Now known as Spread,
the restaurant space at 100 Commercial Street has not been kind to its predecessors. Forerunners Oolong and Gaucho failed miserably spiraling to default for three reasons: bad food, bad economy, and bad luck.
Fortunately Spread is a winner on all counts, well on its way to a lucky charm of success. Diners can count on a stellar trio of chefs with great resumes and consummate skill to deliver a very promising meal indeed. Chefs Derek Federico and Brandon Ruble hail locally from Petite Jacqueline
and Five fifty-Five
and West Coaster Chris Long from Charlie Trotter provenance.
The decor is a sophisticated amalgam of design: a touch of the Orient and a lot of urbane cool with a soft serenade of easy jazz playing over the sound system.
The circular bar has the potential to become a scene stealer for the cocktail crowd who prowl for carefully crafted drinks. Meeting up with mixologist Josh’s masterful brews and a “spread” of brandade made with local cod is reason enough reason to stop in.
But there’s more to this place than a stiff drink. Spread is a contender for some serious dining. Portland is not in short supply of these stylish new-American dining establishments, which can tend to mirror each other. Spread makes its mark by draping the flavors of fusion fare over a home-grown culinary vernacular.
I’ve sat in both the bar area and the dining room, and each is well appointed. The bar room is a chic lounge of discreet charms where dining is casual and fun. The main dining room is a dramatically elegant space with its wide swath of windows overlooking the street in a cool refrain from the hustle and bustle of the Old Port.
The menu is arranged in three categories, following the small plates credo so popular at places like Salt Exchange
and Bar Lola
. The first offering on the menu is called “Spread” with such items as mushroom toast, honey black pepper ricotta and duck confit — perfect small starters to have with wine or cocktails.
We started with the smoked trout, fortified with capers, dill and crème fraiche. My dinner partner commented that there were plenty of toasts on which to spread the pate, something that many restaurants stint on. It was bracingly smoky, offset by the sweetness of the other ingredients.
For starters, termed “Small Plates,” we had the crispy chicken skewers and the scallop crudo. The former is an inventive dish: chunks of white meat that are sautéed to crispness, skewered and set in a cup where it’s bathed in ginger and soy. The surprise at the bottom is a slow cooked egg yolk, which became a delicious sauce in which to swirl the chicken pieces.
My crudo, not the garden variety in the least, showed slivers of scallop gently set in a silky coating of celery, lime and pickled jalapeno. This was a precious, haute interpretation that stole the show for me.
For a main course my dinner mate chose the hand rolled tortellini. These were balanced in a very esoteric shellfish ragout embellished with radish, zucchini and fennel that was absolutely original.
I ordered the duck, a dish I often choose at a restaurant because it’s tricky making at home. The duck breast— extremely tender and perfectly cooked pink — was held together in an unusual presentation of mole mingled with radicchio and salsa verde. Pleasantly hot and spicy, it was part Mexican and part Asian with a mixed culinary ethnicity that was flawless.
Desserts selections are also enticing with such choices as a shake and doughnuts with espresso ice cream; brown butter almond cake; banana cream pie and chocolate molten cake with salted caramel and peanut brittle. We chose to share what might sound like a boring pick--Strawberry Lemon tart. This was hardly a run-of-the-mill slice of pie. The crisp cookielike dough held an ethereal lemon curd as the underpinning for organic strawberries (no spray) that had loads of fresh-in-season sweetness. This simple sounding dessert turned out to be a touch of unabashed luxury to conclude a thoroughly original meal.
The restaurant does not have a website yet. For reservations call 207-828-8233