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106 High Street

Four and 1/2 plates  
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Katadin Reviewed: Spring, 2004

I had heard many great things about Katahdin, and seen it many times driving through the West End, but was never all that tempted to go there for a meal. Perhaps it is the restaurant's extremely casual appearance from the street, or the fact that they do not take reservations thus never being able to guarantee us a table. Nonetheless, after hearing so many people rave of the food we decided to wing it, call ahead for the vegetarian specials of the evening and drop in to see if they could seat a party of six. Fortunately, they were not all that incredibly busy and were able to take us. We had a delicious meal in a great atmosphere served by the most entertaining waiter we've found in Portland.

We only had to linger by the front door for a couple of minutes while the host adjoined two window-side tables in a nicely secluded corner of the space. The wall being lined with a soft bench all around, only two of us sat in the slightly awkward wooden folding chairs used throughout most of the restaurant. The tables were painted a blue and purple swirl of colors and cloth napkins of various pastel prints were neatly folded at each place. The decor is very interesting and could easily keep one entertained throughout an entire meal. In our particular corner the brick walls were hidden behind a collage of wood. Each unique piece, including some conspicuous carved legs, looked as if they had originally been part of a table and perhaps some chairs. The ceiling is painted a menagerie of greys and blues with misty white clouds here and there. Several figurines and statuettes are strategically placed on shelves around the room and a wide array of art pieces hangs on the walls.

Our host filled our water glasses and left us to peruse the menu, food on the front, beverages on the back, and wait for our server. He arrived with a bang, energetically handing us a few copies of the one-page specials menu for the evening and taking our drink order. Each time he visited our table he shared amusing anecdotes and entertaining comments that kept us smiling, laughing and set an overall good feeling for the entire meal. The first to order requested a gin and tonic to which our waiter quickly responded with a substantial list of the various gins to choose from. We proceeded around the table ordering a Meyer's and ginger, an Atlantic Blueberry Ale ($4), and a bottle of Liberty School (Napa Valley) 1998 Cabernet Savignon ($30). The only other beer offered on tap was Atlantic Brewing Cole Porter ($4). Many other beers, both domestic and imported are offered by the bottle and there is quite a large selection of wines available by both the bottle and glass.

When our waiter returned with our beverages we commented on the unique decorations adorning the restaurant, particularly the painted wooden duck sitting on the shelf behind our table. We probably never would have noticed it otherwise, but our waiter proceeded to pick up and show us the wonderfully intriguing plastic musical bird sculpture sharing the shelf space. He lightly warned us we were not allowed to press the buttons for if we did, we and the rest of the patrons dining in the restaurant might be privy to hearing some loud chirping sounds and some "popular tunes" sung by the plastic cardinals a la Billy the Bass. Not being able to resist, as soon as he left we had to test them out. Pushing the button resulted in loud chirping sounds, as promised, but the birds moved their heads around too, like the Tiki Room in the Magic Kingdom. He forgot to tell us that. We had to hide the birds under some jackets for the minute or so until they stopped singing as to avoid annoying other diners, and we carefully replaced them on the shelf.

After entertaining ourselves with the decorations, we decided it was probably time to choose what to have for dinner. The regular menu lists the soup of the day, which happened to be Lentil and Carrot ($2.50 cup $3.00 bowl) and an Atlantic Fish Chowder ($3 cup $4 bowl). Several appetizers are followed by a list of salads and entrees. Each evening they offer a Blue Plate Special ($13) which comes with a cup of the soup of the day, a small mesclun green salad, buttermilk biscuits and garlic mashed yukon gold potatoes. This evening's Blue Plate won my heart right away, Grilled Blackened Chicken Breast with Apple Pear Chutney and the tempting potatoes. Everyone else ordered appetizers and entrees and our waiter served us a basket of freshly baked, warm buttermilk biscuits with a side of butter.

It was not long before out delicious appetizers arrived. I was a little wary of the Lentil and Carrot soup not being a very big fan of either of the two major ingredients, but it was an excellent start to my meal. The soup, a thin puree of carrots and lentils, was filled with just the right amount of the soft legumes. I savored each smooth sip and even dealt spoonfuls out to others at the table to enjoy for themselves as well. My small simple salad was served alongside my soup for me to enjoy simultaneously. One of the specials on this particular day happened to be a mixed green salad topped with thin slices of pear and goat's milk gouda which was immensely enjoyed by a few in our party. All three are stilling raving about the creamy gouda and on an endless search to locate the unique cheese somewhere in Portland. Our vegetarian diner ordered the Baked Goat Cheese with Tomato, Kalamata Olives, and Eggplant served with Warm Rosemary Foccacia and delighted in the entire dish from spreading the warm cheese on the freshly baked foccacia to topping it with the salty olives, juicy tomato and soft eggplant to the wonderful meld of flavors created with each bite.

My dinner was absolutely wonderful, a pleasure to eat from start to finish. The mashed potatoes were delightfully fluffy and full of rich flavor complimenting the sweet chutney and moist tender boneless chicken perfectly. In fact, each and every one of us that night found our meals to be flawless. Two others sampled a special for the evening, Pan-Seared Pistachio Crusted Mahi-Mahi, Tomato Orange Pico de Gallo and Basmati Rice ($18) while another tried the Grilled Maple Glazed Duck Breast with an Orange Citrus Reduction ($18). The vegetarian special for the evening consisted of rolled eggplant filled with a vegetable ragout. Although the vegetarian entrée choices are slightly limited, our diner did enjoy his dish and would return to Katahdin in a heartbeat to have the same dish again. They did offer to make their Angel Hair Pasta with Shrimp, Garlic, White Wine, Tomatoes, Basil and Reggiano Parmesan ($16) without the shrimp but the eggplant sounded more intriguing to our friend for this particular meal. Other tempting entrée items to which I am particularly looking forward include the Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Rosemary Apple Cider Reduction and the Roast Rack of New Zealand Lamb with a Port Wine Dijon Demi, both of which appear on the regular menu which is consistently offered all the time along with varying daily specials.

wheelchair accessible
vegetarian selections
vegan selections  
most credit cards accepted
Although the desserts were very tempting, none of us had room left after our delicious filling dinners to sample the likes of the Warm Apple Cranberry Crisp with Cinnamon Ice Cream ($4), the scrumptious sounding Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie with Fresh Whipped Cream ($4) or the Orange Cider Crème Caramel ($4).

Overall our meals were excellent and our service very pleasant. We definitely have plans to return to Katahdin again and I highly recommend the eclectic experience to those who enjoy New American cuisine and a relaxed atmosphere with a unique décor. And if you happen to become a major fan of Katahdin, you can even order a t-shirt off the menu bearing the restaurant's logo ($15 short sleeve $20 long sleeve)!  back to the top


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

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