Wharf Street Wonderful
Perfect plates meet clever cocktails at this instant legend.
Review by Diane Hudson
But first, the drinks. Generally, we gravitate to the wine, and the list here has diversity and strength. Our server, however, persuades us to try a libation from a cocktail menu based on pre-Prohibition recipes.
My Absinthe Frappe ($10) more than meets the mark–the gomme syrup, and probably also the “effort” listed as an ingredient, make it velvety smooth. Haven’t had a drink this good since the pink squirrel.
A Manhattan ($10), made with rye whiskey, Boker’s bitters, and Cocchi Vermouth di Torina that lends a subtle smokiness to the mix, pleases my partner. Yeah, we are in.
Our charming server, Tara, wisely suggests we order two items at a time (as they come out quickly) to avoid being overwhelmed. She also dazzles us with suggestions for pairings. Her first is beet salad ($9) and sea-bass ceviche ($9). The beets–red, golden, and candy cane–are roasted to perfection and served over a bed of Swiss chard, with lemon vinaigrette and droplets of avocado purée. Delicate, slender slices of fish garnished with cilantro and a piri piri sauce appear almost translucent and disappear all too quickly.
Next, we match fried Maine oysters ($9) with the spicy fried Maine potatoes ($5). The spuds, a heap of thinly sliced rounds with a helping of Heinz, are, as promised, spicy. Very. The three oysters, lovely to behold, placed in their shells on a delicious cilantro aioli, get some kick from a garnish of house-made kimchee. We order a ramekin of the aioli to temper the potatoes’ heat, and it works wonderfully.
The “fried” course is nicely complemented by Old Rasputin ($5), a rich chocolate-like stout.
I can’t resist the foie gras ($15/22). The intense flavors of the rich, delicate liver are brilliantly balanced with a rose-hip purée, a sprinkling of millet granola, and candied buddha’s hand–a lemony fruit. Ecstasy. Six grilled shrimp a la plancha ($12) with herb olive oil sing back-up to yet another meaty, spicy tapa.
We savor aperitifs–Lillet Blanc and Campari on the rocks with a splash of soda (each $7)–with our final dish. Salted caramel mousse ($6) with hints of coffee and cocoa is creamy but has a graininess deriving from goat whey, a by-product of the house-made goat cheese.
This is one sweet place. Don’t miss it.
Central Provisions, 414 Fore St., Portland. Daily 11 a.m.-midnight, 805-1085, central-provisions.com.