Here is the quintessential bistro style dining establishment that will contribute to the culinary growth and urban livability of the up and coming Bayside neighborhood.
It’s as though this a given: open a fashionable restaurant in Portland with an accomplished chef, spiffy décor, great location and all the elements that call out for success are in place—and that, my friends, is just what we have with Isa, the new neighborhood (Portland’s Bayside) bistro that had the chutzpah to open up a few doors down from the venerable Back Bay Grill. The fact that Back Bay has held sway in this gritty part of town for over 20 years doesn’t necessarily prevent a neighboring establishment to take up root to carry the torch of success.
And it’s no minor mention that Isa conveniently has its own parking lot behind their building, which formerly was home to New World Kitchens for many years. The interior retains the vintage elements like the carved tin ceiling with stunning black and white tile flooring to bring it together with a 10-seat bar on the side of the 30-seat dining room flanked by tables for two and four accented with the 12-pane windows, which in our daylight saving mode still allows the sun to stream through its variegated windows at the start of the dinner hour.
It’s owned by Suzie St. Paul and her husband chef-co-owner Isaul Perez, both of whom have worked in New York City restaurants for years to bring with them the elan of Brooklyn’s trendy neighborhoods. In fact once you settle in you feel as though you just ascended from the depths of an IRT station stop to dine on the avenue.
The menu is small but well thought out. Start off with a dip of roasted eggplant served with delicious grilled Standard Baking baguette slices with heady olive oil. Move on to grilled octopus—not greasy or undercooked but perfectly fine on the plate with chick peas, herbs, lemon and olive oil.
Among the salad choices we enjoyed a luscious pile of local beets and greens. Entrees that we had included a lustrous bowl of hand-made lemon pappardelle awash with lobster meat. Or one of the tenderest preparations of loin pork chop on the bone, grill marks galore, served over an herbaceous tirade of lentils and braised greens.
From the list of craft cocktails is a must try: a Negroni made with Mescal instead of gin or vodka; it mixes intriguingly smooth with Campari and sweet vermouth. The Mescal lends a smoky wave of flavor that is entirely unique, coating the tongue with flavors of tart sweetness that are amazing.
Prices are moderate ($22 the most expensive entrée for the pork chop or beef tenderloin) for a style of Mediterranean (Amalfi coast) cooking that is so easily likable.
Two desserts capped off our dinner: a panna cotta draped with a sweet blackberry sauce and a tender-crumbed tres leches cake, soft and creamy.
If you’re looking for the essential neighborhood hangout, even if it’s not in your hood, Isa has captured that spirit perfectly. The wine list is well thought out with European and American selections and the service, setting and food are first rate.
79 Portland Street, Portland | 207-808-8533 | www.facebook.com/isaportland