This has got to be one of the hottest – if not THE hottest – restaurant in Portland, Maine right now. Central Provisions is one of the finalists nominated for James Beard Award – Best New Restaraunt in 2015. Founded by Chef Chris Gould and his wife Paige, the restaurant focuses on using locally-sourced, farm fresh ingredients to create innovative small plates.
It’s also really, really hard to get in.
The restaurant only takes a very limited number of reservations, opening up many of its tables for walk-ins.
And the line grows, FAST.
We showed up around 5:45PM to put down our names. Even at that time, they told us that the wait would be about three hours. Within another hour or so, enough names would fill up the waiting list that they would have to begin turning people away for the night.
Since we weren’t that hungry at the time, we gave them our cell phone number and walked down the pier to Portland Lobster Co. to get a drink. It was pleasant watching the sunset while enjoying drinks next to the ocean.
Finally, three hours later, we got the notification that our table was finally ready.
The menu consists of small plates, separated into four different sections: Raw ($8 – $19) includes all sorts of fun crudos, raw clams and oysters, caviar service, and even a raw beef salad. Cold ($8 to $15) has many fun vegetable-focused small plates as well as a fun three-cheese board. Hot ($6 – $24), focuses on a whole variety of warm dishes – everything from roasted bone marrow and charred eggplant hummus to a ramen vongole and a suckling pig.
Bread + Butter is one of their most popular dishes and is frequently recommended. I loved it. The dish came with slices of toastwith a creamy egg-like custard served on top of flavored butter. The whole dish reminded me of eggs Benedict, with its rich creamy sauce, eggs, and a toasted muffin (or in this case, bread).
The next dish was another favorite. Bright, crunchy, and raw String Beans came tossed with a miso-based dressing and togarashi seeds. The miso added the right amount of umami while the togarashi added a flavorful kick.
The Eggplant Hummus, similarly, was fantastic. The spread itself was deep and smoky, while the little bits of sardines added lovely pops of salty umami. The addition of piri piri sauce gave the dish some zing, adding tartness as well as spice. So Good.
The Roasted Bone Marrow was rich and decadent – as you would expect – though the richness was cut by the addition of shaved horseradish on top. Depending on which bite you took, some bites could be more “assaulting” than others, especially for those sensitive to horseradish.
Though I’m not a huge liver fan, I must admit that this Seared Foie Gras served with raspberry couli and crunchy millet granola was excellent. The foie gras itself was seared beautifully and was really rich and creamy inside. It did not have a very strong liver flavor, which was better for me. The raspberry coulis added the nice fruity balance to the rich foie gras. All in all, it was great.
The Korean BBQ Flank Steak was yet another great dish. The steak, which was only cooked to medium or medium rare, was soft and tender, marinated in Korean flavors and served with a drizzle of sesame oil. It came with a peach kim chi, which balanced out the beef nicely.
Our pregnant friend, who typically loves rare beef, had to ask them if they could cook the meat some more. The kitchen was at first worried, noting that flank steak becomes tough if you cook it too much.
Thankfully, the kitchen was willing to cook a few pieces for her, and honestly, the beef was still quite tasty even cooked well-done. We really appreciated their efforts in accommodating her, even to the point of re-plating the original pieces into a new pretty plate.
The Beet Salad, which came with avocado cream, came with an assortment of different types of beets (golden, red, chiogga, and others). The dish was solid, reasonably classic, and executed well.
The server told us that the Sheep’s Milk Caramelized Cheese could either be an appetizer or a dessert. It’s a pan-fried cheese that’s served with a 15-year aged balsamic plus blueberries. I loved the crispy pan fried dish (reminded me of halloumi and other hearty cheese), though it was quite salty.
I think the dish in general is more salty than sweet, though the portions that had a of blueberries could serve as a dessert.
Finally, we also tried the Foie Gras Parfait with blackberry gelee. It was refreshingly not very sweet. I could easily taste both the foie gras and custard. The tart blackberry gelee on top cut the richness of the custard. It was definitely a pleasant dessert.
All in all, it was a fantastic meal.
Service was casual, friendly, and very competent. Despite the fact that the place was jam packed all night, we felt that our server took excellent care of us. It’s pretty dark inside, crowded, and lively. There’s music playing and the tables are reasonably tightly packed in.
The food is excellent.
I love the fact that the dishes are inspired by ideas from so many different cultures – everything from the Mediterranean eggplant hummus and the French foie gras and bone marrow dishes to the Korean BBQ steak and the togarashi spiced green beans. I especially love it because Chef executes these crazy combinations so well.
Though the lines are crazy long*, it’s totally worth it.
414 Fore Street
*It’s worthy to note that we did visit in the middle of August on a Saturday evening, which is probably peak season for Portland, Maine. It’s likely that you can get a seat much more easily during weekdays or on weekends in the fall/winter when Portland is much colder!