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Fore Street
288 Fore Street

Five Plates!  
Fore Street Reviewed: Winter, 2004

Many times I have been walking around in the Old Port to be approached by groups of people or couples all spiffed up looking for directions to Fore Street. I wasn't able to help them then because I too was unaware of exactly where this infamous restaurant resided along the street by which it yields its name. As we found the other night, the subtly marked restaurant, situated above Standard Baking Company, is as far down Fore Street, on the water side, as you can go before hitting the Franklin Artery. A wonderful location, slightly removed from all the hustle and bustle of the Old Port, and a remarkable restaurant after which I now completely understand why it is so sought by the Portland masses.

Although reservations are not required, they are highly recommended. The extreme popularity of the restaurant subscribes to a several day waiting list, especially for the weekends. We called three days in advanced for our Sunday evening reservation only to be offered one of two lingering available time slots. This however is but one of the wonderful attributes of Fore Street. As a result of the infrequent reservation slots, each party is allowed a great length of time to enjoy their dining experience. There is no toe tapping or ousting glances from wait staff hurrying you along so they might increase turnover and fill the next group of waiting hungry diners. At Fore Street they want you to relax, indulge in their provisions and leave only when you are completely content.

As we often find is the case, especially with Portland's finer restaurants, I was expecting a tiny, close space but on the contrary, Fore Street is housed in a huge old warehouse space. Despite the vast high-ceilinged room, the atmosphere is still unbelievable intimate. Candles and small white Christmas lights provide the only twinkling lighting in the dark room. Copper top tables are spaced out just perfectly so you hardly notice your dining neighbors. The walls are nearly completely filled by the huge windows looking out towards the water. On one side of the room, about fifteen staff members clad in chef-white uniforms casually prepare the gourmet menagerie for the evening. Amazingly, they seem to be utterly laid back and extremely organized as they scurry quietly about between the food prep tables and huge open wood fired oven.

We arrived to be greeted by name by a very warm professional hostess who waited while we hung our outerwear in the coatroom just to the right of the door. A quick glance into the bar area to the left yielded a good sized room, dark and intimate as the rest of the restaurant, a few tables at which to dine and several comfy looking bar stools. To the right after the coat rack we could gaze through a large glass panel into a refrigerated room, walls awash in warm tones of yellow and orange, cooling the essential fresh herbs and vegetables housed in aged wooden crates that were soon to be melded into edible delicacies. There is a rumor abound that in the past, the head chef of Fore Street has been known to grow his very own herbs and vegetables, wanting only the absolute finest quality for his creations. We all wondered if that was perhaps what we were viewing in the display case before us. Our hostess showed us to our window side table and left us with menus, our already placed utensil bundles and water glasses waiting to be filled by a soon to arrive wait person.

As we waited, we read through the wine menu and determined our beverages for the evening. The boys chose to split a bottle of Kenwood, Yalupa Cabernet Savignon ($27) while another in our party was in the mood for a Whiskey Sour and I selected from the list of draught beers, which included Pilsner Urquell, Bass, Sam Adams Winter among others, an Allaghash White (all $3.50). The extensive wine list had many varieties ranging in price from $18 to $140 for a bottle of fine champagne. Our friendly but slightly flighty waitress brought us three small blue clay pots, one filled with black pepper, one with chunky sea salt, and the other with a scoop of fresh soft butter when she arrived to greet us and collect our drink orders. She never read us any specials or offered to explain the various side dishes for the evening but she did ask several times whether or not we had any questions regarding the menu. So we asked. We found out that the sides for the evening were various root vegetables, whatever happened to be available at the time your order was placed, along with mashed potatoes. We also learned that Marinated Florida Cobia Filet ($23.95) was a type of fish similar to swordfish. Everything else was pretty self-explanatory.

The extremely tempting menu, listing the daily selections, elegantly printed on off-white paper, took a good deal of mulling over before decisions were made around the table. There was no question as to whether or not we were going to order just entrees or splurge and go for the appetizers as well. There was just no way we could pass up the likes of the Panzanella with Roasted Red Pepper and Fresh Mozzarella, spinach leaves, rich olive oil, aged balsamic ($7.95) or the Gratin of 'Slacked' Salmon, with leeks, white wine and crème fraiche ($7.95). By the time our waitress returned I still had not decided what to have so I requested to order last. Although the Pizza with Oyster mushrooms, peppers and pecorino ($7.95) teased my taste buds, as well as the White Carrot Bisque ($6.95) I could not go the evening without the Filet Bean, Potato, and Mixed Olive Salad with fingerling potatoes, country bacon, and thyme vinaigrette ($7.95). Others in our party ordered the Fore Street Winter Salad, cool weather greens, roasted walnuts, shaved pecorino, and truffle oil vinaigrette ($7.95) and the Baby Spinach Salad, red onions, smoky bacon, and balsamic vinaigrette ($6.95) to begin our culinary journey at this fine establishment.

We conversed for a short time, sipping our wine, refreshing Belgian white beer from the tall straight glass in which it was served, and notably delicious whiskey sour when our waitress brought a wire basket cradling five slices of focaccia type bread in a brown paper funnel. No sooner had each of us retrieved our slice of choice and covered it in the soft butter when our salads arrived. Each salad was served on a simple white plate. The servings were small, but perfect, as the unique blends of ingredients were astounding, but definitely not something you would ever want to indulge in great quantity. My gracefully presented Filet Bean salad was composed of a few slices of small red potatoes topped with a modest bunch of crisp whole green beans and two types of olives, both black and green, scattered atop. Just a tiny bit of the thyme vinaigrette sufficed, being mostly absorbed into the potatoes to give them a great sour flavor. The assemblage of vegetables was surrounded by a ring of savory bacon cubes along the edge of the plate. Not only was this an exquisite piece of culinary art, but it was fun to eat as well. I enjoyed combining a slice of potato and a bit of bacon for one hearty bite, then a single delicate bean for the next, and a giant olive followed by another bit of the salty bacon for the next until the salad was no more. The truffle oil vinaigrette on the Fore Street Winter Salad was by far the best tasting vinaigrette I have ever sampled. All four of us agreed that these were some of the best prelude salads we had ever been served. It was obvious that the chef(s) put great pride and care into each individual plate.

