Wednesday, January 12, 2011

From Walter’s, With Love

Well hello there everyone. How is 2011 treating you? I’m doing dandy, thanks for asking! And isn’t winter just beautiful? I love snow, its great.

Can you detect a note of sarcasm in my voice? You can? Great, because today, as I sit and start to write this latest review, the sky has opened up and chose this day to make the northeast its own personal snow cone machine. FML. I had things to do today, people to see, errands to run. But I digress, I suppose the frosted gridlock holding Maine captive is useful for staying in and writing restaurant reviews. So this is what I will do, because it’s my duty to the public and to my severe boredom. (God help me).

And so we start the latest installment of The Novice Fork. Giddy up! This past Saturday evening I did something I haven’t done in a long time. (Or at least it feels that way). I went out with my parents for family dinner! Decked out in our Sunday best and armed with a large gift card to Walter’s,, we were excited to try a restaurant we used to love in its old location on Exchange Street, now a street over on Union Street in Portland’s Old Port.

Walter’s was amazing! I say this upfront because you may not want to read the entire clump of flattering sentences I’ll be writing after this point. Let this be a fair warning…

Now, the most amazing thing about the “new Walter’s” is its improved dining space and overall appearance. Larger, newer and lusher, the new environment means business. With warm wood tones, comfy chairs, a polished and loaded bar, and many other impressive decorative and architectural details, it is evident that no expense was spared when crafting the space, an intimate but grownup restaurant where their stellar food is complimented by its surroundings.

The outside of Walter's, love the sign!

This is a great date spot, so naturally I was with my parents, (massive eye roll) but their company was nice nonetheless. Since we made reservations and arrived promptly at 5 when their dinner service starts, seating took seconds and the service is unaffected, brief and kind, all receding to the background allowing the patron to enjoy the food and atmosphere.

The food here is great. A departure from the quirky but good menu from the days of Walter’s past, the food has grown up too. Everything just feels more sophisticated, and more inventive with influences from Asia, Mexico and Italy. Because of this, there is a gourmet flavor for everyone. Also, if you go to their website, you see how extensive their wine list is, even including the now trendy sparkling wines. To start the meal, my Mom ordered thePears” or an Arugula, white port poached pears, spiced cashews and ricotta salata in a poppy seed clover honey dressing. Perfect. I got the “Caesar Hay Stack,” or Caesar salad with roasted garlic lemon dressing, roasted bell peppers, croutons, reggiano. This was amazing and too small (sign of an upscale restaurant?) My Dad went without a salad and split an order of Crispy Asian Raviolis, lemongrass chicken, spinach, ginger’d sweet Chile butter. These were very good too. (Sensing a theme?)

If the salads here were any indication of the great food to come, we were in luck. For our entrees, I ordered the Pumpkin Gnocchi served with local exotic mushrooms fresh sage, Parmesan, walnuts, touch of cream. These little Gnocchi were so tender and light they actually melted in my mouth. No joke. In a different direction, my Mom ordered the Sea Scallops with fregula, grape tomato and spinach, butternut squash puree, and a toasted pepita pesto. These were excellent to. And my Dad? The meat and potatoes guy got the Steak Frites, grilled cocoa nib spice rubbed ribeye, roast shallot demi glaze, hand cut frites, with chipotle ketchup. Cooked perfectly.

Ok 2 for 2. But what about desserts? Well they have them, and they were all exceptional. I got a trio of ice cream, gelato and sorbetto, in caramel, peanut butter and dolce de leche flavors respectively. Mom? She had the Chocolate Souffle Torte, amazing. And Dad? He devoured the Pumpkin Ginger Crème Caramel creme caramel with candied ginger and spiced pumpkin with a mini cinnamon donut. Ok ok, we get it, 3 for 3.

Man this restaurant is good. The entire experience was well run, pleasurable, and the food was superb. And since we have paid special attention to numbers in this review, two more must be stated here. The bill, despite the amount of food we got, wasn’t ridiculous. (You get what you pay for). I’ll let you do your own math after checking out their website. Just bring the amount you think you will need, double that number, and then walk away with a little change left over for a cocktail somewhere. The rating? Drum roll please… we have our first successful 5 Fork Restaurant!

It is because the menu is small, well chosen, and gourmet. The atmosphere is sexy, fresh and laid back, the service is gracious, well timed and attentive and the food tastes so good it is one of the best meals I’ve had in Portland in recent memory.

Thank you Walter’s, you’ve grown up into quite the restaurant. And if it happens to snow while I'm out in Portland, I won't hesitate to go to Walter's, pull up a chair next to the very large front windows overlooking Union Street, and watch the snowfall, savoring the great food that much more. Will I find you there?

Now what? Perhaps a words for the day? In a Portland Minute!

Good restaurants are often like good friends, or for that matter, relationships. Sometimes they are intact, thriving and fun, other times they leave for a while or even leave you hurt. But the truly good ones will always be in your mind. So go to your favorite place and treat your time together with care. It could leave you one day and you'll will wish you had had more time. Over and out.

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