Portland has slowly become a gastronomic hub, home to many East and West Coast chefs who left the Big City grind to settle in this new culinary Mecca.
Portland’s culinary clout comes into focus every October during Harvest on the Harbor, a four-day festival that attracts food and wine lovers from all over the country.
This year’s festival kicked off with the Moonlight Gala, a five-course dinner with wine pairing, each course consisting of two small plates prepared by top local chefs. Highlights included halibut cheek with braised kimchi, duck breast with poached pear, and short rib with butternut squash.
The festival’s top culinary event was the Stage Dinner, a sit down six-course dinner paired with wines and served on the stage of Merrill Auditorium alongside a magnificent pipe organ. The menu included mussels escabeche with beets and nuts, grilled octopus with cous-cous, roasted squash and greens with coconut spice, Maine salmon with chestnut butter, and fillet of beef with wine sauce.
The festival’s top attraction was the competition for the Maine Lobster Chef of the Year award. Five chefs took turns on stage cooking their intricate lobster dishes and the audience got to taste bite size samples of their creations.
Another popular event was the Maine Marketplace, featuring food, wines and products. Tastings included cooked dishes, baked goods, wines, chocolates and more.
At the Top of the Crop, each chef prepared a dish with ingredients from a local farm.
The festival also featured a barbecue cookout, as well as wine, beer, whiskey and specialty cocktail tastings.
Tickets for the festival are sold in advance and part of the proceeds support local charities. www.harvestontheharbor.com.
You don’t have to wait till next year’s festival to enjoy the city’s culinary might. Portland is a treasure chest of restaurants ranging from waterfront shacks to fine cuisine.
Make sure to dine at Zapoteca, a Mexican inspired restaurant where chef Shannon Bard creates South of the Border dishes with local overtones. Order the Taco De Langosta, a half Maine lobster sautéed in duck fat and served with salsa, corn and charred tortillas. Also don’t miss the delicious adobo glazed duck breast with cranberry pecan mole and truffled brussel sprouts. www.zapotecarestaurant.com.
The new Evo is another hot restaurant, run by chef Matt Gin, the 2015 winner of Maine Lobster Chef of the Year title. The cuisine features a modern interpretation of Mediterranean/Lebanese dishes. Order the chef’s mezze tasting for the table — a progressive multi-course dinner with items such as salmon falafel, lobster, and vegetarian and meat dishes. www.evoportland.com. ∆