It is the warmest day of the summer when I pay an overdue visit to the Blue Spoon on Portland’s Munjoy Hill, the kind of weather where even I crave lighter fare despite my usual indifference on the matter. Chef and owner David Iovino is happy to oblige.
Iovino’s style of cooking is markedly finesse-driven and no ingredient is an afterthought. Even the most delicate and subtle flavor is there to balance out another, a concept which is demonstrated beautifully in his fish chowder, where alongside the traditional New England fish and potatoes are leeks and tarragon balanced by a hint of nutmeg and chili oil. The broth is creamy yet possesses an ethereal consistency that makes it intensely satisfying on a day such as this.
When Iovino opened the doors in 2004, he envisioned a neighborhood meeting place, which is exactly what Blue Spoon has become, especially during its wildly popular version of happy hour, simply called wine time. The bistro burger, made with lean ground steak in a Burgundy reduction and topped with caramelized onions, garners an almost cult-like following throughout the city.
However, there is far more to the Blue Spoon than burgers and happy hour. Obviously there is the quality of ingredients that are sourced locally when it makes sense, a practice that he was first exposed to while working for well-known chef Peter Hoffman at Savoy in New York City. ”I am lucky that, after finishing culinary school, I landed at a place that I identified with.” He continues, ”the social structure of the staff and the relationship with purveyors were something I wanted to carry over to my own place.
This is evident in his beet and cucumber salad with sweet basil, pine nuts, and goat cheese buttermilk dressing. Iovino insists that Black Kettle Farm in Lyman has the best cucumbers so he refuses to use anything but. Another example of pristine simplicity is the smoky grilled eggplant that is topped with fresh ricotta from Lakin’s Gorges and tastes of mint and lemon.
When you talk about Munjoy Hill, its impossible not to mention Blue Spoon. The restaurant that was built in the heart of the East End years before it was trendy. The ten years of success and customer loyalty have to do with the casual atmosphere, weekly wine time, and, perhaps, the popular bistro burger, but mainly because of Iovino’s loyalty to customer favorites along with his ability to evolve.
Still, if there is one dish that is incredibly satisfying on a warm day, it is the trout and prosciutto. Iovino had been aging his own pepper vinegar and was waiting for the right dish. The salty meat, buttery fish, and crunchy greens beans were the perfect match for the piquancy of the vinegar. I will admit that I could have eaten three plates.
“I feel lucky to have been able to find a spot within a block of where I originally wanted,” Iovino says. “The geography of the hill makes it exactly the kind of small neighborhood I was looking for.”
89 Congress Street | Portland | 207.773.1116 | bluespoonme.com