While browsing through Rabelais books on Middle St during my trip to Portland last week, I overheard the shop’s proprietress speaking with a young man in his early twenties:

“Chad! Great to see you! How’s life at Jean-Georges?”

Chad is having a great time, apparently. As are the slew of other young Portland chefs who began their careers at the likes of Hugo’s, Fore Street,Evangeline’s, 555, etc… and have since moved on to continue their training at some of the best restaurants in the country (Daniel and Bernardin were also mentioned). It was a fitting beginning to a three day stay in what is certainly the culinary capital of New England. The food quality per capita absolutely dwarfs Boston, and  is on par with the other great food cities in the country. My food tour began at Bresca, a cozy 20 seat Italian-ish place with a charming interior close to the corner of Middle St and Franklin Ave.

Welcome to Bresca

Welcome to Bresca

The menu is small but interesting. A few small plates, including the gorgonzola and chorizo stuffed dates pictured below, 5 or so apps and entrees and a couple of pastas.

gorgonzola and chorizo stuffed dates

gorgonzola and chorizo stuffed dates

Toc - smoked ricotta, creamy polenta, royal trumpet mushrooms, radicchio, lardo

Toc - smoked ricotta, creamy polenta, royal trumpet mushrooms, radicchio, lardo

The texture of polenta was different – a bit pasty and sticky, not so much creamy.  But all the flavors worked together. The thin slide of lardo over the top really made the dish. As would a thin slice of lardo over virtually anything.

Braised Tuscan black kale - 6 minute egg, crispy pancetta, hombu butter, charred multigrain bread

Braised Tuscan black kale - 6 minute egg, crispy pancetta, hombu butter, charred multigrain bread

Pan fried sweetbreads, bacon lardons, caramelized shallots, frisee, arugula, sherry vinaigrette

Pan fried sweetbreads, bacon lardons, caramelized shallots, frisee, arugula, sherry vinaigrette

This is how I want all my greens from now on – served over a bed of sweetbreads.

sea urchin linguini, uni, evoo, basil, mint, lemon zest

sea urchin linguini, uni, evoo, basil, mint, lemon zest

Great dish. Interesting and unique flavors. The refreshing mint, basil and lemon perfectly complemented the rich and fishy sea urchin. Bresca could benefit from making their own pasta, though. Not much difference between these linguini and what I get out of a box of Barilla.

market fish, cod

market fish, cod

For the quality, Bresca is very reasonably priced. Though that most likely reflects the cost of operating in Portland. If it were in Boston I would be happy paying $15 app $30 entree. Though it isn’t really an Italian place, the few dishes that are Italian inspired puts the vast majority of the North End’s offerings to shame (though they do a fine job of that on their own these days) and are right up there with the best Italian Boston has to offer.

Bresca on Urbanspoon

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