A glass palace in the Old Port finds magic in the flavors of the
Viewed from the street, Evo seems like a small corner of Portland’s Hyatt Place Hotel, but once inside, all heaven breaks loose. Gigantic glass walls circle the entire elegant, chic space, affording terrific light. We’re seated in arguably one of the best people-watching perches on the peninsula.
The food measures up to this attractive ambiance with appealing choices prepared before our eyes (from comfortable seating at the bar we can see the entire kitchen). The menu lists items by categories–vegetarian, meats, fish, desserts–rather than courses.
But first, libations. We’re attracted to “Luna Selene” (Tito’s vodka, St. Germaine, concord grapes, and lime, $11), but we turn instead to a wine list containing many bottles from the Eastern Mediterranean. A helpful server offers tastings. Recolte 2013 La Reserve du Domaine Sainte-Eugene, a value at $22, is the complex red with the body to stand up to the intriguingly spice-laden fare.
Perfectly browned and crisped veal sweetbreads ($14) are seasoned with date molasses, and garnished artichoke, radish slices, Aleppo pepper, and watercress. This is a pretty and satisfying dish.
Chef de cuisine Matthew Ginn (executive chef is Brendan Hicks, also chef at Chebeague Island Inn) calls Evo’s menu “refreshing–less butter and cream, more olive oil and sumac.” Succulent sautéed chicken livers ($10) from nearby Sumner Valley Farm are prepared with fresh pomegranate and lemon juices, olive oil, and sumac and served with bite-sized crackers inspired by a 10th-century recipe involving crushed walnuts, pomegranate, and vinegar.
Expect the unexpected here. Peekytoe crab falafel ($12) is nothing like Maine crab cakes. Three fried round balls of crab, chick peas, chick pea flour, and fava beans arrive with a fabulous, garlicky sauce. “Like mayo without eggs,” says Ginn, “toum is an emulsion made from garlic, water and oil.” Sprinklings of cumin and coriander pull it all together.
Don’t miss the remarkable pork shoulder shawarma ($8), marinated and slowly roasted in Evo’s vertical rotisserie. Served in house-made Marook Mountain flatbread, the shaved meat’s flavors are augmented by garlic and scallions.
Sardines ala Plancha ($14) are a joy. Whole fresh young herring from Brown Trading are boned and filleted; seared on the flat-top with roasted peppers, onion, shallots, garlic, and sherry; and served with a tantalizing charred escarole.
Moving to the sweets, we enjoy a fine Persian baklava ($7)–crispy phyllo with pistachios and rose blossom syrup. But the stand-out for me is Quamar al Din ($10), little light turmeric cakes called sfouf served with fresh mint and an exquisite apricot sorbet.
Evo is short for “evolution of Mediterranean food,” says manager Sarah Smith, and we’re all for this sort of progress.
Evo, 443 Fore St., Portland. Open Tues.-Sun., 4:30 pm.-1 am, 358-7830, evoportland.com.