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GETAWAYS • Maine Restaurant Report
Twelve (above) is the newest addition to Portland’s overachieving restaurant scene. It opened last summer to much food media acclaim, but we didn’t make it in until this June, when we did back-to-back nights there and at Fore Street, the standard-bearer for Portland fine dining.
Fore Street, which opened in 1996, is the Gramercy Tavern of Portland. I’ve had dozens of meals there over the years, and very little has changed about the dining room, the finest in New England. Much of the cooking happens over wood-fired grills and in a wood-burning oven that frames the open kitchen at the center of the restaurant. To start: oysters, of course, Bangs Island mussels, and if you’re there in tomato season, the tomato tart. For mains, order the seafood special, often served in cast-iron.
The cooking at Twelve is fussier — as befits the pedigrees of its principals, who worked at Eleven Madison Park, Per Se, and Tartine — but mostly wowed us. The menu is a four-course prix fixe for $90 in the dining room and a la carte at the bar, which takes walk-ins. The setting is lovely, too: a converted railroad building along a recently revitalized stretch of the harbor known as Portland Foreside.
Where Fore Street has always shined brightest, though, is service. Last month, as usual, the long-tenured waitstaff offered a deft, light, Danny Meyer-esque touch. Which stood in contrast to our over-attentive Twelve server asking us after every course, didn’t you love it? We did, and we might even more as the restaurant matures and settles into itself. Maine plays the long game. –Lockhart Steele
FOUND Pro, Portland alternatives: Fore Street sister restaurant Scales is considerably larger but still reliably excellent. Walk-ins are the order of business at modern classic Eventide — put your name in then plan a stroll — and its sister restaurant next-door, Asian-infused Honey Paw. Oyster bar The Shop is also reservation-free. Last-ditch dinner move: the show-stopping Sicilian pizzas at Slab.