Portland and Biddeford tasting menus + more (review)

I’m starting this thread for the places I stopped at during my recent Maine trip. I ate extremely well, and did a ton of walking to not gain weight. I had been looking forward to trying several high end places. I also limited my alcohol consumption at most meals, and made this as close to a seafood-but-not-fried trip as possible. This is not necessarily in chronological order, and if the pictures are too large I may repost them in a smaller size later.

Twelve (Thames St, Portland). I had not been over to the streets where Twelve is located since the Wex buildings were completed, and it was surprising to see the completed construction in the area. I walked over from Franklin Street area via the walking path, and was right there at the building.

I walked into Twelve for a 745 reservation on Saturday and was seated at the chef’s counter. The person seated next to me was in from Michigan after dropping his son off at a sailing camp. He was eating his chocolate pudding and was clearly not only loving it but trying to get as much of it as possible on his spoon. When he cleared his plate, he said “You will love it here (Twelve), and you have to get the mushrooms.” I was going to get the monkfish in the $82 tasting menu, so I asked my server Andrew if it was possible to also have the mushroom dish in addition to the regular menu. He jokingly said something about knowing the right people, or something close to that.

Unfortunately, I did not take specific notes of what I had. The amuse bouche (pictured here) was a seafood flavor explosion in my mouth. My new friend laughed at the look on my face when I bit into it, and asked if I liked it. I said that it was amazing - I used that word a lot - and that I absolutely made the right decision to have an extra dish.

My first plate was a vegetable (zucchini?) dish. Again, loaded with flavors, and a light addition to the tasting menu.

Because I was seated at the counter, I got to watch the team up close. There was no screaming, no confusion, just dedication and careful work on making sure that each dish was prepared perfectly. Although the restaurant had only been open for two weeks and I think the staff came from many different restaurants, you would have assumed they had been open for two years.

The tomato tonnato similar to a small arepa, tomatoes that were seemingly packed with extra concentrated tomato flavor, and an orange/red egg. Again, flavors exploded in the mouth. Monkfish was melt in the mouth perfect, with a broth filled with trout roe, enabling multiple layers of fish taste to take over my palate. I was so happy they gave me a spoon with this so I could finish all the delicious broth. The menu undersells the number of ingredients that were being prepared with each dish.

That mushroom dish? A must-get not just for vegetarians, but for anyone. I don’t often get mushrooms by themselves, but had a feeling that they would be worth it here. I was right.

Although I didn’t get the steak, I watched as the chef salted the steak - cooked it almost all the way - took it out, checked temperature, then salted / butter? it a little more, and finished it to gorgeous perfection. I have no doubt based on the look it would taste amazing, and I think I overheard preparation temperature was in the high 120s, which would be medium rare. I believe from pictures his name was Cameron, who my research shows worked at high end establishments in Chicago and Boston, and he periodically checked on how the food was.

I do not like talking to chefs at a higher end restaurant when they are cooking - every moment spent talking to me is time that might be needed to monitor or prepare someone else’s dish. When I told my server how excellent the food was, he mentioned that to Cameron, who had gotten very busy again. He smiled, I told him I didn’t like talking while he was working, and he laughed and said how he’s prepared for this all his life. There truly was an enthusiasm behind the counter, and an enjoyment for the preparation of this food.

My final plate was an ice cream bar of blueberries and corn macaron, very filling and very delicious. I had non-alcoholic drinks here, both of which were perfect complements to a warm summer day.

I have no critique about Twelve - I absolutely loved it. I appreciated the simultaneous flavors working together, and it was obvious there was serious prep involved before the restaurant ever opened for the evening. However, I can definitely say it is NOT for someone who doesn’t appreciate those qualities in their dinner, or is looking for quantity as their main measuring stick for a meal.

After the meal was over, manager Danny (I’m guessing that he is the person who formerly worked at Per Se) came over to check how the meal was. And before that, Andrew surprised me when he said they had comped the mushroom dish! Thank you, friend from Michigan who recommended the dish. Thank you (Cameron? Danny? Chef Colin?) for comping me the dish. And thanks all at Twelve for a meal that will not soon be forgotten.

Mushroom

Outside Twelve

Tomato Tonnato

Amuse Bouche

Monkfish and Roe

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That looks and sounds fabulous

Absolutely wonderful review! I’ve been dying to go here but it doesn’t make sense when I’m with my whole family - my 16 yo could pull off the prix fixe but not the 10.5 year old.

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Wow. Thanks for this. Scheduled to visit in November!

Thank you for the kind comments. Max, you’ll love it. Sally, I agree with your assessment - plus the 10 year old definitely wouldn’t appreciate it. Although I don’t think I saw any teenagers, it was a Saturday night not too far from opening night.

Two other things about Twelve - they do keep a number of reservations for walk-ins (very smart), and they also offer a la carte items. Each of the items I had, except the amuse bouche, was available a la carte.

My other thought is that Twelve, along with Evo, use tasting menu as “items off our regular menu at a reduced price”. I am used to tasting menu meaning “Lots of real small things, some on our regular menu and some not”. That didn’t detract from my appreciation of either meal (spoiler alert, since I’ve got at least 2 more posts in this thread) just a clarification.

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My first tasting menu was at Elda’s in Biddeford. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any notes although I took lots of pictures, so hopefully I don’t get details of the food wrong. I got the tasting menu ($160) + non-alcoholic tasting menu ($45, I think). At this price point, I was surprised that they were in Biddeford rather than Portland, but with rising rents in Portland, this may have been the only option to have this kind of menu without having heavy table turnover. I think there was only one seating - I came in on a weeknight at 545, there were some people who came in at 530, but I saw more people arriving during the evening without using already-used tables.

I walked upstairs, was seated at the bar, given wet cloth to start, and then I believe four or five single bite dishes before being moved over into the dining area for the remainder of my dishes.

The food was magnificent, Asian influenced and heavy on seafood, which worked great for me. One of the tuna dishes was tuna collar in that sushi wrapper, and so many of the dishes had many, many more ingredients than included in the attached menu.

The squid and pork dish had some kind of chile sauce around it, and served on the plant as its eating utensil. Utensils were replaced after every dish, but some of them did not need a new utensil, or utilized something unique to act in the place of a fork, spoon or knife.

The scallops dish was one of many which was prepared to combine all the senses, as in the dish around the scallop were bay leaves, with some deliberately burned to create a smell sensation around the taste buds. The sugar snap peas was prepared in an edible tart, with roe on top.

A blackened beet dish was prepared as if it was a meat dish in terms of thickness and texture. This was paired with the barley non-alcoholic drink, and tasted unbelievably perfect together. I would never have individually ordered any of the drinks, but in this kitchen, with this meal, they were a beautiful match.

There was caviar on top of the clam dish, I believe, and the grilled hake dish had a pastry roll made with seaweed to soak up some of the sauce.

I’m a little hazy on details now, but believe the final dessert was chocolate rather than berry. At that point (after almost 3 hours), I was quite full, and the chef / owner Bowman delivered the final pastry dish, including two small bites and one piece to eat there, one to take away. Elda could easily go into one of the major cities - but then they would have to double the cost of the menu, or cut back some of the dishes. For someone looking for that amazingly special meal, Elda hits all the marks.

Attached: 2 menus, most dishes, all drinks.





















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I think I put that up wrong. How can I change that to be in a gallery like my first post? Thanks.

I can view it gallery mode. What a gorgeous meal. Biddeford has a lot going on, food-wise (Rabelais, Palace Diner, Rover Bagel, Elements Coffeeshop).

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Thank you @digga. I didn’t stop at any of the other places (Biddeford was my stop before I went on to Bar Harbor the following day), but I know the diner has received a ton of praise. I remember Rabelais when it was back in the building where Eventide (Portland) is now!

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Blyth & Burrows for drinks. Saturday evening, the place was completely packed so I didn’t go in. Sunday, it was a little less crowded, so I sat at the bar and checked out the cocktail menu. This wasn’t the normal cocktails - it reminded me of higher end cocktail establishments in New York City such as Please Don’t Tell or the now-closed Pegu Club. $14 for an incredible cocktail seemed cheap compared to those establishments. I had the Old Dog New Tricks (Fernet, Banana, Brown Sugar, Lime) and Big In Japan (Shochu, Cucumber, Umbeboshi, Fino, Lemon). They didn’t skimp on the alcohol, but it was not overpowering the other flavors. Perfectly mixed, plus the bartender (sorry, I forgot his name) was showing off, flipping the ice cube over the back and catching it in the mixing cup, and other similar things.

I met some absolutely wonderful people while I was there. One woman was from Iowa, she was there for her second night before heading to Kennebunkport with relatives, and I think she had champagne? I offered her some of the Old Dog and she liked it, but the fact that she returned after being there the night before showed how much she liked the place. One couple was from Asheville, and she got a drink called “Jewel Of The East”. The name derived from the ice cube in the drink - they start with a large square block of ice, put it in a contraption that shaves/cuts the ice, and out pops a large diamond. It is amazing to watch, and apparently the device to cut the ice is quite expensive. The reason I mention this is because the bar just seems to ooze friendliness and good times, both from the people who were there as well as the employees.


My final night of fantastic eating was at Evo. I’ve heard of it for several years, but have never been in the mood for the Mediterranean influence. I decided to get the pescaterian tasting menu. My neighbor next to me was several plates ahead in her tasting menu, and when I saw the quantity of food on her plate, knew I would have to pace myself.

They started me off with a feta / calabrian chili / dish and some of the most doughy pita I’ve ever had. I also had heirloom tomatoes (with corn, basil and other ingredients), and a carrot dish. I’m not a carrot fan (also see dessert) but the carrots were not only better than any carrots I’ve ever eaten, but an outstanding dish on its own merits. I forget how they were cooked, but it seemed better than sous-vide. There also may have been one other vegetable dish.

After that was chickpea fries dish - I’ve had good chickpea fries before, and these were over the top amazing. I took my chickpea fries to go (they were outstanding two days later!) and passed on the falafel because I was worried I wouldn’t be able to finish my later fish dishes.

They brought out an octopus dish - perfectly cooked, not rubbery at all - this perfectly delicious salmon dish, and a cod dish that is now the benchmark for all future cod I eat, and some tuna that I can’t find more adjectives for. I got lazy in taking pictures and just enjoyed another fantastic meal.

Chef Matt came over at the end to serve me the desserts, the first being a small sorbet dish, and carrot cake that just melted in my mouth. Again, I don’t like carrots, and I loved this impressive dessert. What better recommendation can I make about Evo overall than “This chef takes food I already like and cooks it perfectly, and takes food I don’t enjoy eating and makes me love that as well”?

I didn’t catch my server’s name, but one of the people who checked on me was CIA (Culinary Institute) grad Nick, I believe he was the manager. He filled me on the preparation of some of the dishes and was delightful to talk with.

If you are going to Evo and having the tasting menu, do not eat anything for hours before! I was seated next to a woman from Texas who had been in many countries and fine restaurants around the world. She was completely stuffed from the amount of food in her tasting menu, raved about the food and only wished she had more room in her stomach to finish all of the dishes. She said the meat dish she had (I think it was steak, although I did not see that on the menu) was some of the best she had ever had. Although all of the food from the tasting menu was on the regular menu, the portions seemed to be about 1/2 - 2/3 the size the regular portions would be.




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@bob_g - Are you a professional writer? Your reviews are better than most restaurant reviews I’ve read in major papers. Thank you so much for sharing!

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Yum, thank you for posting. Headed that way in late September will add to my list.

Oh my and I thought your Twelve post was amazing! If I have to choose one I’m leaning toward Evo…

@sallyt Thank you for the kind words. No, I am not a professional writer, although I used to do some (non-food) writing on the side. When I would write some reviews, I would try to put myself in the eyes of a reader - what are they (or me) looking for? What stood out? Does it fit what or how I am looking to eat that day? I hoped that the reader could get enough information to decide if it fit what they wanted.

It’s also much easier to write about something when it is quite good or unique.

@sciaccagirl I think you should probably be able to get into either place because there will be less tourists there during that time. Twelve also keeps some number of seats available for walk-ins. You won’t go wrong with either restaurant, but you may be able to check for current menus closer to September.

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Thank you, bob-g! Looking forward to my Maine visit.

bob_g, you are DA MAN! Are you saving Leeward for your next trip? And any reviews of more downscale places? We can’t eat like this every night!

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@BobfromRIinVA,
Thanks for the kind words! Oh, I can’t eat like that every night. I have no idea how reviewers do it!

When I’ve gone up to Portland or other areas in Maine solo, I’m generally looking for things that are more unique to that area + willing to spend more than I usually would, since I’m on vacation. So certain kinds of food that are more commonly available in my area such as Italian (Leeward), BBQ (Terlingua), Chinese, Mexican I am avoiding. I also do a lot of walking, drinking water, etc.

Also, I’m usually in the Old Port area when I’m in Portland, so my eatings have trended towards that area.

I have posted other Portland area places before such as Chaval, Little Giant, Scales

Scales has rightly received a lot of praise, but I can’t rave enough about Chaval. I wanted to go back my last time there, but didn’t have enough time. Some Little Giant people are now at Regards (on Congress St.)

I’ve also posted here about a lot of places in the area:

There is an article about Erica’s in a recent Press Herald:

I’ve been to Erica’s twice, and the people who work there were very nice and accomodating. Although it was busy, it wasn’t jam packed like many of the other lobster pounds. I completely understand why locals would only come here to get the lobster and bring it home to cook, rather than eating here.

Other notes about past trips to Portland:

I’m spoiled by New York area bagels, so the ones at Forage and Scratch didn’t blow me away.

I’m also not knocked out by Holy Donut. I had a couple donuts at the place on Congress Street on the west side of 295 (Tony’s?) and was happy with those.

I’ve had Beal’s ice cream, which is fine, but I never get anything else there besides Gorgeous Gelato. The only better gelato I’ve had was in Italy. I have no idea how their Boston outpost is.

I did get a quick scallop roll at Pai Men Miyake, which was incredible - broiled, I think, on top of the roll, and practically melted in my mouth. I also had the lobster buns, both of which were done well - very doughy bun, properly cooked lobster - but together, it didn’t knock me over. However, I would try anything at either Miyake restaurant.

More thoughts in a bit.

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Other things from past times to Portland.

Hugo’s is still closed. I found it to be better before the change in ownership, although I think Eventide is amazing. I stopped in there and had two specials, one crudo and one some other seafood, both were great as always. Everyone raves about the brown butter lobster rolls, but I think their small seafood dishes are just as outstanding.

When I’m eating at a ‘higher end’ place, I prefer not having to wear a suit, I don’t need 24 fancy pieces of silverware, or the staff to be dressed in the fanciest clothes. I like flavorful food, staff with personalities, and a non-stuffy environment. I’d prefer my money go to staff than chandeliers. But then again, I’m not ordering expensive bottles of wine, or getting the caviar supplements. One of my favorite places to eat was Momofuku Ssam in the village in NYC, where you could pop in and get one or two really flavorful dishes and everything was a team effort. I know about some of the problems behind the scenes…but from a customer’s view, I absolutely loved that place. (It’s now at South Street Seaport).

I’ve stopped in Boda before for a quick bite, and loved their Miang Kham appetizer. It has peanut, shrimp, coconut, lime and other things wrapped in a leaf, I think they gave 8 with an order.

I haven’t been to Street & Co for years, but remember it being below what Fore Street (and now Scales) are. However, if Portland wasn’t such an amazing restaurant town, this would be one of the top places to eat.

Some people who I was talking to had eaten at Isa’s and highly recommended it also.

Before I found out about Erica’s in Harpswell, I would stop at Portland Lobster Co. and get a whole lobster there out on the docks. If you have a car, going to Bite Into Maine or Two Lights at Cape Elizabeth can also give good food with breathtaking views.

Vena’s Fizz will be reopening soon on Congress Street! Originally a non-alcoholic drink shop, they were making mocktails before it became a trend.

I always stop in the Juicery on Moulton St and grab a smoothie when I’m leaving town for the ride. And there are always whoopie pies coming home from Two Fat Cats. Best anywhere.

That’s it for now! O until I get back up there again…

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The bagels at Mr Bagel are good (at the downtown Congress St. loc.) but my thing is a bialy and theirs are good.

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So glad to hear this! I have such fond memories of being pregnant and getting drinks here, then bringing my resulting toddlers up to the bar in subsequent years.

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