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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: April 5, 2013

A likable Little Tap House, Portland

Written by: John Golden

The Little Tap House, the successor to the long-standing Katahdin and a short-lived Plush, pays homage to an era when neighborhood taverns courted the pleasure seekers of good food and drink.

After several visits in the nearly two weeks that it’s been in business, my summation is this: It’s a work in progress. They have achieved a balance of being both a trendy watering hole for craft cocktails and pedigree beers paired with serving creative cuisine

In that time LTH has breezily garnered a neighborhood following, drawing from a flock of West Enders and Arts District habitués who can easily stroll to the corner of High and Spring streets.

The interior décor is plain — albeit rusticated — minimalism.   Sturdy, simple wooden tables and solid straight-back chairs fill the dining area in spacious assemblage.  The wait staff is very attentive and knowledgeable.

The actual dining areas flank the bar  on two sides, tunneling to the rear of the restaurant as well as along the sides against the big plate-glass windows overlooking Spring Street.  After sunset the room dims to near darkness while the noise level rises to high decibels.

As a drinks emporium, I’m the wrong one to use as a judge.  I don’t drink beer generally so I can’t comment on their premium lagers and ales offered.  As for my cocktail preference it’s invariably a vodka gimlet, which must, in my book, be made with Rose’s lime juice—a politically incorrect ingredient loaded with high fructose corn syrup.  Yet without that inimitable sweet-sour taste, it’s not a gimlet.  Many bartenders increasingly use a homemade flavored simple syrup facsimile as though they were doing the drinker a favor.  To me they all taste like a Tom Collins.  Give me the real stuff or serve it straight on the rocks.

Regardless, I’ve had some very good, carefully prepared food  from LTH chef, Andrew Kadish.  At this early stage he’s on point, though I suspect his style will evolve even more.

He’s a native Mainer and a graduate of New England’s top culinary training ground, Johnson and Wales.   For the last 10 years he’s cooked in Charleston, South Carolina, a great food town.  I don’t know the reasons for his return to Maine, but I’m glad he’s here.

I would love, however, to see some low-country or southern cooking coming from his kitchen.  The only evidence so far is his biscuits.  They’re not of the big soulful variety of southern biscuit fluffiness, but rather his are firmer and  richer with crispy exteriors, great flavor and texture.

The moderately priced menu is not large but delivers the basics  well.   During my first visit I enjoyed a very tasty rendition of cider-brined roast chicken served over perfect mashed potatoes and a mess of sugar snaps. My dinner mate pronounced his fish and chips as classically good with a great corn-meal crust.

At my most recent dinner with a friend we shared a “wedge” salad that had the usual components: blue cheese dressing, smoky bacon and flavorful cherry tomatoes scattered over crisp iceberg lettuce.

I really wanted to try the hamburger but opted for the salmon served over a vegetable hash as, admittedly, a lame diet-conscious alternative.  The vegetables were beautifully cooked and the salmon had a nice glaze and attractive grill marks, making this a very appealing entrée.  Still, I ogled the burger and fries platter at a nearby table.  It looked terrific.

My friend had what’s listed as pasta with braised beef and vegetables.  However, what came out was gnocchi, a fact left off the menu.  It’s a pretty heavy, rich dish.  But the potato gnocchi were perfectly done and the beef and vegetables were extremely tasty.

The dessert menu is short and (no pun intended) sweet: the ubiquitous flourless chocolate cake (I wish it would disappear from menus) and bread pudding.  We shared the pudding, which had that nice homespun kick.

The fare is billed as a farm to table experience.  I’m sure all the ingredients come from farms and local vegetable patches, but I think the restaurant should highlight such local provenance more.

On a Wednesday evening nearly every table was full, the bar was hopping and the crowd seemed happy. When we left, I said to myself, I’ll be back.

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