In the forward sphere of Portland dining, the newest edition is a definite change of pace, offering a traditionally designed, Mediterranean-influenced menu of very well prepared food.
If you read the local foods sites then you may already know a little something about Ebb & Flow, the new restaurant that opened last week at the beleaguered 100 Commercial St. location. Though the space has experienced a trail of failed restaurants in the past, (mostly recently Spread), E&F may be the one to have finally broken the spell.
I’ve been there twice: once for a friends and family night where we sampled some of the tasty Mediterranean-inflected fare coming from co-owner-chef William D’Auvray’s kitchen.
The second time was on the heels of a dinner at Hugo’s the night before. You might think that’s a hard act to follow, from the sublime to the ordinary? Well, not at all. There’s a lot to like about this newcomer.
The small plate manna and the various tricks typical of new our dining age are not a focus at Ebb & Flow. Instead it’s where you can order three squares of first, second and dessert courses without having to traipse through a minefield of esoteric preparations. The culinary excitement comes from dishes that are very well conceived.
They bill themselves as a Mediterranean restaurant. But that doesn’t totally reflect what the kitchen does. Yes, olive oil, lemon, fish and herbs figure highly. But some of the dishes that I had were definite show stoppers.
Take a small plate selection of “mezzes” like revithia. Out comes this giant puff of pita bread looking like an overly inflated naan. It’s baked in a Beech oven, a wood-fired baking contraption generally used to make pizza. You tear it apart and dip it into a spread of crushed organic chick peas, heady with olive oil and lemon. (This could easily be shared by a table of four.)
Then proceed to a huge appetizer of three olive-oil fried zucchini fritters set in a gentle pool of yogurt and mint. Those two dishes easily combine as a wonderful light supper. Add dessert such as an excellent tiramisu served in a tall flute glass and you’ll feel well fed.
Portions are large and the contemplation of another course was daunting. But then a perfect wedge of herb-crusted salmon was presented and I was glad to have ordered it. The salmon is from Skuna Bay in Vancouver, BC, regarded by many as the source for the best farmed salmon. It was perfectly cooked medium rare, flaky and moist, fork tender pieces falling off the fillet. It was served with a mound (excessive, for my taste) of pepper cress resting on a little pool of quinoa, lemon, chili and sesame.
While there are plenty of fish dishes on the menu (scallops, branzino, as well as shellfish in a copious portion of cioppino), there’s also prime steaks like Porterhouse and skirt), lamb chops and a massive double cut, slow roasted rib pork chop garnished with roasted figs, onion gratin and sage. The fellow sitting next to me at the bar ate every last bit of his pork chop. When I asked him how he liked it, he nodded his approval, but commented that he prefers pork meat roasted on the bone rather than the tail end of a rib chop not integrated with the meat. I had the chop on my previous visit and loved it for its tenderness and flavor.
The co-owners, chef William D’ Auvray and Angelo Ciocca (he owns the Portland fish distribution company, Nova Seafood), have done an excellent job amending what has been a difficult, overly large space. You enter into the bar area and can dine at the circular bar, which is extremely comfortable and served by veteran Portland bartender and server Claire Stretch. She makes an excellent cocktail and is knowledgeable about food. I’ll always remember a conversation we had when she worked at Back Bay Grill and we regaled each other with our stories of the famed La Grenouille in New York.
Off that is the rear dining room with banquettes and the room to the side is beautifully arranged with large tables spaced well apart and where there will also be a raw bar. The flow is more cohesive now compared to past design iterations.
Obviously the freshness and range of seafood and shellfish offered is of very high quality given the restaurant’s kinship to Nova Seafood.
The décor is vaguely Mediterranean—where wooden archways mingle with rustic brick-faced walls. It’s all wrapped up into a cozy, comfortable well-lit space in which you can enjoy some very good cooking. The present menu is still a starter list of courses, but as the kitchen develops, look for an expansion of choices.
The “mezzes” are delightful and perhaps my favorite part of the menu and offer such other choices as taramasalata (whipped roe and almond milk) and fire roasted eggplant, which are served with the wonderful pita. And choose one of the hearty appetizers or skip that course and go straight to other main dishes like tomato-based braised lamb shank with pistachios or chicken roasted in the wood oven. Then you easily enjoy the simplicity of the menu–sometimes a relief from the fine madness elsewhere.