Grilled veal with braised endive and pear vinegar; oyster topped with grapefruit ice; Jonah crab with soft-scrambled eggs and roasted carrots; chef Bowman Brown developing big flavors in his open kitchen.
Modern flair and traditional methods meet in Biddeford to create a flavor bonanza.
By Joe Ricchio
Photography by Brian Samuels
At Elda, chef Bowman Brown splits the menu into four unlabelled sections. You can infer from descriptions — and pricing — that the distinction is between snacks, appetizers, entrées, and desserts. On my first visit, each contained three dishes. My companion and I weighed our options, decided we couldn’t decide, and ordered one of everything. Elda is not a casual place, and this level of indulgence was perhaps not my wisest financial move. After one bite, though, of a sourdough waffle topped with Maine sea urchin and buttermilk cream, I knew I wouldn’t regret it.
Brown, with his wife, Anna, opened Elda a little over a year ago, but his kitchen career started a decade earlier as a line cook at the Dunaway, a now-defunct fine-dining spot in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In 2009, he moved to Salt Lake City to open his first restaurant, Forage, which the New York Times noted for “wildly creative dishes” and Food & Wine praised for “ingenious modernist food.” Two years ago, the Browns came back East, buying a small farm in New Hampshire to turn into a restaurant and inn. The farmhouse needed more work than they’d anticipated, though, and they realized they needed another project in the meantime. A space in downtown Biddeford opened up in mid-2017; the previous occupant had been Custom Deluxe, a local favorite for chefy eats. The Browns also acquired an adjacent space, formerly a record shop, to fit more tables and a full bar. Soon, they were up and running.
Exposed brick, muted colors, and low lighting keep the atmosphere intimate despite high ceilings and the energy bubbling over from the open kitchen, where Brown is still up to his modernist tricks. He’s also, however, mixing in old-school methods, doing most of his cooking over hot coals and open flames.
140 Main St., Biddeford. 207-494-8365.
Snacks and appetizers Snacks and appetizers $6–$14, entrées $24–$28.
A four-course meal costs a flat $52 — about the same as ordering three courses à la carte.
Chef Bowman Brown named the restaurant after his grandmother, whose home cooking provided early culinary inspiration.
Food arrives at the table meticulously plated. Remember that quiver of anticipation, from childhood, when you’d crank a jack-in-the-box to within a revolution of popping? That’s what I felt right before digging into my second course, grilled diver scallops. They’d been set neatly atop a bowl of turnip, rice, and fish broth, which would all be very fine on its own. But Brown’s masterstroke was that he brushed those scallops with butter infused with koji, a mold common in Japanese cooking, which brought out the scallops’ sweetness.
A drink helps keep the palate nimble between courses, and Elda offers a nice line-up of Old World and natural wines, plus ciders and craft beers. At the start or finish (or both!), a cocktail hits the spot — the Serpent and the Ice plays right down the middle of sweet and bitter, combining amaro, Aperol, amaretto, lemon, and rhubarb.
Entrées ramp up the heartiness. Gulf of Maine skate wing is marinated in buttermilk, dredged in panko and potato starch, and deep-fried, then accompanied by tiny potatoes with herbed Greek-yogurt sauce. Sea trout is hot-smoked over cherrywood and served with roasted beets, creamy horseradish sauce, and cabbage braised in juniper-infused oil.
The barrage of flavor continues through desserts. Some skew savory, like the biscuits with creamy Jasper Hill Farm cheese and honey-glazed baked apple. Others play to a sweet tooth, like the frozen Meyer lemon curd layered with pistachio meringue and Douglas-fir granita.
Brown conceived of his menu as a four-course progression, and you probably won’t want to skip a round, but ordering that way isn’t required: “We don’t want anyone to feel pressured,” he says. You could assemble a satisfying meal with two or three dishes. Me, though? I think six or seven sounds about right.