Generally the food at Eventide is flawless but on this occasion I wasn’t so thrilled with my choice of dishes.
About the only dishes you can’t get on Middle Street’s unrelenting restaurant row is bone-marrow broth or umami burgers. But, wait, the season is young and the new East Ender, which will open by March 9, is aglow with possibilities. Go to their Facebook page and take a look at the dazzling photo album of dishes. Until they open, it leaves a parade of the now-predictable goings on at such dining stalwarts as Hugo’s, Eventide and Duckfat strutting their stuff; last in the row sitting like a goiter on the corner is Ribollita, who still fills its thimble-size restaurant nightly, dishing out ersatz Northern Italian fare. Still, I could have thrown darts and landed happily at any restaurant along the strip, but my target was Eventide, where I had an uncharacteristically so-so dinner the other night.
In a few months this legendary atelier of oysters and seafood will be packed wall to wall again, but at this time of year, under sub-zero skies, it’s less frenetic. They’ve also expanded slightly with a new if not ungainly dining room next door, a rather cave-like space with a picnic table to seat 10 and a counter and stools along the windows. Management is all about understatement and they’ve achieve it in spades.
Yet, the lighting is glaring, harsh and woefully stark. And the room feels like Siberia away from the action at the oyster bar. But who am I to criticize the trio of foodie genies who run this indefatigable establishment?
It didn’t take a stroke of genius to order a plate of oysters to start my dinner. There were only a few local ones available since all the frozen waterways make it difficult to dig up our best specimens. But Brooksville (Bagaduce) and Damariscotta (Wiley Point) were excellent – served perfectly: nice and chilly (so many restaurants serve their oysters too warm), briny and very slurp-off-the-shell good.
There are certain dishes for which Eventide is known, but I wanted to try some different items from the menu as well as a few that I’ve enjoyed immensely in the past. I settled on the fluke ceviche after the oyster course. The fish was so chilled and fresh I could have eaten mounds more if not for it being so deliriously dull. It was supposed to be served with pickled red onions, which would have added some zip, but those were MIA because the preparer forgot to put some on the plate. The sunchoke chips, however, added some interest as did little pools of pique (chili oil).
The couple next to me, who had just downed their third perfectly crafted martini, were digging into a falafel roll, which looked yummy, but I settled for a basket of buttermilk biscuits served with creamy butter topped with sprinkles of bacon confetti. These are the best morsels of bread in all of New England. Wow were these good: hot, flaky, buttery, milky biscuit perfection.
For a main course I’ve had on past visits wonderful renditions of steamed or poached fish like fluke and other white fish but none of these were on the menu that night. Foraging for dinner specials turned up cioppino, duck confit over gnocchi, roasted main scallops with cous cous and pork and beans, which held meatballs, cabbage and beans. I wasn’t in the mood for any of these.
I asked my server about the crispy shredded pork listed under hot dishes. She said it was one of the best preps on the menu.
Unfortunately it wasn’t that night. A heap of shredded fried pork mounded on one of the restaurant’s stunning plates was as dry as the proverbial sawdust pile, barely moistened with a masa crumble and buttermilk cheese.
Sometimes it’s best to stick to the basics, which at Eventide can be sublime. And only rarely do mishaps occur. The lobster roll is legion (one of Martha Stewart’s favorites) as are the battered Casco bay hake, fried oysters and any of the cold salads like roast beets or octopus.
A dull dinner for me can be saved by having a sensational dessert, and one of the offerings that sounded promising was a frozen banana custard pie. Out came a slice looking like Boston cream, with its chocolate glaze topping the soft-freeze custard.
It was too sticky sweet, even for my otherwise insatiable sweet tooth, and I found some solace in savoring the last drops of an excellent Cotes de Gascogne, a wonderfully fruity and crisp white wine.
86 Middle St, Portland | 207-774-8538 | www.eventideoysterco.com