June 3, 2013

Dining on Portland's Commercial St.

I had an unusual experience Saturday evening. Someone asked me where they should eat. That's not the unusual part - as a food blogger, I can talk about eating out in Portland at length. You might actually get more than you bargained for in that conversation.

I was on my way into Sapporo, a fairly standard sushi restaurant on Commercial St. The group in front of us was lingering at the menu, and as the last person in the party, I got the question, hey, is this place good? The unusual thing then was that I was kind of stumped. (Fortunately these people were strangers and didn't know I'm a food blogger!)

My half-hearted shrug then elicited a plea for a better dinner recommendation, and after trying unsuccessfully to see if they could get to Fuji on Exchange St (they wanted sushi and hibachi), I realized that the group was from way out of town.

So my attitude changed, and I declared, no, you shouldn't eat here. And this is nothing against Sapporo - I ate there that night, after all. But rather, if you're coming to Portland for the weekend, a fairly generic sushi restaurant that could be in any city or town is not where you should be spending Saturday night.

Well, we've heard of Fore Street... they said, after my (admittedly half-hearted) suggestion for Vignola/Cinque Terre was met with a lukewarm response. But I couldn't in good conscience send them there. They were young, one of the guys was already kind of drunk, they'd spend way too much money without realizing what hit them.

So I looked up and down Commercial Street and could not come up with a place nearby to send them that'd I feel good about.

I was thinking, what restaurant will make you feel like you're in a seaside town, that will serve you a good meal that isn't primarily fried, maybe some good seafood, some nice cocktails, that feels fun and a little bit fancy...

And in my head I'm thinking of all the restaurants down Commercial St, supposedly the "It" spot for tourists. The Farmers' Table? No, reportedly not good. J's Oyster? No, too divey. Andy's or RiRa? No, both too pubby.

Photo by Corey Templeton of PortlandDailyPhoto.com

And then I hit on it: Old Port Sea Grill. A good mix of fried and not-fried seafood, a nice environment but one where Mr. Already Drunk would still fit in, good cocktails, and a big fish tank. Perfect.

I sent them down the street promising them a good Dark and Stormy in their future and felt that I'd done a bunch of tourists right by Portland.

So how'd I do? (Writing this now, I realize that In'finiti would have also been a nice option, although I think the food is mixed.) Where would you send someone to eat from Commercial Street (keeping in mind that they were directionally impaired)? Isn't it kind of odd that they aren't better dining options down on our main tourist drag?