Night and Day at DiMillo's
It doesn’t matter that it sits on a priceless piece of waterfront real estate that could be so much more than its anchorage of assorted kitsch and boundless bad taste. What can I say? Tourists love it like the Seven Wonders.
But who’s to say if the food is good or not since there’s so much on the menu it would take many trials to go through it all. Yet for those of us who reside and dine in Portland not to eat at DiMillo’s Floating Restaurant would be a lost experience indeed.
Don’t misunderstand. This is not a recommendation. Instead consider DiMillo’s as a larger than life dining epic—a wondrous culinary myopia that somehow still dares to dazzle.
My first misgiving was to learn that the restaurant doesn’t accept reservations. As a walk-in you’re given one of those flashing hand-held vibrating disks that indicate when your table is ready.
Vibrators are for diners, not fine dining establishments. But there we were clutching this thing as though it were alive, waiting for it to grunt, groan, and vibrate like a neon dinner invitation. For a $100 dinner for two, there should be a more graceful way to start an evening. But, I reminded myself, this is tourist land.
At long last we were shown to our table in the main dining room. At first glance the room appeared elegant and festive. On closer inspection, however, the space was all wrong: tall, skinny windows in every direction where huge panes of glass should’ve been to let in the view.
But it was a beautiful night, a starry sky in full bloom. The sparkling lights of the harbor before us, the bobbing boats docked nearby and the great glow of a cruise ship in port made the experience nearly magical. That is until the food started to arrive.
The adage, if it tastes bad it is bad, became a consistent theme. That basket of bread was the first offender, no better than Wonder Bread. And considering that prices are not cheap at DiMillo’s the butter belonged in a crock, not a foil wrapper.
The menu offers the usual choices of what you’d expect from a seafood restaurant: broiled or fried fish, lobster, surf and turf, and a section called “Italian,” which includes the usual suspects of the Italian American repertoire, from scampi to scallop carbonara.
For a starter I was intrigued by an appetizer of ricotta meatballs. A meat mixture made with ricotta can produce a very moist and light meatball. But what arrived was a curious pairing—a scoop of ricotta next to a bright red meatball drenched in red sauce. What was this? A dieter’s cottage cheese plate?
My dinner mate ordered the wedge salad. If you’ve got an insatiable appetite this was the cure-all. Shards of thick bacon were strewn across a mountain of iceberg lettuce with balls of compressed Gorgonzola crumbles, hard-boiled egg, diced tomatoes, and a very acidic dressing called “spicy ranch.” My friend liked it well enough. I thought it looked nasty—a confluence of too much to little effect on one plate.
On to the main course, I chose the mixed seafood broil—haddock, scallops, and Gulf shrimp. The scallops were as chewy as gum balls. The haddock was overcooked and the iodinated shrimp probably came flash frozen from Gulf waters since it’s nearly impossible to get fresh specimens anywhere in Maine unless our own variety is in season. The accompaniment of spinach with cheese sauce tasted like it came from the Bird’s Eye freezer pouch.
My friend ordered the broiled scallops with buttered crumbs. These, for some reason, came off better than what I had.
We skipped dessert and waited for the check. The restaurant at 9 pm was still a crush of diners with all their paraphernalia—wheel chairs and walkers in the aisle, toddlers and children cavorting at tables, and even some locals (so they appeared) out for a night on the town in this landmark relic prosperous in Portland Harbor.
Postscript: Several days later during a spell of perfect weather that lingered over Columbus Day weekend, I returned to DiMillos for lunch—this time to enjoy a meal on what is a very pretty outdoor dining deck overlooking the harbor. While lunch was nothing better than a bucket of clams and a lobster roll, the setting won the show. And at that moment DiMillo’s was at its best.
John Golden makes no bones about sharing his opinion. If you'd like to share yours, email him at email@example.com.