Bar Lola, Portland
Posted on March 22, 2012
by Joe Ricchio
For some reason Munjoy Hill seldom registers with me when considering dining options. This isn’t to say that there aren’t great restaurants in this part of town, but rather to suggest that I am a creature of habit. Every meal I have had the pleasure of enjoying at Bar Lola prompts me to scold myself for this inexplicable pattern of repetition and vow to return more than once every year and a half.
On my most recent visit, the restaurant is at capacity when I arrive. The cozy dining room is furnished with clean, modern effects and is adjoined by a four-seat bar and a small lounge situated close to the entrance. Owner Stella Hernandez greets me warmly and escorts me to my table. Not long afterward, I receive soft, chewy chunks of bread from Standard Baking Company and a dish of olive oil dotted with a liberal amount of salt and pepper.
The menu at Bar Lola consists primarily of smaller plates, encouraging the diner to sample multiple items. The most enticing option is called “Feed Me,” a seven course tasting chosen by Chef/Owner Guy Hernandez.
Though the restaurant offers pairings, I opt instead for a full bottle of Sattler St. Laurent from Burgenland, Austria. Sometimes it is interesting to find out how a particular wine develops and changes when paired with a variety of foods. Many of the reds best suited to this challenge hail from regions known for producing white wine, such as Germany, Austria, and the Loire Valley of France, and tend to be more delicate and higher in acidity. Initially, the Sattler throws off aromas of tamarind and white pepper, a soft texture, and flavors of plums, leather, and earth.
The preliminary course features meaty tuna cured with olive oil, served over peppery arugula and pimentón aïoli. Coco beans add a creamy texture and buttery flavor to the dish, rendering the two small slices of ciabatta a tad superfluous, but delicious nonetheless when left to soak up the aïoli.
The wine takes on a rhubarb-like flavor and truly comes to life alongside the rich, hearty beef broth of the caramelized onion soup. A single crostini, slathered with marrow butter and showered with parsley, floats in the bowl like a miniature life raft of the gods. When capsized, it integrates the marrow with the already decadent stock.
As I take my last bite of soup, I look out the dining room windows to see a reckless driver being pulled over by two police cruisers. This scene creates a mildly nauseating strobe-like effect for patrons, but luckily for me, it also distracts them from the flash of my camera for a solid ten minutes.
A piquant tomatillo salsa verde adds a bit of Latin flare to the traditional veal ravioli, which is filled with delicately seasoned meat and spiked with nutmeg. These flavors accentuate the peppery nature of the Sattler, which reminds me to drink more water.
Confit of rabbit leg falls right off the bone at the slightest touch of the fork and rests neatly by a small pool of silky potato and leek purée, flecked with chopped tarragon. I make proper use of the last of my bread by sopping up any trace of the purée that has been mingling with the juices of the succulent rabbit.
My server has been engaging and pleasant thus far, comfortably describing each dish and not hesitating to inquire with the chef when unsure of an answer to a question. Though during my restaurant career I delighted in making up far-fetched stories about the food I served, purely for the sake of entertaining myself, I respect those who do things the “right way.”
A refreshing palate cleanser of bitter frisée, crunchy apple matchsticks, and peppery, house-cured coppa provide a nice segue into the final leg of the journey. Due to the regulation of portions, I’m actually in pretty reasonable shape.
The next course is a plate of pan-seared monkfish, nestled in a mound of perfectly roasted Blue Adirondack potatoes, cauliflower, and excessively fatty and delectable pancetta. A swath of smooth, earthy cauliflower purée lines the perimeter of the plate, allowing me to coat each bite before consumption.
I finish the last of my wine with the cheese coursea single Medjool date stuffed with pungent Roquefort and smoky bacon and drizzled with wildflower honey.
Profiteroles emerge from the kitchen and they are some of the best I have ever tasted. The pastry is a wonderful balance of airy and doughyperfect for soaking up just enough of the vanilla ice cream filling. I pair dessert with a glass of Rare Wine Company Historic Series “Boston Bual” from Madeira, Portugal, a fortified wine with essences of Marcona almonds and chestnut honey.
Shortly before the conclusion of my meal, a friend unexpectedly joins me. I order another bottle of Sattler to share between the two of us. Though this does not take long, I become aware that we are the last patrons left in the dining room and quickly wrap things up. On my way out, I once again vow that it will not be a full year and a half until I return.
100 Congress St. | Portland | 207.775.5652 | barlola.net