Right above Standard Baking Company, where we had the fantastic bread, lies Fore St. An unassuming front door opens out into a open, lofty, yet warm room with charming leaden windows lining the back and sides. On one side of the restaurant is an open kitchen , with seating nearby. There is also seating along the outside of the restaurant, where they sat us, thankfully, next to one of the big windows.
We had high hopes for Fore St.. Gourmet magazine named it the 16th best restaurant in the country in 2002, and the head chef, Sam Wayward, has received a James Beard award for best chef in the Northeast. The restaurant has been around for more than ten years, and was one of the first stars in Portland's rise to culinary destination-hood. While there are many new and exciting restaurants in Portland, the tried-and-true seemed our best bet with only time for one meal.
We sat down next to our window with anticipation.
The menu was long with a long list of inspiring dishes, leaving us unsure of what to order. In general, the focus seemed to be on traditional, rustic preparations with ambition involving the ingredients--no molecular gastronomy here, just very pleasing flavors and an emphasis on freshness. The restaurant is known for sourcing everything locally.
Our waitress fielded every question we lobbed at her with wit. She made us feel like the only ones in the restaurant, and I'm not exaggerating. We finally decided we'd want to try the mussels as a first course, but couldn't agree on anything else. She graciously offered to put that order in and give us more time. When we asked about the tuna confit salad, she demonstrated which part of the fish the meat came from (the loin), then began waxing poetic about the philosophy behind confit: whether it required the fat of the animal
itself that's being confited (basically impossible in the case of tuna), or whether it could be done in oil (but then, isn't the technique really just poaching in fat?). In the meantime, she chose a fantastic bottle of white wine for us drink while pondering these mysteries. I forgot to write it down.
In the end, we got the mussels, the tuna confit salad, a pizza with ham and roasted peaches, a salmon fillet with some kind of riff on a biscuit and a giant fried egg, and a side of snap peas in a ginger-shallot sauce.
The restaurant cooks many things in a wood-fired oven, which gives it a particular flavor and heartiness. The mussels, for example, are served in a buttery, garlicky broth, scattered with roasted almonds, splashed with vermouth, then slid into an oven so hot that the tops of many shells became brittle and cracked. Of the many times I've eaten mussels, this was among the best: rich and buttery, yet complex from the vermouth, possessing a tender texture but a roasted flavor, with the nutty sweetness of the almonds giving the mouth a new texture and taste to break things up.
The tuna confit salad was very moist with mayonnaise, barely a salad, with hunks of tender, fatty tuna scattered throughout, and topped with homemade potato chips.
Our pizza, Elin's favorite dish of the evening, benefited especially from the hot oven. I'm no pizza slouch and have very high standards, having eaten it all over New York, and I'll say this was pretty good. The crust could have been thinner and springier, but the flavors of cured ham and roasted peach were a stroke of genius, a balance of salty-savory and fruity-sweet perfectly achieved.
Our salmon dish was our least favorite, thought it was hard to find fault, and it was certainly inventive: perfectly cooked fillet of salmon served on a smoking cast iron skillet with a fried egg and a biscuit. On the side, we had tender-yet-crisp snap peas with a wonderful ginger-shallot dressing.
I failed to take a picture of our dessert: a very good tarte tatin, which is quite an achievement in itself for a restaurant to serve at all, given its long cooking time and difficult preparation.
We were some of the only people left in the restaurant by the time we finished, and as the waitress showed us the door, she sensed that we were lingering, and lingered with us. We watched the kitchen as the chefs cleaned up and ferried the last desserts to customers. Though she'd been working there for almost eight years, I think our enthusiasm was infectious. She joined us silently as we watched. Finally, we thanked
her. "What a place," we said. She nodded, like nobody had ever said it before. "What a place," she replied.