Although empty storefronts keep popping up in Portland’s Old Port, it’s hard to believe the economy is in the tank when dining at Fore Street. Even on a chilled Monday night, the place is hopping. And no wonder. What Fore Street delivers is fine dining wrapped in comfort. Simple as that.
I arrived early enough to snag a table, but opted for the bar instead, choosing a comfy couch by the window. Fore Street’s decor blends wood ceilings, brick walls, and copper topped tables with an open kitchen. Jazz smooths out the conversations. It’s industrial chic softened with the warmth of success and glossed by the patina of confidence. Servers are professional. The kitchen, under Beard-winning chef Sam Hayward, is spot on.
When I informed my server I’d be ordering dinner, she warned that I could only order from the appetizer and dessert menu while seated in the bar’s lounge section; I’d have to move to the bar or dining room for entrees. Choices, choices. After perusing both menus, sipping a glass of wine (a rather miserly pour, my only quibble here), settling into that sofa, and asking a few questions, I opted to stay put.
It’s easy to make a meal out of the apps here, especially if starting with the wood oven roasted wild Maine mussels. Oh my! These are a must. A hefty bowl of plump mussels hailing Gurnet Strait, Brunswick, served in a rich garlic almond butter, accompanied by crusty bread and a soup spoon. I savored, I dunked and dredged, I slurped (quietly, very quietly). If it had been socially acceptable, I would have licked the bowl.
In hindsight, I should have ordered a salad. That would have been the perfect complement to the mussels. But no, not realizing how rich and satitating the mussels would be, I opted for a charcuterie plate comprising rabbit liver pate, spiced boar sausage, and duck rillettes accompanied by fig relish, orange marmalade, and spicy (and how) whole grain mustard.
The rabbit and duck were each flavorful and rich; the sausage didn’t quite knock my socks off. I’d ordered it as a substitute for the cured Maine island lamb leg, which wasn’t available. Probably a good thing, because it would have been too much if I’d eaten it all. As it was, I should have walked a couple of miles afterward.
It had been years since I’d dined here. I won’t wait that long again. Fore Street deserves its success and fame. On a chilly February night, it warmed me thoroughly.