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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: March 8, 2013

The wow factor at Walter’s, Portland

Written by: John Golden

Walter’s, the quintessence of stylish dining in downtown Portland, didn’t need the surge from Maine Restaurant Week’s dining horde to fill its tables.

That this restaurant has a huge following for Chef Jeff Buerhaus’s temperate take on global cuisine (Asian, Mediterranean and Caribbean) is not surprising since, for the most part, the food has wow factor even if the mélange is old hat.

But why, I ask, do I feel like I’ve entered a vintage stage set for Hawaii Five-0 to dine in a commissary of disparate third-world earthly delights culled from Taiwan to Timbuktu?

Is it because I’ve had it so many times before?  Or is it that Buerhaus’s cooking style hasn’t changed a bit since he’s been in the business of chefdom?

From his days at his quaint spot on Exchange Street to this swellegant hangout at 2 Portland Square his food is predictable yet, at times, also exceptional— moments that are divinely cunning with complex flavors that is his batterie de cuisine.

For example, when I stopped in for lunch the other day I ordered one of the blackboard specials: an intricately composed dish of Thai-style Maine mussels and Maine shrimp poached in coconut milk and red curry with bok choy and basil topped with two sweet potato fritters that were as addictive as the best bag of potato chips.

I had to keep myself from lapping the bowl clean.

When he’s good he’s great.  So I suppose my complaint is that each dish might be just another iteration of the last as though such a chef was prone to put vanilla extract in everything.

As for his swank new digs, the décor is interior designer heaven to the hilt.  It’s got all the looks–sleek, smooth polished dark woods (though  modernists are going more for white and beige, these days).  And by Portland standards, it’s our incarnation of Mies van de Rohe’s, masterpiece of 60s chic, the Four Season’s in New York (sill a gorgeous room, however).

Still, it’s hats off to Buerhaus all the way.  He’s kept pace with Portland’s many restaurant divergences with grace and style, and there are certain dishes coming from the kitchen that you couldn’t get anywhere else in town.
Dining there on Monday night of restaurant week was hardly far from the madding crowd.  It was packed with diners in controlled pandemonium mode, from country folk in casual garb to slicker urbanites—all to enjoy the $32 prixe fixe. The wait staff, however, handled it very well.  And the kitchen at full throttle didn’t miss a beat.

Our meal for two, however, was a mixed bag.  Some dishes were successful and others didn’t quite make it.

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