Wanted to report my findings on some places we visited while the family was visiting for the weekend.
Back Bay Grill - a lovely, upscale restaurant. Not so much "fun" as "fancy," and definitely geared toward an older crowd. The food is quite subtle, with an emphasis on great ingredients and delicately nuanced flavors - a hint of curry here, a whisper of some unidentifiable herb there. I tried their crab cake appetizer, which was fresh and delicious, if not earth shattering. Others at my table had a parsnip soup with truffle oil which smelled and reportedly was delicious, and two very fine salads. Main course - a couple of us had scallops, with several exotic clams around the periphery. This is where the hints of curry were to be found. Someone else had a salmon dish that she described as the best salmon she's ever had. It was sort of molded into this beautiful cylindrical shape in the center of the plate, with added goodies encircling. Again, the dishes don't overwhelm with explosive flavor, but they murmur sophisitication and deliateness. Except for the desserts, which were truly amazing. We had two: caramel ice cream with a caramel bourbon sauce, and spice pound cake with apple cider ice cream. Dessert is clearly their thing here, and it would be shame to go without ordering any.
Scales (in the Portland Public Market)
We went for lunch on Saturday AND Sunday. This place is simply amazing. My two meals alone count as among the best dishes I've ever had in this town: 1) a fisherman's stew, loaded with a variety of perfectly cook super-fresh seafood (hake, tuna, scallops), in a spicy tomato broth, generously dripped with a brilliant rouille. For $10 this has to be the best dining deal in Portland. The next day I had a lobster roll, which was unquestionably the best I ever had (puts Red's rolls to out and out shame). What made it so good? First, I had the sense that the lobster was cooked to order - it was hot, moist, bursting with flavor and the juices that only a freshly cooked lobster can emit. And it was delicately sprinkled with a light butter and herb sauce. A very generous portion of lobster - although not obscene (but I'll take it over the obscene, cold slices of slightly dry lobster I've had on the rolls at Reds and elsewhere). Others had fried clams (sensational), clam chowder, crab rolls, caesar's salad, lobster bisque (chock full of big fresh lobster pieces). Nothing was less than outstanding.
We went, 6 of us, for main courses only. Had to wait a little bit for our reserved table, and they were amazingly out of bread (never heard of a restaurant running out of bread, I don't think). The service was good if a tad confused, but the food was excellent. Sort of Asian fusiony type stuff, really expertly prepared. I had shrimp in a mango curry on jasmine rice with cucumber salad and seaweed. Explosively flavorful, probably less refined than Back Bay Grille (and a bit less expensive), but a lot of fun.
Had some good pizza Sunday night. I wish they'd make at least one with a whole wheat crust, but I guess I'm in the minority in this (100% wholewheat starved) town. Flatbread makes an outstanding salad - very simple, but perfect. We always have a good time here.
That's it. The out and out winner for the weekend is Scales. They're beyond description good. (We also bought some oysters from them to take home, which they shucked for us. Delicious!)