Thursday, February 18, 2010

Evangeline, Portland, Maine

Annie and I have discovered that we each like to eat as much as the other on our little food trip to Portland.  It was fantastic going from restaurant to restaurant with her and trying as many different things as we could.  I learned so much from her observations about the food.  She was a great dining companion and together we tackled three restaurants and a bakery in one afternoon.  The last stop of our day, Evangeline, may have been the most memorable and delicious by both of our accounts.

Evangeline is located in Longfellow Square, close to the happenings of the busy and famous Old Port area.  I had eaten here years ago for one of their very affordable Monday night prix fixe meals.  I have been wanting to go back for the full show for a while, and I was glad that Annie was game to help me take it all in yesterday evening.  The meal was worth the five hours of travel alone and even with transportation costs, it's still cheaper than it would have been for us to have the same experience in Boston.  Every bite of food we ate was delicious and we were treated like kings and queens by the staff and Chef Desjarlais couldn't have been more gracious.

We began with Gruyere gougeres which were followed by a bit of California white sturgeon caviar.  The caviar was plated on a potato cracker with scrambled egg, and parsley oil.  It was an exquisite sensation eating the caviar with the perfectly cooked egg.  I wish I had a decent picture to show you how generous the portion was too - I think we each had almost a full ounce of the caviar on our plates.  It was a stunning way to begin what would be a spectacular meal.

We chose to order several first courses rather than commit to fewer main courses, and that way we were able to try more things.  Stephen, the bartender, kindly coursed everything out for us so that we could enjoy each dish individually and essentially created a tasting menu for us.  The first two things out of the kitchen were our pork cracklings and a plate of "La Quercia" ham from Iowa.

The cracklings were warm and lightly seasoned with vinegar and worcestershire sauce powder.  They were crispy and full of porky goodness.  Annie and I both wanted to take home the little piggy dish that they were served in.  The ham was a variety from Iowa raised on a diet of acorns to give it more richness and marbling.  It was simply presented, thinly sliced, and dressed with spare amount of mustard vinaigrette and accompanied by pickled shallots.  It melted in our mouths.  Both of these dishes were from the small plates section of the menu.

Next we moved onto the first courses, of which we selected four to share.  The pan fried calf's brain was next, a signature dish at Evangeline.  Do not miss this one when you check this place out - it is a knock-out!  The brain was perfectly fried and had just the crispy texture that brains need.  We were also blown away by the accompanying homemade kraut that had been sauteed with bacon and capers in brown butter.  It was virtually a perfect plate of food and deserves the praise I have read about it online.

After that, the bone marrow followed.  It was a generous portion of three large bones roasted to perfection and served with toast, gray salt, frisée, and capers.  This is Annie's favorite and neither of us was prepared for THREE bones.  We relished the rich beef flavor of the marrow and slathered it onto our toast and topped it off with plenty of salt.  It was served with a really cool silver scoop that I have never seen before with a small and large end depending on the size of the bone.  In fact, we both remarked on how lovely Evangeline's serviceware was over the course of the evening.   Our food and wine were elegantly served on plates with cutlery and glasses that we have both seen in many more expensive restaurants around the world.

We moved on to oxtail French onion soup after the marrow and were treated to more beefy goodness.  It was cleverly plated with tiny scissors for trimming the long strings of melted cheese that form when you're eating the soup, which we both thought was fun!  Again, we had to resist the feelings of kleptomania that were setting in.  The oxtail gave the soup an admirable and wonderful thick viscosity.  It was everything the classic should be with flavors and textures being right on the mark.  I could see making a meal out of a bowl of soup on a nasty winter night accompanied by a delicious glass of the vin de vaucluse that I had later in the evening.

Our last savory plate was quail breast with foie gras and more delicious cabbage.  I loved that the quail really shone here and I thought the pairing with the foie was perfect.  They both have a sort of ferrous quality that makes them work well together and the melted cabbage was sublime and full or butter.  We had initially planned on having dessert at another place after our last course, but we were so comfortable at the bar and enjoying the atmosphere of the restaurant so much that we decided to stay right where we were and enjoy the evening for a bit longer.

I chose to end my meal with cheese from Evangeline's well chosen selection.  They have two of my favorites that I have just written about in my blog from Jasper Hill Farm, Caspian and Winnimere.  I opted for some of the Landaff from Springvale Farms in New Hampshire because I haven't had it in a while.  It's deliciously nutty and creamy.  It's modeled on Welsh Caerphilly, though it reminds me more of a well aged Comté. Annie had a lovely poached pear that was simply plated and conceived and was the perfect ending to a lavish meal.

There will be other meals at Evangeline and I will expect more amazing things to come out of the kitchen.  Chef Erik Desjarlais certainly managed to impress us both that evening and you can not beat the price given the quality of the food.  I only wish Evangeline were here in Boston because I would be there at least once a month.  I wish them continued success and greatly anticipate my next meal there.


  1. I have to say, everything sounds delicious except for the brains and the marrow. They might be the most delicious things ever, but I don't think I could ever get over what they are!! Kudos to you though!

  2. I never thought I would live to see the day when I was eating all of these things, but here I am.

  3. You missed out on the sweetbreads?? Erik does them better than anyone! You can always ask for them in a first course portion size if they are on the menu as an entree... I brought my mom visiting from Chicago and trained as a chef in Tuscany and she was blown away...BEST EATS in Portland.

  4. next time, i will be sure to have the sweetbreads. they are one of my favorite things as you can probably tell from my profile on the right. thanks for the heads up about being able to get them as a first course.