Let me preface this post by saying that I did not have my good camera at dinner so this post is more about the descriptive foodporn than visual foodporn. It was, however, a stunning display for the senses. And molecular gastronomy. I felt like I was a judge on Top Chef.
Hugo’s is owned by Chef Rob and Nancy Evans and is a member of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. Rob was a 2009 James Beard winner for “Best Chef North East” and previously worked at French Laundry in Yountville, CA and Inn at Little Washington in Virginia.
Portland is fast becoming quite a foodie town with numerous spectacular restaurants for such a small city. Each time I have to travel to Portland I tend to repeat a few of my favorites. But I had yet to try Hugo’s and decided it was time. After looking at the menu, we decided to go with the “Chef’s Blind Tasting” consisting of 6 courses. If you’re going to rely on the chef’s creativity and element of surprise, this is the place to do it. We were only told about each dish as it was presented. Thankfully we were given a copy of the menu after the meal; I would have had a difficult time remembering all details.
Here was our menu and my tasting comments:
Brought to the Table
Potato Biscuits with homemade butter
They were warm, flaky, perfectly salty. The butter was silky and melted immediately on the biscuit. In order to savor every morsel, I turned what should have been 1 or 2 bites into at least 4. We had to turn down our server’s offer of a fourth refill 🙂
Pemaquid Oyster with cocktail sauce
Here’s the first taste of molecular gastronomy. The cocktail sauce was a perfect little dollop atop the oyster, but it was contained in its own extremely thin skin, somehow. It seemingly burst open in your mouth offering the taste sensation at just the right moment, allowing you to first taste the oyster.
Citrus Cured Scottish Salmon and Fried Salmon Tartare with fennel and beet salad, horseradish and smoked salmon roe.
The large orange pearl roe was amazingly smokey and popped with flavor. The fried salmon was perfectly rare in the center with a hot and crisply fried exterior. Loved this dish.
Maine Shrimp Flan with proscuitto dashi, scallion and shrimp toast
This was a small bowl of warm flan beneath a floating layer of flavorful broth and tender Maine shrimp; a small bowl of big flavor. The shrimp toast was light and airy with again, lots of flavor.
Casco Bay Cod Cheeks and Tempura Fried Cod Tongue with roasted cauliflower, capers and brown butter.
This was one of the dishes that most surprised me (tongue??). The cod cheeks were lightly pan seared and were tender, flaky and very fresh. But the tongue? I didn’t know what to expect. That happened to be one of my favorite bites of the evening. It was like eating perfectly tempura fried butter, it was that good. It melted the second it hit my mouth. Can’t explain it, only that I was WOWED!
Roasted Duck Breast, Duck Leg Pancetta and Cured Foie Gras with farro, candied spaghetti squash and warm spice gastrique
This duck was beautiful in all preparations. A duck trifecta. The winter spices really complimented the dish without too much sweetness.
Shelburne Farm 2 Year Cheddar with poached raisins, verjus gelee, caraway lavash
This was a cheese course served two ways – shaved aged cheddar as well as a whipped cream-like cheddar, with a reduction of sorts drizzed on top. The raisins and verjus were a great compliment to the sharp cheese.
Lime Semi Freddo with vanilla infused buttermilk with rum roasted pineapple and anise hyssop
Can I please have seconds? This was a fabulous flavor explosion – an absolute mouth party! The roasted pineapple was so intensely flavored and contrasted so nicely with the smooth lime semi freddo. This should be a new gourmet ice cream flavor. Maybe Rob and Nancy should look into it…
This is one restaurant where it’s not about eating because you’re hungry; it’s about appreciating the art of food and the science of cooking and how some creative chefs combine the two.
Next time, I will bring my Canon D40 to properly document the event.
For this light and refreshing “Sangria” I used a Grenache Rose and Club Soda (ratio of 3 to 1), the juice of half of a lime and a hefty splash (who measures?) of Limoncello Liquor. Shake, pour over ice and enjoy!
A Simple and Elegant Fruit Dish – an inspiration from a visit to Manzanillo, Mexico. Papaya, Mango and Strawberries with Basil Simple Syrup and Fresh Lemon: allow the papaya and mango to fully ripen; cut into small chunks, toss with the juice of 2 lemons and the zest of the lemons. Add in a handful of sliced strawberries. Gently mix.
2 Cups white sugar, 1 1/2 cups water, 3 tablespoons corn syrup – bring slowly to a boil over medium heat. Add a large bunch of finely chopped basil and reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Toss with the fruit and allow to meld in the refrigerator at least a few hours before serving. It looks like a sunrise served in a tall glass.