Then there are those times when the first experience is fantastic and blows away any expectations. Doesn't it then benefit the establishment to get positive reviews and word of mouth so early on?
And so, with Eventide Oyster Co., I'm going to break a personal rule and I do so because Eventide's opening is, for me, the most anticipated one since Pai Men Miyake. Not only was I excited at the prospect of there being a new oystercentric restaurant in town (I'll go on the record as not being a fan of J's. Sorry.), but I was also curious as to how it would be executed. Would it be more subdued and 'rustic' or would it be in the image of Hugo's, who shares the same owners, and perhaps a bit hard to approach for the average Joe (I will also go on record to say that The Missus and I had one of those 'once in a lifetime' meals at Hugo's on our birthday. So, we're definitely smitten)?
Now that the doors are open, I can say that I think they've struck a wonderful balance. Eventide has the finesse and culinary playfulness of Hugo's, but establishes itself as a unique entity with its distinct, but familiar, menu and casual atmosphere. The bright sea blue walls and open space eases the pain at the loss of Rabelais to Biddeford within moments of opening the door.
When my co-worker and I sat down for lunch, their doors had been open for a little over a week, but you wouldn't be able to tell. Our server at the bar, Jess, was relaxed and informative (we had many questions) and when we couldn't decide on all of our oysters, she quickly suggested filling in the rest with a selection from Maine. Fine enough with us and, with seven varieties from in state, we knew we'd get a great representation of their raw bar.
Speaking of bars. Can I tell you that I was mesmerized by their draft beer taps, particularly the Dogfish Head one?
We opted to start our meal splitting a dozen oysters. My companion ordered the Wellfleets (MA) and Winterpoint Selects (ME), which are exclusive to Eventide and ones that I had sampled at Taste of the Nation. Having remembered getting some super briny Pacific Northwest oysters at Miyake, I chose the Shigoku (WA).Johns River, from South Bristol, Dodge Cove, in Damariscotta, and Wiley Points, also from Damariscotta. For the accoutrements we chose the mignonette and fennel orange, which had the consistency of an Italian ice. The above photo and menu shows them in order, and we ate from the bottom of the plate, up.
The briniest oysters were definitely our preferred ones and were the Shigoku, Johns River and Winterpoint Selects, which my friend said, "It's like when you're a kid and you go into the water off Maine and get a mouth full of ocean. This is Maine."
It was absolutely stunning and the plate held the most tender squid I believe I've ever tasted. There was no chew, no objectionable texture. Had I closed my eyes and taken a bite of the dish I never would have guessed that it was squid. It was buttery, from the egg yolk, and tender, like soft noodles. The flavor was light and delicate, the cubes of potatoes adding the slightest bit of texture, was topped with a simple smattering of olive oil and smokey paprika. By this time, I believe we were both close to swooning off of our bar stools.
Then my plate of 'Lightly Cured Artic Char' was set in front of us and I was completely blown away by its composition. Pickled red onion, creme fraiche, fried bagel pieces, grated hard boil egg and caviar (Artic Char?) all set together on the plate so that each bite would contain all of the components. I wish I could have captured this dish into my memory better because I'm having the hardest time describing just how good it was. I can, however, easily say that it was unlike any lox plate I've had before it. More subtle than traditional lox, it was definitely enhanced by the bite of the pickled red onions and the pop and salt of the caviar.
But, those unsuspecting fried bagel bits. When the plate was set in front of us, my co-worker and I were talking about traditional New York style bagels. I quickly popped one of the fried bagel nuggets into my mouth and instantly put my hand on her arm and said, "And there it is." Perfectly chewy center, nice crunchy, seedy crust. The catch, though, is that it's not even a bagel. It's a flat bread that they make in house and prepare to look like little bagel pieces. You deceptive, magnificent bastards!
We weren't done there, however. There were two last glorious dishes to dig in to.
My friend ordered the "Fried Oyster Bun," which was served in a bun very similar to those used in the pork belly buns at Pai Men. While she offered me a bite, I left it all to her as she went on about how perfectly fried and fresh the oysters were. She also really enjoyed the uber thinly sliced pickled tomatoes and onions that were served underneath. I believe her exact words were, "These are the perfect undergarments for the oysters."
My "Eventide Lobster Roll" was served with ample amounts of freshly cooked, still slightly warm, sweet lobster tossed in a house mayonnaise and the tiniest bits of dill. While I'm a fan of the more traditional style, toasted bun and all, this easily rises to the top of the best rolls I've had in the area. The soft, steamed bun made me wonder if toasted buns are used more often as a way to counter a heavily (over)dressed lobster salad. This roll didn't need the textural contrast, in fact this roll was enhanced with a softer bun. It complimented the tenderness of the lobster and it all seemed to melt together with every bite. While they play with tradition a wee bit on the roll, I don't think there's a Mainer out there that wouldn't put this towards the top of their list of local favorites.
For most of our lunch, we saw a lot of this:
People gathering outside of the windows, peering in like we were on the inside of a fishbowl. It happened so many times that it made me laugh. I don't know if it was the blue walls, the huge carved boulder that houses the oysters or the fact that they weren't from the area, but they gathered in groups and every once in a while one would venture in to take a picture. If my mouth wasn't full most of the time, I would have yelled to them to stay, pull up a chair and start with a dozen.
But, I didn't.
So, instead, I'm telling you: Go. Sit at the bar, be dazzled with envy with how effortlessly they make shucking look and enjoy some of the best seafood this area now has to offer.