Steve and I celebrated the last weekend of summer with a day trip up to Maine. We arrived in Portland and drove straight to Duckfat, a small restaurant that has been on my go to list for 2 years. They are known for their Belgium fries cooked in, you guessed it, duckfat. I had a corned beef tongue panini, Steve had a mixed green salad, topped with duck confit and we shared a large order of the signature fries.
I think my expectations were too high – I liked the fries, but they were on the greasy and salty side. I had to brush the excess salt off of each fry before I ate it – and I like salt more than the average bear. Steve thought they were only okay. My panini had great flavor with the tongue, cabbage and 1000 island dressing, but was also greasy and heavy. I only ate ½ of it. The duck confit atop the salad was the best thing we had, so he really enjoyed his salad. We shared an order of beignets (fried in duckfat, of course) for dessert. I thought they were dense and heavy, although the hint of lemon zest did brighten the flavor up.
I guess the moral of this story is not everything is improved by duckfat.
Fore Street has been around for 15 years, and during that time it’s garnered plenty of national acclaim, including a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northeast. We planned our trip last minute, so there was no hope in getting a reservation, but they do have walk-in tables starting at 5pm. We stopped in at 5:30 pm and secured a table for 2 hours later. That was fine by me; I was still full from the earlier duckfatpalooza. We found a bar and watched the Red Sox score 8 runs in one inning. By 7:30 we were seated in cozy room off the main dining area; the walls were exposed brick and the chandeliers were lit with candles.
Fore Street features a wood burning oven, grill and turnspit so many of the offerings were prepared via the wood fire. I spied an order of the wood roasted mussels at a table close by and they looked fabulous. I decided that instead of an entrée, I would have the mussels and a charcuterie plate. Steve ordered the wood roasted halibut and we had the butter poached fingerling potatoes for a side.
An extremely generous serving of mussels came in a searing hot pan (I know, because I burned myself.) The mussels were outstanding; large, plump, tender and briny. The broth was so flavorful and there were chopped almonds that added a surprising textural component. These are the mussels that I will now compare all other mussels to. I got my choice of 3 different meats for the charcuterie plate; I choose a pork brawn (basically a head cheese), duck rilettes (no, I apparently did not get enough duck earlier) and a veal and black trumpet mushroom terrine. The terrine was my favorite of the three; it had a great meaty texture and mushroom flavor. Steve enjoyed his halibut, and the potatoes had a crisp taut skin that exploded with buttery potato goodness on impact.
I debated whether or not to get dessert – after all, I was full and I’m often disappointed by the dessert course. I didn’t want to end what had been a magnificent meal on a low note. However, it’s important to have a complete picture of the restaurant for the flog, so, for you, my dear readers, I ordered the “bite sized dessert” of the night. It was a vanilla cake with dulce de leche cream and rum marinated peaches. Sadly, the texture of the cake was gummy, although the cream and peaches were lovely. Our waitress noted that I only had a little of the cake (really, it was more of a 5 bite dessert) and asked how it was. I told her it was fine, but she prodded further insisting that she wanted to know honest feedback, so I told her. She took the cake off the bill.
My lemon drop martini was perfect: sweet, tart, smooth and refreshing. Steve thought his wine was “a good wine, but a little young.” The bread, which comes from nearby Standard Baking Company, was excellent. It had a great crust and was the perfect vehicle for sopping up the last of my mussel broth. Our server was competent, but was much more attentive to the adjacent table, who apparently knew her brother. I did appreciate that she cared enough to know the truth about the dessert.
All in all, the meal was excellent. Steve commented that I had a food afterglow (not to be confused with Asian Glow from the martini). Fore Street should not be missed if you are anywhere in the vicinity of Portland. Just try not to hurt yourself while eating the mussels in your haste to get to them.