Evo Kitchen + Bar
The kitchen at Evo is so small that chef Matt Ginn and his team use the bar that surrounds it for prep work. There’s just one oven, four burners, and a large stand mixer that kneads the dough for hundreds of loaves of fluffy pita bread each day. The crew starts prepping for dinner at 7 a.m. and by 4 p.m. the entire space is washed down, cleaned up, and ready for guests who take seats to watch the action. The shining, compact kitchen is the centerpiece at Evo. And the question is—how do they get such big, bold flavors out of such a tiny kitchen?
At Evo, the focus is on the cuisine of the Middle East and Mediterranean. In these countries, such as Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Turkey, the food is fresh and flavors pop, spiced with za’atar, sumac, wild thyme, and smoky Aleppo pepper. But while the spices may seem exotic at Evo, the produce is familiar. “It’s amazing how well this food transfers to Maine,” says Ginn “Besides lemons and olives, I find pretty much everything I need at the Portland farmer’s markets.” Right now he’s shopping the market for herbs, summer squash, tomatoes, and greens. Some of his regular market vendors come to eat at Evo because they like to see what he’s doing with their ingredients.
Chef Ginn credits Steve Corry at 555 in Portland for training him in the world of fine dining. Ginn cooked there for several years rising to the position of chef de cuisine, leaving briefly for a stint at Boston restaurants such as L’Espalier and Harvest. All of these restaurants contributed to his knowledge of French technique and classic cooking, preparing him to take the reins at Evo. However, the food at Evo is a world away from such classic continental cuisine of his past experience. Months of experimentation, studying, recipe testing and tasting led to the formation of a full and varied menu. There are dishes here for every type of eater, from the vegetarian who will be delighted with a full array of choices to the adventurous omnivore who can choose from a variety of proteins including pork shoulder shawarma and roasted lamb loin. Local seafood lovers are in luck, too. The shelled lobster, sweet and briny, is plated with tiny herb-filled manti, a Turkish pasta. The scallops are cooked perfectly, just translucent with a nice sear, and are served with an airy foam of housemade almond milk, lemon, and molokhia, an Egyptian leaf. The foam dissolves on contact in your mouth, leaving just a whisper of flavor. The lightness contrasts with the sharp tang of golden raisin kabis. Pickled vegetables appear in several other dishes as well, including the corn fattoush, where watermelon rind kabis are part of a bright and beautiful salad of fennel, peppers, and broken pita garnished with edible flowers. The fluke crudo rests on thinly sliced cucumbers and the mild fish’s flavor is elevated with the pop of pickled Fresno chilies and borage flowers while puffed freekeh adds a little bit of crunch.
The wait staff is well-versed and eager to explain dishes and suggest small plate pairings Match the crushed walnut muhammara with man’ousha, a Lebanese flatbread, with tomato, cucumber and cured olives. Or try the savory duck kebab with the labneh, a strained yogurt cheese that balances the richness of the duck perfectly. This is a fun way to explore the menu—tasting and testing flavors, textures, and ingredients.
Watching from the bar, you may notice both chefs and bartenders working from the same mise en place. Some ingredients and garnishes found in the food also make their way onto the cocktail menu. The citrusy Full Blood is a lively blend of Metaxa, Lillet, juice, and basil honey syrup. Ginn, who is also a Level 2 sommelier, carefully curated the wine list, which includes wines from Sardinia, Lebanon, and Greece, as well as interesting bottles from the U.S. and France.
There has been much discussion around town about the glass exterior of the restaurant and hotel. Whatever your opinion is of the outside, the interior at Evo is conducive to socializing, with most seating at bar height, along the windows. The varying angles make conversation and plate sharing easy and all that glass makes for great people-watching out on the streets of Portland. There’s a small upstairs area if you’re looking for a quieter evening. This space is also perfect for a special celebration or private party.
As I’m getting ready to leave, Ginn comes by with one more dish for me to try. It’s not on the menu yet, but it’s the result of combining the freshest local produce with those distinctive Mediterranean flavors. The chef is earnest and so very likable, asking what I think of his latest creation.
Like everything else I’ve tasted at Evo, I tell him “I could eat this all day.”
Evo | 443 Fore St. | Portland | 207.358.7830 | evoportland.com