Visit MaineToday's profile on Pinterest.

About The Author

mainetoday

John Golden

John Golden writes about food and has a highly opinionated blog, The Golden Dish.

Send an email | Read more from John







Posted: September 5, 2014

Munjoy Hill dining: Bistro charm at Blue Spoon

The Blue Spoon is where you go for neighborhood vibes and good food in a thoroughly charming bistro on the ever-blooming Munjoy HIll.

Written by: John Golden

Chef David Iovino opened Blue Spoon atop Munjoy Hill 10 years ago just when Portland was making waves as a food-centric city. Now the largest metropolitan area north of the Tobin Bridge is a grab bag of world-class restaurants worth their local salt and unbridled trendiness.  That leaves a place like  Blue Spoon in solid territory as a neighborhood haunt.

Blue Spoon atop Munjoy Hill

Blue Spoon atop Munjoy Hill

Iovino isn’t the only game on the Hill.  And as the neighborhood grows with million dollar condos, this once funky hood is on a tear.  The very popular, larger Front Room has been there just as long as the Blue Spoon and the newly opened Lolita (nee Bar Lola) is one of the brightest stars of our daring-do dining scene.

We went to Blue Spoon for dinner a few nights ago if only to revisit this establishment, which I haven’t been to in a few years.

The restaurant offers a jumble of the requisite farm-to-table fare in a space that’s no bigger than a large suburban-home dining room.  Twenty some people can be crammed into its long, narrow space with the addition of 6 seats in the bar area.

Popular bar area and open kitchen

Popular bar area and open kitchen

When we arrived for our 8 o’clock reservation, I quickly looked around and saw only two empty tables, one of which would presumably be ours.  I shuddered at the thought of being led to the tiny two-top in a corner because of my dread of small spaces.   Luckily we were given the roomy 4-top by the window, which gave us a bird’s eye view of the outdoor dining patio.

Cozy dining at Blue Spoon

Cozy dining at Blue Spoon

Thankfully the menu doesn’t beat you over the head with culinary esoterica from the acrobatics of an overly nimble chef looking for food press hoots and hollers.  Instead it offers American bistro fare like a perfect grilled chicken (under a brick), which I’ve enjoyed on prior visits, and one of the best hamburgers in town made from the bloom of grass-fed local beef.

Outdoor dining patio

Outdoor dining patio

My friend who’s a frequent dinner guest on these outings summed the place up perfectly.

“This is what a neighborhood restaurant is supposed to look like.”  Comfortable, cozy, intimate—and noisy.

That is essentially how I felt about the food: comforting and well-made but not ground-breaking by any means.  Add the side car of collective chatter bouncing off the walls, floors and ceiling without a strip of acoustical softening is, to some, atmospheric, though not to us as we leaned across the table to hear ourselves talk.

Our friendly waitress placed the bread basket on the table and asked for our drinks order.  Blue Spoon calls its current  list Summer Cocktails with such names as Cat’s Pajama (gin with mead style wine); Poolside (Pusser’s rum, Aperol, coconut and pineapple) and Cucumber Genny (gin and cucumber syrup) among the choices.  I never look at these lists because they generally don’t interest me.  Though if I had I would have definitely ordered the Negroni Sbagliato, a classic Negroni (which I love) with the addition of prosecco and rhubarb bitters.

My friend had the boozy cucumber concoction, which she liked except for the scrim of salt along the glass rim. I settled for a good-sized tumbler (no dreaded thimble-measures here) of vodka on the rocks.

At first glance the menu is a good read.  But we found ourselves scratching our heads looking for dishes that appealed. My friend announced that she wasn’t too hungry, not a good thing when you’re trying to review a restaurant.

We got off to a decent start by ordering two selections from the tapas offerings.  Grilled slices of eggplant were topped with goat cheese, lemon and mint.  It was pretty to look at but fell short on flavor.  It tasted more of the grill than its otherwise heady components.

Grilled eggplant

Grilled eggplant

Another small plate was an excellent, rough-textured country pate served with good grainy mustard and pickled cauliflower.  The dish, however, should have had crostini on which to spread the pate and condiments. Luckily the bread basket had a few slices left in it.  That, however, was a curious omission—ridiculous to serve pate without crusty bread.

Duck and pork terrine with grainy mustard and  pickled cauliflower--but no bread

Duck and pork terrine with grainy mustard and pickled cauliflower–but no bread

The salad choices had some substantial preparations  such as grilled skirt steak over spinach. My friend’s chose the chopped  summer vegetables enlivened with hard-boiled egg, lemon aioli and dill, all of which tasted fresh from the vegetable patch.

Summer vegetable salad

Summer vegetable salad

A main course of pan-fried flounder was perfectly cooked–flakey, fresh and well-seasoned.  What drew me to the dish, however, was the accompanying side of caramelized green beans. These, however, were merely sautéed and remained al dente but not glazed whatsoever.  The fish had a further garnish of crispy fingerlings and olive oil poached sun gold tomatoes with basil—a pleasing Mediterranean touch, though overall too much oil on the dish.

Pan-fried flounder

Pan-fried flounder

Our dessert choice was a resounding success.  Under a dome of freshly whipped cream, the lemony, softly textured blueberry cake held the sugar-sweet mingling of berries and lemon.

A luscious blueberry-lemon cake

A luscious blueberry-lemon cake

If this column awarded stars to restaurants under review, Blue Spoon would rate a solid 4 stars even though I had issues with a few dishes — so often the case in many other Portland restaurants that are generally very satisfying.

Up Next: