Hugo's: Maine Restaurant Week 2010
Hugo's Restaurant (located at 88 Middle Street, Portland, ME) is often seen as a special occasion restaurant nestled just outside of the Old Port center. Maine Restaurant Week is an opportunity for experiencing their culinary talent without that special reason; although their Restaurant Week menu is available for the entire winter season and called "Cabin Fever".
I have heard of Hugo's on numerous occasions but had not dined before last night. I had three reasons for this: strolling through one evening I saw the menu which did not interest me; I had preconceived notions that the dining room would be pretentious and stuffy; and I felt that Hugo's could break the bank with relative ease. Maine Restaurant Week was perfect for breaking through these assumptions and recognizing misconceptions.
For dinner I chose the salad, pork belly, and pound cake - all from the Restaurant Week menu, also known as Hugo's "Cabin Fever". However, being an occasional glutton both me and my dining partner opted out for additional items from the a-la-carte menu; I requested the monk-fish and oxtail pierogi (I heard recently pierogi are in and pot stickers are out!). What separates Hugo's from the rest of the Old Port is the level of technicality associated with each dish. Not only is the food delicious, it is prepared to perfection on every level. Hugo's pork belly is something, I believe, every foodie should experience; not because it is the best but simply because of how it is prepared. I also recommend doing this when you have a day or so to recover afterwards.
Hugo's proudly displays the James Beard Foundation Best Chef award for a reason - their technical execution of dishes is profoundly immaculate. No fussiness, no gimmicks, just a work of art on every plate. Too frequently chef's dress up their dishes like halloween costumes; Hugo's brings out the excellence in the ingredients. When I generally refer to "perfect" food I am mostly focus on taste. Hugo's dishes satisfy dimensions that are way beyond the normal perceptions.
Hugo's atmosphere is surprisingly accommodating and comfortable. The bar has this warm feel reminding me - slightly - of the Oak Room in the Fairmont at Copley. Not quite by aesthetic, but the general feel. At Hugo's its easy to sit down and begin a culinary experience at a relaxed and leisurely pace. The staff is attentive and friendly. None of this did I expect when looking from the outside; just a lesson in not judging before you have a chance to taste it.
As far as the impact on the wallet, we walked away just shy of $200 for the two of us; not quite Restaurant Week expectations. The drinks and extra dishes were responsible for the bulk of the bill, but it was worth it. The blind tasting - certainly something I intend to do in the future - is $85 per person but everyone at the table is expected to take part. Even though it may be more for a random night out, Hugo's is a dining experience that can be done any day of the week. It is possible to order a few things from the a-la-carte menu and be satisfied. In addition, the bar offers additional food choices that make drinking and socializing even more eventful. At Hugo's textures, tastes, presentations, and atmosphere combine to provide a complex dining experience that is wonderfully exceptional.
- Tags: Eclectic