After spending a considerable amount of my early childhood at church on each and every Sunday, not to mention the torturous, prerequisite C.C.D. classes forced on me by my parents, one would think that I might have developed a strong aversion to setting foot in these structures, as beautiful as the architecture may be.
On the contrary, when I enter Grace I am put at ease. It combines everything that I find pleasing about the aesthetic, and removes all of the activity that I do not, replacing it with what I love most in this world, eating and drinking. It could be said that these activities are my religion, and in my own mind I have ascended to the rank of at least Bishop within the hierarchy.
At a recent service I find a perch at the bar, where I enjoy a glass of Oxbow Brewing Company’s “Loretta,” a saison-style beer that combines the refreshing minerality that is the hallmark of this category with the creamy, fruity characteristics of a hefeweizen. In other words, it is infinitely drinkable and will suit just about anything chef Pete Sueltenfuss sends my way.
I begin with sashimi of Hamachi, a mild, buttery fish that takes quite nicely to the charred fennel puree and Greek olive oil it’s resting in. The puree almost takes on the feel of more aromatic balsamic vinegar, serving to accentuate yet not overpower the delicate flavor of the fish. Paper-thin slices of radish add a bit of crunch, as well as a contrast to the sweet puree.
Meg, who is tending bar, offers me a taste of the “Revelation” cocktail, consisting of Fernet Branca, which I adore, as well as Bulleit Rye, orange bitters, and a dash of sweet vermouth. There is a pleasant balance of sweet, bitter, and burn that would prompt me to sip and allow the flavors to develop further as the drink reaches room temperature.
Sueltenfuss has always been passionate about charcuterie, so I am not surprised that my next course is a platter of his latest offerings in that realm. Standouts here include headcheese that has been shaved in an effort to achieve a texture much like pastrami. Also of note is the rabbit liver mousse, neatly topped with a vibrantly colored dill gelée. When slathered on a crostini, the result is smooth, rich, and somehow light and refreshing. An assortment of pickled cornichons, kohlrabi, and husk cherries keep the palate fresh amidst the plethora of cured meats.
Grace’s bar is quite conducive to dining. The first-floor seats are prime, with plenty of room to stretch out and views of the sprawling dining area to enjoy. One may also to choose to sit at the bar on the second level situated to face a massive stained glass window. The area that once housed the pulpit has been replaced with a beautiful open kitchen, with Sueltenfuss doling out his version of the Eucharist from center stage.
While pondering the seating options, I tear into crispy fried veal sweetbreads, which have a texture not unlike that of some of the better versions of General Tso’s Chicken that I have enjoyed. The Agro Dolce sauce is basically the Italian version of sweet and sour, and the chopped rosemary sprinkled on the veal adds considerable depth and interest to the dish. For crunch, it is garnished with a scattering of pine nuts and tiny Champagne grapes.
My personal favorite of the evening is my next course: New Zealand cockles, sausage, brioche croutons, and butter-poached razor clams in a pool of romesco broth. The razor clams, which have been removed from the shell, impart the sensation of eating a sweet lobster tail dripping with warm drawn butter. A showering of parsley brightens the flavor and tightens the warmly spiced dish as a whole.
My final savory course is poached Spanish mackerel that has been removed of bones and stuffed with a think layer of hijiki, a species of Japanese seaweed. The fish is incredibly meaty, fresh, and mild, taking on the flavor of the deep, smoky dashi broth in which it sits, along with braised daikon radish, earthy black trumpet mushrooms, and pea shoots.
When it is time to transition into sweet, pastry chef Ilma Lopez materializes with what is simply known as “Corn.” It is built on a nucleus of sweet corn ice cream, with vanilla meringue, corn cake, popcorn, house-made corn flakes, and a brown sugar honey glaze. It’s like dessert, a late night snack, and breakfast all wrapped up into one ridiculous package. It may sound a bit jumbled, but it worked in every single way imaginable.
There will be no Penance or Reconciliation. I fully accept any kind of consequences that may result from indulgences such as these.
15 Chestnut St. | Portland | 207.828.4422 | restaurantgrace.com