Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Street & The Company: Portland's Street & Co.

When Matt came to interview for his job in Portland back in March of 2011, the first place he ate was Street & Co.  It was the first place he had Lobster in Maine, the first place he had raw bar in Maine, and the place where he first fell in love with Maine oysters.  It was also the first place he insisted on taking me when we had our first date night in Portland.  Because I'd never seen or heard of the place, I wasn't sure why he was so adamant, but I went.  And since then it's probably the restaurant we've eaten at most frequently in Portland.  We take all our visitors to it, and while there was a brief period when I claimed to be "sick of it" - a claim I would now consider blasphemy coming from another - I was soon back again, scarfing down oysters, eating melted butter and garlic with a spoon, being welcomed by our regular waitress, and harassing the bus boy who looks like The Little Prince.

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View onto Wharf Street

The Street

There is a small - almost invisible - little street (you could almost call it an alley way) in the Old Port of Portland that is not to be missed. It is home to some of the most quaint and quintessentially-Portland stops: Beals Ice Cream shop (where Roman scarfed down his 2nd birthday brownie sundae), the back side of Gritty's pub (a local brewery and home of the 100-beer-mug club), two wonderful Italian restaurants (Vignola and Cinque Terre), and, among others, our favorite fine-dining seafood stop: Street & Co. This street offers an uninterrupted, fully-pedestrian cobble-stone path down the center of the Old Port, away from the traffic of Commercial Street and Fore Street. In the day it smells the way a 19th C working port might have smelled - briny and damp but with infinite red-brick character. At night it is transformed by the dim yellow lights of the old fashioned lantern posts and the clippity-clopping of shoes on the misty cobblestones. I could not imagine a more fitting setting for our final date-night meal in Portland than on Wharf Street.

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The Company

So, it only took us 14 months and a near dozen meals to figure out how to eat right at Street & Co. We've tried almost everything on the menu (which doesn't vary wildly given its self-proclaimed mission of serving "very fresh seafood" and the predictability of what that will mean in Maine - lobster, Sole, Bluefish, oysters, the occasional John dory). But that's not a bad thing at all because I don't think I'd ever get sick of eating their grilled lobster and linguine or their Sole Francais. But that's not what we had on our last visit.

What we finally realized a week ago is that despite the beautiful dining room - cozy and warm with a view into the open kitchen (think Fore Street but in miniature) - and despite the aesthetically perfect waiting area with its exposed beams, quaint windows and views Wharf Street- what we really love to do is eat at the bar. The glazed concrete bar where the scrupulously clean oysters - the real stars of the show - are simply and appealingly arranged before you. Where you can jealously watch a 16 year old boy wearing a mesh glove shuck oyster after oyster with enviable dexterity late into the evening. Where the small but varied collection of wines is kept in amazing glass-faced, antique wooden shelves And where conversation among patrons can be as private or convivial as you wish.

In fact, I don't have a single bad word to say about my Calamari Puttanesca, Matt's clams with caramelized onions and chorizo, our dozen oysters (6 winterpoint, 6 Norumbega - both from Damariscotta, I believe), or that freaking champagne vinegar mignonette they make - but one of the things I enjoyed most about our visit was chatting with the waitstaff and Harry McEvoy, the hilarious bartender who told us about how he "ebayed [him]self," his history with knife-throwing, kept the crazy-good Standard Baking Co. bread coming, and got me hooked on this Vinho Verde. We also managed to strike up a conversation about Maine and the beauty of doggy bags with an inquisitive and appreciative Berliner on his way to an auction in Fairfield who looked truly disturbed by having to use his hands to eat lobster. That was fun to watch. :)

I left the restaurant feeling satisfied that I'd had a taste of the best Portland had to offer - in scenery, ambiance, comradery, and food. And that makes giving up familiarity, the sea, and all the fruits that go with both of those a much easier pill - nay, oyster - to swallow.

With mignonette, of course. 

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33 Wharf Street
Portland, ME 04101

Tel: (207) 775-0887

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