Eve's at the Garden Ready to Blossom
Hotel dining rooms, once the wall flower of the restaurant world, are now a big deal where it’s very much in vogue to have a signature eatery housed within. In our midst, Eve’s at the Garden, the restaurant owned and operated by the Portland Harbor Hotel, is something of an anomaly in Portland’s little world of hotel dining. The thing is Portland doesn’t have that many hotels with restaurants on site. Of the eight full service lodging operations in the city only two have noteworthy eateries—the aforementioned and 20 Milk Street at the Portland Regency.
Eve’s has had its ups and downs over the years. In the face of stiff competition in a city that prides itself on its culinary savvy, a hotel’s dining room better be pretty good otherwise why bother?
When their highly regarded chef Jeff Landry departed a few years ago to open the Farmer’s Table, the hotel’s dining room seemed at loose ends with a procession of cooks coming and going. For a while Earl Morse (CIA trained, White Barn Inn pedigree) held kitchen court followed by veteran Maine chef Bill Clifford who devised the menu now in place. But he too is gone.
I haven’t been to Eve’s in a year or more. And I took the opportunity during Restaurant Week to see how it fared now.
Word on the street is that the hotel is looking for a new executive chef once again to bring culinary excitement back home. Management feels they need to make a statement with a star chef at the helm. After all, the hotel remains—for now--Portland’s only luxury brand, which won’t last forever as the city evolves into the sphere of the sophisticated tourist trade.
Regardless of who’s cooking it all takes place in a well appointed space that was redone several years ago It’s appealing and attractive in that clubby sort of way that hotels favor. The tables are large and comfortable, and the open, adjoining bar is well integrated with the dining room.
Who’s cooking now? Louis Pickens, formerly the sous chef, is manning the stove. After my meal there this past Saturday I’m not sure why management needs to look elsewhere. The food was inventive and well prepared—the kitchen barely missing a beat on a busy Saturday night.
The special $30 three course prix fixe Restaurant Week menu was well thought out and gave a good indication of the kitchen’s current abilities.
I started off with lollipop lamb chops, which are cut from the rack. These were a bit larger than they should have been since the eye of the rib would have been preferable. Nonetheless they were beautifully seasoned, tender and cooked perfectly pink (though I wasn’t asked how I wanted my lamb); the dipping sauces of hummus and red pepper offered sweet Mediterranean nuances.
My dinner mate ordered the tuna tartare. Here’s a dish that can be disastrous in the wrong hands. This rendition was a triumph with barely seared slices of raw tuna laid over cool disks of golden beets. For crunch the garnish of cornmeal croutons were addictively good.
For a main course I chose fish. That night grouper was on the menu, which I was looking forward to since it’s hard to find that fish out of Florida waters in Maine. The kitchen replaced it, however, with red snapper.
What came out was a perfectly grilled fillet astride a vegetable mélange of leeks, tomatoes and olives.
My companion ordered pasta--in this case baked penne in the usual tomato based sauce with feta and a mish mosh of too many other ingredients. Still, it was tasty and very filling.
For dessert I had the crème brulee which was so sweet—even for me—that I stopped eating it after a few spoonfuls.
My partner’s lemon glazed pound cake, however, swathed in a berry sauce and cream, was like eating candied ambrosia; and the crusty, lemony outer trappings of the pound cake was well worth the calories.
As for this dining establishment’s future as a culinary force in a city already agog with food mavens and award winning chefs, it could happen. I hope it does if only to have a great place to dine that offers free valet parking in a private garage with an elevator that whisks you up to the main dining room lickety split.
John Golden makes no bones about sharing his opinions. If you'd like to share yours, email him at email@example.com