Wife and husband team Suzie St. Pierre and Isaul Perez (also the executive chef) looked at nearly 20 spaces in southern Maine before landing at 79 Portland St. in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood. What was once New World Kitchens, a custom kitchen design company, is now Isa (named for Isaul), a modern yet cozy 40-seat bistro that serves a unique selection of the couple’s favorite food from around the world.
The couple met while working in restaurants in New York and have since worked at Earth (St. Pierre) and Street & Co. (Perez) in Maine. In renovating the space, they wanted to retain the building’s original charm, such as the 24-pane windows, tin ceilings and exposed brick walls. Other design details, like the black and white tile floor, the vintage light fixtures and the subway clock that extends from one wall, add to Isa’s delightful aesthetic, which is contemporary but not overly trendy.
One of the biggest changes is not even in the restaurant itself, but along the side of the building, where a sleek enclosed patio boasts seating for about 20. The slate patio flooring and matching tables and chairs are incredibly inviting, and in order to allow for more natural light, the couple removed a tree that would have concealed half the building when in bloom. What was once abandoned alley space can now be added to Portland’s list of outdoor dining options.
Now in its third month, Isa has quickly caught the attention of southern Maine food maniacs, earning praise for its cuisine and bar program. St. Pierre is a veteran wine buyer, having bought wine for restaurants in New York. Her list includes 12 wines by the glass ($8 to $13) and seven bottles ($34 to $88). She’s selected old world-style wines to complement the food, which includes appetizers like pan-fried corn tortillas, meatballs and steamed mussels and entrees such as braised rabbit, seared monkfish and house-made tagliatelle pasta.
For the cocktail list, St. Pierre commissioned the help of one of her former colleagues from New York who is now a bar consultant. The list of eight drinks includes three tequila concoctions (one mezcal), as well as one rum drink, a whiskey option and one gin drink – no vodka. Additionally, Perez’s spin on a Michelada (made with Pacifico beer) features his house-made spicy sauce, which is also used for Isa’s brunch Bloody Marys, also a house mix.
The Grey Lady (gin, Earl Grey tea, lemon) is served straight up for $11 and might be the only palatable way to drink Earl Grey, English Breakfast’s inferior cousin.
Another tea-inspired cocktail, the Tea Couple ($12), is pretty in pink, made with hibiscus-infused tequila and honey and garnished with a disc of lime. The drink is sweet with an agreeably sour kick and might be best enjoyed on the aforementioned patio. The four beer taps include Banded Horn, Maine Beer Co., Rising Tide and Foundation. And in addition to nonalcoholic beers and a cider on the bottles and cans list, there’s even PBR.
Isa is open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. – there’s no break between lunch and dinner. They stay open until 10 p.m. on weekends but are closed on Tuesdays. Brunch is served from11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
Expect to find detail-oriented service, a happy staff and good vibes here. Isa is a very welcome addition to town.
79 Portland St., Portland | 207-808-8533 | isaportlandme.com
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Tuesdays.
AMENITIES: Outdoor patio with room for 20, comfy bench in front entrance, open kitchen, 40 seats in restaurant (10 at bar), impeccably clean and sleek bathrooms.
PARKING: Eight to 10 spots in back.
BOTTOM LINE: Isa is the newest bar and restaurant in Bayside. Refined yet casual, Isa is a 40-seat bistro featuring an eclectic menu, much of which is the comfort food owners Suzie St. Pierre and Isaul Perez love the most. No detail has gone unnoticed here, especially the long and narrow enclosed patio that seats 20. Expect the great service, superb drinks, the best beer Maine has to offer and an array of delicious options for bar eats.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes