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Four Stars For Kushiya Benkay; Gather 'Already Familiar'

Smelts, pork belly and other grilled delicacies on sticks are the specialty at Kushiya Benkay, which got a four-star review from Shonna Milliken Humphrey in Sunday's Portland Press Herald. She notes the renovations that turned a "run-down and dive-tastic" location into "a modern, elegant and intimate dining space" and bypassing the sushi menu, goes straight for the skewers.

I encourage diners to step out of the comfort zone with shisamo (smelt) or uzura (quail egg). ... Where else in Maine can you order smelt on a stick? At the very least, try the Berkshire pork belly, because the combination of pork belly substance and skewer delivery unites the best aspects of thick rich-tasting bacon with the ease of grease-free fingertips.

Amy Anderson visits Gather in Yarmouth for Maine Magazine's Eat Maine blog, finding that the just-barely-one-month-old restaurant "already feels cozy, lived-in, and familiar." She has good things to say about everything she orders from chef Chad Conley's menu: corn and crab fritters; beets and goat cheese salad; chicken dumpling soup with "perfectly seasoned" broth; a veggie burger made with nutritional yeast that has a "roasted, hearty flavor" and for dessert, a brownie that "transports her back to her childhood."

There's nothing pretentious about the ambiance, the food, or the service. Kate, our server, is friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive. She talks about the evening's specials, menu selection, and beverages with ease. I can tell she understands and enjoys the food.

New Jersey transplant Ralph Champa, his mother Susan and partner Mike Switzer have turned a former coffee shop in Brooks into a quirky restaurant with surprises on the menu and on the walls. Champa has festooned Ralph's Cafe with collectibles that "make it almost as fun to look around the place as it is to eat," writes Emily Burnham for the Bangor Daily News. In addition to comfort foods like meatloaf and biscuits with sausage gravy, he has gradually introduced his customers to the food he likes to make.

Stop in for Friday or Saturday night dinner, and you could be eating Moroccan lamb, or an Indian curry, or anything else that Champa feels like putting together.
While the atmosphere is minimal, "a bit too bright," it's the "fresh, light food" that matters for Kate McCarty of The Blueberry Files in her review of Saigon in Portland. The highlight of the meal is the server helping them to fix their food, particularly the pho ordered by McCarty's companions.
She grandly named each ingredient as she tore it into pieces ... and added it to their soup. ... We were momentarily bewildered, trying to hold in our laughs, but then I thought it was pretty great that she dove in and fixed our food for us. I guess she wanted to make sure we had the dish as it was intended to be served.


· Slinging Sushi, Skewers, With Equal Skill [PPH]
· Gather, Yarmouth [Eat Maine blog]
· Ralph's Cafe A Mix Of Classic Maine Fare And Worldwide Cuisine [BDN]
· Saigon Restaurant Review [TBF]

[Photo: Kushiya Benkay/Urbanspoon]

Gather

189 Main Street, , ME 04096 (207) 847-3250 Visit Website

Kushiya Benkay

653 Congress St. Portland ME