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Three Portland Standouts: Eventide, Spread, Carmen

Photo: Ted Axelrod

The old adage that "R" months (in other words, not May-August) are the only time to eat oysters leads Shonna Milliken Humphrey's four-and-a-half star review of Eventide in The Portland Press Herald. She points out that while the rule "is based on the historical lack of refrigeration," oysters spawn in the warmer months, "making them watery and less flavorful." (With today's farmed oysters, even that is much less of an issue, since the process is largely controlled.) Nevertheless, she concludes:

Now is the perfect time to consume oysters, because Portland's Eventide Oyster Co. offers a perfect oyster bar experience. Clean, abundant, carefully prepared, attention to decor, knowledgeable staff -- these were the notes I scribbled between bites.

Humphrey has good things to say about the Dodge Cove oysters, "restrained in salinity, midrange of body, and with a subtle citrus finish" a plate of house-cured charcuterie and a New England clambake, presented in "a bamboo steamer reminiscent of late-1970s infomercials." She also praises the decor and "an atmosphere that found a balance between urban hipster and just hip." Searching for flaws, she finds only the limited seating.

It could be a bummer, as the room space is small and there are just two picnic tables. That said, a ring of bar stools circles the interior, and patrons can choose a window seat or a view of the bar.

In his reviews for The Portland Phoenix, Brian Duff almost always begins by weaving in some sort of unusual metaphor. To launch his assessment of Spread, and the fact that it is located in a space where other restaurants have fairly rapidly failed, he introduces a series of "hopeful strivers" who seek to redeem what seems doomed.

The Capitol building in Washington DC is one of these (see striver King, Angus), as is southern Europe (see Merkel, Angela), and the left wing in American politics (see Occupy Wall Street).
He concludes that "there is nothing really wrong with the space," which "seems cavernous, though it's really not," and he enjoys the food, if not entirely embracing the concept.
"Spread" is one of those funny words, like "relax," that you don't want to hear in most circumstances. The first section of the menu is itself labeled "spread" and gives you a sense of what they are driving at — creamy dishes you can eat smeared over toast.
These include a mushroom ragout and smoked squash; he also likes a bitter greens salad with duckfat vinaigrette, German style sausage served with spaetzle and chard and a "well-executed" seared duck breast. "While dinner at Spread is not bad at all, the experience doesn't quite dispel the space's strange aura ... it could flourish nonetheless."

In the October issue of DownEast, John Golden reviews Carmen at The Danforth for a second time (his first was in June for his blog on the magazine's website, The Golden Dish, which has been discontinued). Four months later, the raves continue for the "thoroughly captivating dining venue" offering "a splendid meal whereupon all of the pleasures of dining well conspire toward perfection." Golden devotes much of the write up to the space, "three intimate dining rooms that form the nucleus of a culinary ambiance matched by few other restaurants in the city." That the food is as superlative seems to be a given; other than desserts that "should not be missed," he mentions just two dishes: "hake with boniato mash ... powerfully intense, yet so sublime" and a duck breast that "displays the savoir-faire of classical French cooking but cloaked in the luminous flavors of Latin cookery."

· At Eventide Oyster Co., Hugo's Team Sets The Bar High [PPH]
· Spread 'Em: A New Restaurant Celebrates Smooth Tastes [PP]
· Carmen at The Danforth [DE]

Eventide Oyster Co.

86 Middle Street, , ME 04101 (207) 774-8538 Visit Website