When Maine Restaurant Week, the much-lauded, oft-maligned dining promotion, rolled around this year, I took the opportunity to dine out with fellow Portland food blogger Steffy Amondi. We narrowed down our choices to a short list of places we'd either never been or only been for drinks and appetizers. Sur Lie emerged as our top choice—at $35 for four courses, it seemed to be a true Restaurant Week deal.
We arrived at 7pm for our reservation, but learned that a group was camping out at our table, meaning that they'd paid the bill but showed no signs of leaving. We were nonplussed—we enjoyed the time to order drinks at the bar and chat for a while.
Sur Lie is known for its bar program—specifically its craft cocktails, so we all took the chance to order from the list of nine speciality drinks. I ordered You Can't Handle The Chartreuse ($11), with Back River gin, Chartreuse, arugula, Thai basil, grapefruit, lime, and lemongrass bitters. It was tart and herbal, as you'd expect, although I wish the arugula/basil/grapefruit flavors had been more pronounced, since the Chartreuse overpowered them.
Once we were seated at our table, we spent a considerable amount of time digesting the large Restaurant Week menu—each course had three to five choices. Sur Lie's menu is an eclectic mix of cuisines and is made up of small plates, the portion somewhere between an appetizer and an entree. Our server told us that while each of us would order one dish from each course, the portions would be enough for the table to share.
The first course, "To settle and nibble..." included five dishes from the restaurant's regular menu, and we ordered nearly all of them: warm marinated olives, sweet pea hummus, and cheese and charcuterie board. The sweet pea hummus was light, almost bordering on too mild, but great for spring (if it ever arrives), while the snack board was a crowd-pleaser with contrasting textures and strong flavors.
Sharing these snacky courses helped create a nice homey vibe at our table—it's always fun to dine out with a fellow food blogger, since you're free to talk in-depth about the food without feeling like you're boring your company. Our boyfriends bonded over sports talk and the ups and downs of dating a food blogger (they concluded it's mostly "ups" 😘 ).
Our next course was a round of small plates in true Sur Lie style: the fried milk-braised cauliflower, celery and fennel salad, and crispy pork belly over wheat berries, kale, and white beans (the pork belly was the first dish we encountered that isn't on the regular menu).
The celery and fennel salad was my favorite of this round: fresh and crunchy with great pops of flavor throughout from candied pecans and Pineland Farms cheddar. The cauliflower was a little soft for something being billed as fried, but had great flavor, while the pork belly was very rich—a bite was plenty for me—and hearty with its classic combination of pork, beans, and greens.
Next up, a round of "Sur Taters," a bowl of fried potato cubes topped with roasted garlic, crumbled blue cheese, and pickled jalapenos; fried haddock with a salsa verde squiggle; and lamb bolognese over casarecce pasta.
The potatoes and the bolognese were the winners in my book—the fried haddock suffered from a soft, rather than crispy, battered coating, and its flavors were too mild to stand up to the other dishes on the table. The bolognese was my favorite, with a tangy sauce and lots of orange zest.
Dessert was largely what drove me to choose Sur Lie in the first place—I'd spied strawberry-jelly filled donuts on the menu, so my choice was obvious. The others ordered a flourless chocolate cake with cara cara orange puree and gelato, and a passionfruit panna cotta with granola.
The donuts were perfect—crispy and sugared with the right ratio of filling to dough. Dessert was one course we didn't share, or rather I was only interested in my donuts, so you'll have to read Steffy's report for her panna cotta feedback.
Sur Lie's Restaurant Week menu was a great choice—a nice mix of regular menu items and new dishes, and at $58 a head (includes a $10 glass of wine, tax, and tip), was a bargain compared to a regular meal there. While it's maybe not the place for those of you who like to make the joke, "I spent $100 and still had to go to Five Guys afterwards," the unique approach to the food and drink menu will please foodies and comfort food-lovers alike.
Sur Lie | 11 Free St, Portland | 207-956-7350 | Open for dinner at 4pm, Tuesday through Saturday