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Every time I go to Street and Co. I immediately ask myself why I don’t go more often. The food is so good under the direction of chef Riley Shyrock, a Fore Street disciple who’s created a compelling seafood menu that is the most creative in the city.
Then I’m reminded as soon as I sit down why I stay away. The layout of the restaurant is seriously cramped, with seating so cheek to jowl that sitting down often means asking your table neighbors to suck it in so you can slide into your chair. And once you do, you’re dealing with a hot and stuffy room further encumbered by the open kitchen spewing out an overload of BTUs from all the ovens, burners, and steamers trapped in a low-ceilinged room.
These faults, however, haven’t stopped Street & Co. from remaining one of the most popular Portland restaurants to both tourists and locals alike. And in the final analysis it should remain just the way it is.
Perhaps it’s because the ambiance, even if architecturally challenged as a dining room, easily oozes so much charm you can forgive its shortcomings.
Central casting couldn’t have created a better look either. The dining room resembles an
old countryside farmhouse dining hall with its wood-beam ceilings, copper topped
tables, rush seats, and bundles of dried herbs hanging from the rafters. With the
Mediterranean cooking smells wafting from the kitchen you’re tempted to belt out La
As for finding a cool, comfortable place to sit, there are options. Go for the second dining room, which is away from the kitchen (though subject to large, boisterous groups; ask first) or at the back in the main dining room at banquettes against the wall.
Another amazing fact about Street and Co. is that it’s one of the longest running serious restaurants in the city. It opened in 1989 on Wharf Street, which must have resembled a skid row of decrepit storefronts in those days. Now in the good company of Vignola
, Cinque Terre
and Havana South
among other interesting shops, it’s a compelling restaurant byway exuding all the character that defines the Old Port.
The cooking, moreover, has taken on a decidedly Spanish-influence, stemming perhaps from the Fore Street trio of Dana Street, Shyrock, and Sam Hayward’s trip to Spain last year in search of tapas dishes and other culinary adventures.
The menu format, though, hasn’t changed in years. There’s fish over linguine, grilled or blackened fish, grilled or broiled species served pristinely plain and sizzlers that come glittering in their copper cooking pans set directly onto the copper topped tables.
But listen to the specials first before deciding on what to eat because here is where the chef shines, offering some very novel dishes.
The Tastes, too, are tempting tapas that you shouldn’t ignore either. I chose Miticano with Candied Grapes, which is a Spanish goat’s milk cheese similar to a French Bucheron that went perfectly with the candy like frosted grapes.
The salads and appetizers are also quite unusual such as a salad of fennel and arctic char or the grilled onion salad that I chose, composed of Valdeon cheese and currants served over mustard greens. The cheese is a very tangy Spanish goat’s milk blue cheese that’s even more intense than Stilton.
My dinner mate ordered the mussels marinara over linguine for a main course and pronounced it very well made though a bit too spicy from a liberal use of hot pepper flakes.
My main course of oven baked whole branzino, which was filleted at the table, was served over a cilantro sauce that was at once provocative yet fresh. Branzino, a European sea bass, is a wonderful delicate fish and the restaurant cooked it perfectly.
Not all Maine chefs aspiring to be stars have fared as well as others laying blame carelessly for missing their mark. But those who have succeeded continue to further Maine and particularly Portland as an inventive Mecca for fine dining, where the quality of local foods predominate and Street and Co., even with its physical foibles, carries the torch quite well indeed.
John Golden makes no bones about sharing his opinion. If you'd like to share yours, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.