It's been a few months since the announcement of Suzie St. Pierre's plans for the basement of the New World Kitchens building at 79 Portland Street. At the time, details were scant; she didn't even have a name for the casual bistro. Shortly thereafter, Portland Food Map caught wind of her liquor license application, which had the name Isa attached to a sample menu suggesting apps like taquitos and braised rabbit, mains like lemon pappardelle and seared monkfish, and a handful of sandwiches and salads. There has also been a trickle of updates on the company's Facebook page.
St. Pierre reached out to say that she and her husband (and Isa's chef) Isaul Perez hope to open by the end of February, "fingers crossed!" She summarized the restaurant concept briefly:
Isa is a cozy neighborhood bistro (40 seats) serving an eclectic yet seasonally driven menu. The dishes are influenced by the places we've been and the things we love. My husband and I met working together in NYC 5 years ago, but I have lived in Maine off and on for 15 years. With 27 years of experience between the both of us, we returned home to open the place we have talked about for years.
Via email, she shared some new construction photos and answered follow-up questions, including what her inspirations are and how she feels about opening a restaurant in the Bayside neighborhood.
What are some details of your background in restaurants that will serve you in this endeavor?
I've been working in the business for almost twenty years, most of which was in Maine with stops at Earth for Ken Oringer and Five Fifty-Five for Steve and Michelle Corry. I also spent some time at Central Michel Richard in D.C. and a few years managing both Frankie's Sputino on Clinton St. and Back Forty West in Manhattan. While I learned so much about customer service in Maine, I learned a ton in New York about food, wine and the business end of restaurants.
My husband and Isa's chef, Isaul Perez, has a rich family history of Latin American influenced cooking but spent his entire professional career in New York City French and Italian restaurants. We think both our Maine and away experience will balance to help us create a fun, unique and cozy city experience.
Will you be serving breakfast/lunch/dinner?
We'll be serving lunch and dinner six days a week with a small brunch menu on the weekends.
What are the places and things you love that you hope to incorporate into your restaurant?
We love food, wine, the charm of Maine, the energy of cities, twists on traditional food, good people and each other. Isaul and I met working together at Frankie's and we love the New York restaurant vibe. I think most of our nights off together were spent trying a new restaurant and ordering half the menu.
We've tried to incorporate a sense of that love with mosaic tile floors and subway tiles. The space also had a tin ceiling and we uncovered the old wainscoting during demolition, both of which we salvaged to keep the character and charm of the original Portland interior architecture. We also love French, Italian and Spanish food and plan to incorporate that all into a small metropolitan bistro with local Maine ingredients and that old world influence.
What makes you eager to open it in Portland, which is packed with places to eat?
We love Maine and we love Portland and we're encouraged by the city's passion for good food. Every city has competition and, of course, Portland doesn't lack it. But the residents and visitors support this industry better than almost any other city in the nation, which makes us think there's always room for another good restaurant with a different experience to offer.
How do you feel about being in the Bayside neighborhood?
We're excited to be in the Bayside neighborhood and feel like we're surrounded by some very popular establishments such as Back Bay Grill, Bintliff's, Bubba's, and Bayside Bowl is not far. That's good for us. We also like the area and the fact it's three blocks from Congress: a bit quieter from the city's main artery, and a short destination stroll, but it's like all the places here are little gems off the beaten path. Plus, Portland is growing, and that makes most unsaturated neighborhoods good ones for new business.