking your fingers as you munch on these delicious morsels of game bird.  It’s a pair of roast quail that includes the entire bird from head to toenails.  Crisp, succulent, moist with a sweet and sour dipping sauce, a bowl of rice and vegetables leaves scattered about the platter.  It’s a very shareable dish, like fancy picnic fare.

Clockwise: vitello tonnato, bevy of quail and carrot cake

Clockwise: vitello tonnato, bevy of quail and carrot cake

Some of the desserts that I’ve tried were brilliant while others less so. The soft-serve ice cream is a real treat.  The vast kitchen (take a peek at it) has a professional soft-serve ice cream machine. I’ve had scoops with jack fruit and chocolate sauce. The scrumptiously rich carrot cake is a serious slice– a luscious filling of frosting between the very moist layers. Disappointing desserts included a triple chocolate cake with several versions of ganache and some chocolate covered nuts on top.  The cake was  dry — the crumb scattered with air holes, and I pushed it aside only to try another dessert, a sort of cookie plate of uninteresting bits especially a ball covered in leprous poppy seeds that prevent you from smiling in public until you rinse your mouth.  Inside was a lemon curd, tasty enough. The other cookies were dull, especially the one covered with a pinkish glaze.

Cookie sampler and layer cake with ganache

Cookie sampler and layer cake with ganache

The physical layout of The Honey Paw — with the communal center table that seats around 25 to a dining bar  along the windows and a counter at the bar — accounts for the deafening noise level. But it’s all so attractive. Some restaurateurs equate noise and commotion with cool buzz and vibes. It doesn’t bother me. But don’t go on a first date there on a busy evening (as I did) because it’s just too difficult to talk and hear at the same time.

The dining room has a great feel and easy sensibility

The dining room has a great feel and easy sensibility when the crowd thins out

Of course the crowd is about the trendiest in town, our city’s movers and shakers cramming into The Honey Paw noon and night.

But overall, this is a 10-star restaurant, more vital than the Casco Bay Bridge, a span definitely reaching for the stars with the moon orbiting the inevitable award nominations.

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