Portland's Only True Blue Spoon
Small restaurants annoy me, especially those cramped 20-seat rooms where sitting down at a table is like putting a square peg into a round hole. Leg room is nil, and dining shoulder to shoulder with strangers is not my idea of a happy meal.
At one time Portland’s cadre of restaurateur hopefuls sought out these Lilliputian storefronts to keep start up costs low with high hopes of success to follow.
Yet there are always exceptions. One in particular that I have avoided because of my slapdash prejudice against tight spaces has endured for nearly ten years without me. So I count myself as late in the game to acquaint myself with the thoroughly engaging Blue Spoon, which opened in 2004 atop Munjoy Hill and where I had an immensely good dinner recently.
This part of Congress Street on the Hill has become quite the culinary oasis in a diverse residential enclave flanked by Casco Bay at the tip of the East End. With the neighboring Front Room, Bar Lola and the Rosemont Market, Blue Spoon was an early anchor for the others to follow.
Chef and owner David Iovino who presides at the Blue Spoon trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York. He cooked in a few restaurants in Manhattan before moving to Maine, where he firmly planted his roots as a budding restaurateur by buying the building that houses his establishment.
Though the room is small with about 10 tables and extra seating at the bar, I never once felt cramped or uncomfortable at our corner table. It’s an attractive room filled with attractive people in a bistro like setting that is so appealing. The wall of multi-mullioned windows overlooking the street creates spaciousness and charm.
The menu is fairly large with a lot of choices to craft a good meal. Prices are moderate, and many dishes are offered in small or large servings. The gist is this: Iovino is a really creative chef.
Besides a nice selection of tapas dishes, starters include mussels in a broth of roasted garlic and peppers; warm potato flan with pickled red pepper relish; bourbon, fennel and coriander cured gravlax over a caramelized pancake among others. For main courses, all bases are covered from grilled rib eye, chicken, fish and a terrific burger, which I have had at lunch and rate it one of the best in town.
We shared a tapas order of chorizo and manchego stuffed dates, three perfect morsels that were very good, though I prefer the dish with fresh dates, hard to come by this time of year.
I chose the gravlax as my starter. This is an unusual dish because the salmon rests on a blini-like caramelized onion pancake that is blissfully delicious--an absolute marvel of taste, texture and nuance.
My dinner partner ordered the pork pate, which was made from Woolever Farm pork, a small boutique farm in Alfred. It was done as a somewhat coarse paste pate that was both luxuriously scented and complex.
For a main course I chose what’s known as chicken under a brick and my partner had the seafood stew. My last encounter with this preparation occurred recently at the uninspiring Macaroni Grill. Needless to say the two interpretations are worlds apart. Blue Spoon’s take reveals beautifully seasoned and extremely moist white and dark meat served over a mass of seared Brussels sprouts with addictively delicious caramelized fingerlings. But the real prize is the resounding bacon and mustard sauce that elevates this dish to a higher realm indeed.
The fish stew was presented in a luminous broth teeming with a garlic rouille to dress the Maine shrimp, mussels, squid and haddock; the seared leeks added touch of savory sweetness. Good versions of this dish are not hard to find in Portland at such places as Petite Jacqueline and Street and Company. Iovino’s is an able contender.
The desserts are made in house, and I thoroughly enjoyed a chocolate cake with a coffee spiked chocolate icing and my dinner mate had the lemon cake. Both cakes were extremely moist and if you’re going to indulge in highly caloric sweets, you won’t be wasting calories.
I’m glad that I finally made it to the Blue Spoon. Yes, it’s small but I see it as an attribute if nothing else. My only regret is that I waited so long to get there.
The Blue Spoon does not have a website. For reservations call 207-773-1116. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday and Sunday Brunch. 89 Congress Street, Portland, ME
John Golden makes no bones about sharing his opinions. If you'd like to share yours, email him at email@example.com