Portland >Hugo's Restaurant
A tasting menu is just that, dummy.
The prior reviewer has obviously not a clue with regard to what a tasting menu is. My husband and I went to Hugo's last night and had a wonderful, albeit expensive, visit and had the tasting menu of the evening. Yes, we had the four buttermilk biscuits (half-dollar sized), and then an additional two were brought over (which we ate), and then two more (which we could not finish because we were getting full between those and the tasting portions). The wait staff was more than willing to keep bringing them over so I'm not sure why the prior reviewer found the biscuit concept so offensive...the restaurant just doesn't want them to go to waste. This ain't Olive Garden, pal.
We had 6 tasting courses, Yes, they are small. Hence the name, "taste" (duh), paired w/ wine. Of note were the Scottish Salmon with a Blanquette de Limoux, St. Hilaire, NV, Languedoc, France; Casco Bay Cod with an Auratus, Quinta do Feital, 2008, Minho, Portugal; and 2 year age, Shelburne Cheddar, Vermont with a Cotes de Gascogne, Dom La Hitaire, 2006, South West, France (truly amazing!!!!!!) The server was always available to us and extremely knowledgeable about the evening's pairings. The atmosphere, unlike the utter cacophony of sound at Fore Street, was intimate and relaxing.
Unlike the prior reviewer, my husband and I have no experience talking with an Alice Waters, or blahbity blah blah, but we know good gourmet food when we have it. And like the manager, I am curious as to what the prior reviewer wanted from Hugo's, or is he or she just a pompous poser who would complain about any experience where he or she felt the portions weren't big enough? If you want big portions, go to Bonanza. If you want tapas, go to Local 188. If you want a tasting menu, go to Hugo's or Cinque Terre.
On the down side, expect to spend about $200 for two people. It is pricey, but overall a very pleasant dining experience.
If You Like Abuse . . ..
We travel widely and have dined at top rated restaurants from Athens to St. Helena. We are not elite food snobs. But we know what we like from broad experience of eating out three times a week around the country. And while we can't necessarily compare the subtlties of different sea foams we know how to have an intelligent conversation with an Alice Waters or a Suzanne Goin or a Lydia Shire.
We have NEVER experienced the kind of abuse we received at this overrated hole at the bottom of Munjoy Hill. Crowded tables are arranged like a take-out diner, although faux "artsy" details like a pebblestone entrance mask the true nature of the operation. The overpriced menu tells dinners they will have to order three "courses" (at $25 a pop) to actually be fed. But they don't tell you they are smaller than tapas. The Cod, for example, had to be 2 oz max. The Rib Eye "medallion" was the diameter of a half-dollar coin. The salad consisted of four fingernail-sized tomatoes and a couple of sticks of greens. The portion scam wouldn't be so offensive if the food wasn't so mediocre. Oysters we received as an appetizer had clearly been shucked hours prior, shells were completely dry, and the contents smelled and tasted fishy. The meat , such as it was, was tough, marbled, undercooked, and flavorless. It did not help that the $25 "taste" (billed as a course, not a tapas) came without any accompanyment (save drizzle of duckfat). Our much anticipated Saturday night dinner started out inauspiciously with four quarter-sized "biscuits" which were ceremoniously refilled with a shorter plate with two (as if daring us to ask for more). Save for the wine (the only redeeming feature--a reasonably priced wine list--go figure), the food experience went from bad to worse. We didn't finish our tiny mini plates (and trust us, that's a statement).
Not wanting to make a scene (but committed to being honest about our feelings), we asked for a comment card. We were presented with a tiny business card, where we had to scrawl out our feedback on the back. Still feeling ripped off twenty minutes later, we called the manager, who put us on the phone with the co-owner (who had been sitting next to us at the bar doing office work on a Saturday night). Most legitimate owners would be grateful for feedback (especially negative feedback). Instead the co-owner argued on the phone, chastizing us for leaving "a nasty note" (the only alternative when a restaurant is too good for a comment card). Her six-time repeated refrain: "What do you want?" "We've been in business for nine years?" As if the continued existence of the restaurant justifies the scam on paying customers. The tautology is complete: "We're still around, so customers are irrelevant!"
Obviously we won't be back. Later that night, after leaving a marvelous experience at Fore Street, we drove past Hugos, where we saw several of the staff out loitering in front of the restaurant smoking cigarettes. This restaurant is apparently "so good" that it no longer even has to try to create the "street impression" of a good experience.
If you like abuse, you'll absolutely love Hugos.
P.S. There are lots of truly great restaurants in Portland (Fore Street, Street and Co, 555, Grill Room, etc) that care about the product and experience they provide.
A wonderful experience. From the atmosphere, service and quality of the food one could not find a better dining experience. The chef creates amazing specials that go well beyond expectation. The owner, Johnny, is a gentleman with a flair for great conversation and exceptional libations and the staff is wonderful.
Nationally-recognized restaurant specializes in inventive modern fare..
Hugo's, one of Maine's most decorated restaurants, carries quite the pedigree (chef/owner Rob Evans put in time at groundbreaking culinary institutions like the French Laundry and the Inn at Little Washington). Those in the dining room select from a four-course prix-fixe (typical items: chilled melon soup with prosciutto, veal sweetbread raviolis, caramelized lamb shoulder), while those in the bar order off an a la carte menu.
An Adventure. Hugo's has built a clientele that is eager for culinary adventures. It's not for everyone; if a huge plate of pasta is your dish, there are places nearby. At Hugo's every dish is original and intriguing. They aren't huge, yet by the end of the meal you are pleasantly satisfied. Service is faultless, helpful, good-humored. We find it immensely therapeutic, and therapy is never cheap.
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