When I worked as a reporter, deadlines dictated my lunch hour and I often ate at my desk. Now that my schedule is more flexible, I savor the lunch hour. I usually make it at home, but occasionally I take the time to get together with friends, order a bottle of wine, and make an afternoon of it.
Now that chef and owner Krista Kern Desjarlais offers lunch at Bresca, I’m ready for a leisurely afternoon of grazing. I arrive at 1 p.m. and the first group of customersfour women, a couple, and two menare just finishing. There’s a prime window table and another small table by the front, six seats at the counter, and a banquette that lines the wall. It’s an intimate space, and it feels pastoral and rustic. A series of photographs hang above the banquette, photos Krista took of her daughter playing at the nature conservancy. It feels like Krista’s sharing a part of her life with us, which adds an element of warmth and sweetness to the already bright space.
I sit at the large maple counter and order a sparkling cocktail made with lightly effervescent crémant wine, rose and hibiscus infusion, and floating bits of strawberry. My lunch date arrives and we settle in to our long lunch hour. We start with the spring salad, which is lightly dressed with olive oil, sherry vinegar, blood orange, lemon, and shallots. The greens are crisp, the carrots taste sweet, and the fresh ricotta is creamy. With sugar peas, pickled pearl onions, and artichokes, this is one of the most delicious salads I’ve ever eaten.
I’m excited to try the frog legs indochine, a French/Vietnamese dish served with French baguette and greens. We use our fingers to eat the legs like chicken wings and it’s sticky, messy, and fun. The frog legs are pan seared and incredibly tender, tossed in a thick sauce made from fish sauce, mirin, ginger, soy sauce, honey, and chili. Krista rarely uses black pepper in her cooking, and this dish gets some of its smoky flavor from Piment d’Espelette, a mild pepper from the south of France.
After a thorough cleaning, we move on to the next course: the Gruyere cheese sandwich and butternut squash soup. I’m a sucker for grilled cheese, and this one is near perfection. The bread is buttery but not greasy, and it’s grilled to a beautiful golden color. With a bit of the tart cherry mostarda drizzled on topa condiment made (in this case) of dried and sour cherries, mustard powder, and mustard seedsthe sandwich is elevated to the next level of goodness. The butternut squash soup adds yet another dimension to the classic lunch combination; it’s creamy and smooth, with little pieces of maple popcorn adding texture and sweetness. Every bite of the soup and salad works well together. The tart cherries counter the earthy cheese, and the texture of the popcorn plays off the creamy soup.
Krista’s homemade kerchief pasta is a bowl of springtime ingredients. With shaved asparagus, bitter mustard greens, charred onions, and a six-minute egg, I could eat this dish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. These flavors are heightened by shaved Parmesan, herbs, croutons, and a lemon butter sauce that solidifies the fact that winter is over and spring has arrived.
We’re full, but it would be wrong to leave without one of Krista’s desserts. So after I replenish the meter (we’ve been here for two hours at this point_ we’re ready for panna cotta and the napoleon. The buttermilk panna cotta is light and silky, and this springtime version comes with sliced Muscat grapes, spiced passion fruit citrus broth, and a scoop of rosé sorbet. The dessert looks simple, but there’s a lot going on in every bite. It’s bright yet smooth, tart and sweet all at once. The napoleon is layered with light mascarpone mousse, with raspberries, strawberries, and diced passion fruit adding an acidic kick. A pile of kataifi shredded phyllo dough adds texture. This dessert is both delicious and beautiful.
Lunch at Bresca is a treat. The space is welcoming, the atmosphere is relaxed, and the service is friendly. While it’s possible to come for a salad and head back to work, it’s also a place where you can slow down, meet a few friends, and share an afternoon of amazing food and delicious wine.
111 Middle Street | Portland | 207.772.1004 | restaurantbresca.com