We hardly had to wait long before our entrees were ready and sitting before us. I had ordered the Hanger Steak ($16.95), cooked medium, which was served with a side of mashed potatoes, some interesting root vegetables, and a few florets of steamed broccoli. The presentation, although not as artful as the salads, was still classic, served on white dinner plates with a dash of herb garnish around the edges. The portions were much larger, and as I felt regarding my steak, a little too much. Where as with the salad I was left with a feeling of wanting more but with a delightful memory of what once was, it was the opposite for my dinner. My steak started out so absolutely amazing, cooked just as I imagined, soft yet slightly tenacious at the same time. But as fine as hanger steak can be, considered a delicacy by some, you can't have too much at once. The mashed potatoes, being one of my all-time favorite foods, were delicious, rich and creamy, full of flavor, and browned with a delightful crispy outer edge. The broccoli was a perfect light crunchy addition to the steak and potatoes and the winter vegetables were okay, definitely different. My husband ordered the only vegetarian entree, Rigatoni, Shitakes, Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce and Mixed Cheese ($12.95). This was served in a giant platter bowl, another fairly generous portion. Although it was not rigatoni but farfalle that he received, it was pasta nonetheless. The sauce was very good, not as rich as we had envisioned but flavorful. The dish was garnished with a halo of green herbs along the bowl's edge. Another in our party tried the Cobia Filet, noting that it was indeed similar to swordfish as our waitress had explained, and an excellent choice. She was served a generous sized wedge of the fish along with the same sides as my steak was accompanied, remarking as I had on the wonderful fluffy potatoes, fresh broccoli and rather odd root vegetables. The last in our party, of course, sampled the Two Texture Duckling ($21.95) one of which was served on the bone, the other in tender boneless form. This portion was immense as well, a bountiful mound of duck pieces surrounded by the familiar browned potatoes, broccoli and turnip type sides. With exception to a few slices of my steak, none of us had any problem polishing off every bit of our delicious entrees.

I had earlier witnessed a table near ours being served dessert and from that moment on was planning to indulge myself as I could hardly believe the tempting display I was observing. Our waitress brought us the dessert menu for the evening. It was as large and extensive as the dinner menu, full of some of the most delicious sounding desserts, making it very difficult to decide on how best to end this gourmet meal. I was bouncing between the very inviting Warm Chocolate Souffle Cake with Venezuelan Chocolate, Gianduja Sauce, Hazelnut Tuile and Vanilla Ice Cream ($7.00), and Fore Street's Hand-Made Chocolates, which serves two or more and is available for take-out if you'd rather ($8.00) including Hazelnut Chocolate Cups, Cashew Bark, Dark Chocolate Amaretto Bonbons, Raspberry Chocolate Truffles and White Chocolate Coconut Truffles, but I reluctantly opted against the chocolate route for the more refreshing sounding Warm Apple Tart Tatin with Caramel Sauce and Cinnamon Ice Cream ($6.50). This turned out to be the perfect choice, although I would have been with any of these desserts, I was beyond pleased with my apple tart. Keeping with the trend, the desserts were all served on pure white plates garnished along the edges with a ring of sauce. My Tatin consisted of a whole baked green apple atop a buoyant flaky crust topped with a small dab of rapidly melting home-made cinnamon ice cream and surrounded by rich caramel sauce. It was wonderful. The ice cream was delicious, very mild, and the caramel was thick and creamy complementing the tender apple and buttery crust just right. Another in the party chose the White and Dark Chocolate Mousse Torte with Chantilly Cream ($7.00), which turned out to be two rounds of pure very rich chocolate stacked upon one another and topped with the fresh slightly whipped cream. My husband tried the Cranberry Walnut Pie with Organic Whole Wheat Crust, Warm Maple Cranberry Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream ($6.50) served as an individual sized tart stuffed with fresh berries and surrounded by a moat of the syrupy sauce. The last went for the most gourmet of all the desserts on the menu for the evening, and a restaurant specialty, Fore Street's Cheese Plate ($5.00). This included one small sample of York Hill Farm Capriano Maine's Finest Artisan Cheese, Aged Firm Goat's Milk Cheese from New Sharon, a tiny bit of Major Farm Timson Semi-Soft Natural Rind Cow's Milk Cheese from Putney, Vermont, and a minute portion of Major Farm Mountain Shepherd Aged, Firm, Farmstead Ewe's Milk Cheese from Putney, Vermont, served with two Medjool Dates, and a small Almond Tart. The six items were elegantly placed on the plate in perfect artistic arrangement and, as were all of our desserts, was a delightful ending to the evening at Fore Street.

wheelchair accessible
vegetarian selections
vegan selections  
most credit cards accepted
I was ecstatic to discover that Fore Street deserves all the local acclaim it receives. It definitely rates among Portland's elite in my view and I highly recommend it to any who have yet to chance upon the revered experience. As with many of Portland's restaurants, both menus vary daily so each visit to Fore Street will be an entirely new endeavor to savor.  back to the top

Tracy B. Wheeler is a classical flutist and freelance writer who lives in Portland.














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