Eve’s at the Garden

Possibly the best-kept secret in Portland, Eve’s at the Garden’s brick courtyard is an oasis. Even in early spring before everything is in bloom, it’s easy to see the signs of a lush, lovely garden. An arbor of grapevines, ready to yield fruit, welcomes guests at the entry. Crabapple trees shade a fire pit in the corner, surrounded by rocking chairs. And a decorative pool adds a soothing water element. Located within the Portland Harbor Hotel, Eve’s at the Garden is an appealing and quiet spot for everything from a morning cup of coffee or breakfast to an after-work drink, a lunch with friends, or a dinner date.

Executive chef Tim Labonte will make sure you’re covered at any time of day. He continues to evolve the menu, taking advantage of seasonal ingredients and inspiration from a variety of sources. He recently returned from a trip to Spain, his first vacation in a long time. “All we did was eat,” he tells me, as we sit in the courtyard. “The approach in Spain is so simple, with high-end product in the forefront.” You can see some influence of his trip in the latest version of the menu. A salad of cold, poached mussels is dotted with crispy chorizo chips, adding spicy notes to the mild seafood. A dressing of ramp oil and citrus is vibrant, and chopped almonds add texture. “This is how they use product in Spain,” says Labonte. “Cold seafood, with robust flavors coming out of something that appears so simple.” A dish of grilled and chilled shrimp is also delightful and bright with aji amarillo sauce, made from a zesty orange Peruvian pepper. The shrimp is tossed with carrots, cilantro, and poblano peppers and served atop a shaving of queso blanco. It’s a pretty dish, and we eat every last bite, with freshly fried tortilla chips alongside. We enjoy it with a drink called the Cocktail Cove, also from the new spring menu. The refreshing blend of Patrón tequila, crème de cassis, ginger beer, and lime is sweet and spicy.

This season’s menu has a new emphasis on seafood, something Labonte has a lot of experience with. He previously worked in Key West, Florida, for close to ten years. The evolution of his career has brought him around to simpler preparations, with each ingredient playing an important role. “When I started, my first crab cake had about 50 ingredients,” he laughs. “Now there’s just a handful of ingredients, and it’s much better.” Labonte’s grilled tuna niçoise is a fine example as well. The generous serving of fish is seared but still rare inside, with a balsamic mustard glaze. Other niçoise ingredients, such as green beans, roasted cherry tomatoes, and olives are included, but the traditionally steamed potatoes get a surprising twist. Red bliss potatoes are fried in an oregano batter, rendering them crisp and flavorful, an excellent change from the usual presentation. “Meaty fish like tuna can withstand big flavors,” says Labonte.

The Portland Harbor Hotel is nearing the completion of a six-month-long renovation. General manager Gerard Kiladjian offers us a tour, pointing out the stylish new highlights. The lobby has a welcoming, subtly nautical feel that carries throughout the rest of the hotel. A new sitting area overlooks Fore Street, and its big, upholstered chairs offer a quiet spot for people watching. “It’s more of a connection with the street and the neighborhood,” says Kiladjian. A stunning new installation by local sculptor Geoff Herguth mimics a school of fish with its constant motion, making a dramatic addition to the decor. Each floor of the hotel now boasts a pantry area immediately off the elevator. “We want to offer our guests a really great cup of coffee all day,” Kiladjian says. A Starbucks coffee machine prepares drinks using a touchscreen, from dark roast using freshly ground beans to chai latte and even hot chocolate. A tap offers both sparkling and still water. Thos. Moser chairs are placed nearby, making the pantry area cozy and inviting. Kiladjian plans to offer fruit and other snacks as well. Each hotel room has been completely redone, in shades of blue, khaki, and white. Bringing in more local elements, weavings from Angela Adams hang over the beds, spelling out the word “dream” in nautical flags. Custom furniture, chic wall coverings, and more local art complete the smart new design. The next project will be the dining room, Kiladjian tells me, with the continuation of the refined maritime theme.

After the tour, I’m tempted to head back to Eve’s, and enjoy the rare sunny day. I don’t have time today, but I know it won’t be long before I returned to this hidden gem.

Eve’s at the Garden | Portland Harbor Hotel | 468 Fore St. | Portland | 207.775.9090 |portlandharborhotel.com