Winterguide 2017 | view this story as a .pdf
West Side Story
A neighborhood staple for nearly a decade, Caiola’s continues to offer Italian intimacy under new ownership.
By Diane Hudson
We arrive at Caiola’s on a weekday night in the West End. Immediately we’re enveloped by its relaxed, welcoming atmosphere, lively and full of patrons.
With great delight we take in a colorful, wall-sized painting, Abby Shahn’s “Night Quilt” that welcomes diners with vibrant color into this charming neighborhood hideaway. Our server, Wren, who worked with Caiola’s former co-owners Lisa Vaccaro and chef Abby Harmon prior to its being sold to Damian Sansonetti and Ilma Lopez (who also own the Piccolo on 111 Middle Street) in June 2016, tells us the painting belongs to Harmon and will eventually be reunited with her. We look forward to seeing what Sansonetti and Lopez choose to take its place.
We peruse the eclectic menu, starting with the many reasonably priced drinks. We decide on Geary’s IPA ($4.50) for him and the Classic Negroni ($10) for me. The perfectly balanced blend of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth with an orange twist proves a pleasing accompaniment to our first course–tender Louisiana shrimp atop whole-grain toast, ricotta, marinated celery, and fresh watercress ($10). A very generous appetizer.
Next up is the yellowfin tuna ($26), a plateful of perfection. The slightly seared medallions melt in our mouths, along with an enticing concoction of cauliflower, baby artichoke, watermelon radishes, and brown butter with smoked paprika oil. “This is the best fish I think I’ve ever had,” declares my companion. The friendly Wren even chats about how we might prepare this ourselves at home.
Proceeding with the more robust “porterhouse” lamb loin ($26), we find another winner. Garnished with rosemary, the tender lamb chops are served upon a bed of Maine heirloom beans with sweet local carrots. The entree is accented by sips of Super Tuscan Sangiovese ($34). The wine list here will get your Maine winter travel dreams in gear, conjuring visions of sun-baked vineyards in Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy.
But wait. Why leave when you can savor one of the most exquisitely simple desserts imaginable? The crème de la crème of cream puffs ($8) is their pâte à choux pastry filled with rich vanilla cream and topped with exquisite salted caramel. All this and an adjoining parking lot–as rare as gold dust in Portland. Truly a dream come true.
Caiola’s, 58 Pine St, Portland. Open daily. Mon.-Tues. 5 p.m.
to 9:30 p.m.; Wed.-Sat. 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Sun. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. 772-1110 or caiolas.com.