While it's definitely too early to take a victory lap, there are signs we're emerging from this awful pandemic. I'm getting my second vaccine shot today (thank you, public health!!), and many of my loved ones are fully immune. Many restaurants have adapted to the pandemic, creating comfortable outdoor spaces in which I feel a low risk of catching COVID. And I've only come to appreciate dining out even more in this past year.
In my role as food editor for Maine magazine, I recently covered Little Giant's pandemic changes, from its change in ownership to the new heated patio that, like Terlingua's, has become one of the best places to dine out in Portland during the pandemic. Since its patio opened in January, Little Giant has been hosting monthly pop-ups, like Central Provisions and Izakaya Minato, on Mondays when his restaurant is closed.
So when I heard Crown Jewel was the next restaurant to pop up on Little Giant's patio, I was beside myself with excitement. I didn't get to eat at Crown Jewel last year (but did enjoy some cocktails and wings to-go on my friend's boat, so don't feel too sorry for me). I'm especially looking forward to trying the new chef Sara Devereux's island menu this year.
We started with gin fizzes on the streetside patio as there was a short wait for our table. Despite it being a whopping 38*F on Monday night, the cheerful cherry blossoms and pink drinks put us in a summery mood.
We made our way through the restaurant to the patio where it truly was toasty. The patio is open on one end, covered, and surrounded by vertical wood slatting that breaks the wind. The electric heaters mounted on the walls pump out a lot of heat and Huga heated seat cushions are available too. While our freezing days of dining outside are hopefully behind us, Little Giant's patio is amazingly comfortable for being outdoors.
We continued sipping our drinks at the table with a delicious snack mix of furikake popcorn and rice crisp crackers. The menu was a prix fixe of 5 courses, so no decisions were necessary. The dishes soon started arriving, starting with oysters on the half shell topped with a tart, pickled pineapple mignonette.
Next was tamari cured deviled eggs, topped with pickled red onion, trout roe, green onions, tempura flakes, and edible flowers. Together the flavors tasted like a sushi roll.
Then mussels, steamed with black garlic miso butter and shiitake mushrooms. The wedge of sourdough bread was perfect for dipping in the butter (honestly the best part of steamed mussels).
The main course was crab fried rice with a swipe of coconut cream, tinted green from the addition of pandan, a Southeast Asian tropical plant with a coconut-like flavor. I thought the rice dish needed a little punching up with some chili crisp or other spicy/flavorful drizzle. But that was my only feedback on any of the dishes!
For dessert, a bouncy butter mochi cake came topped with sesame, toasted coconut, a drizzle of thick caramel, and Parlor ice cream. So fun.
Crown Jewel opens Friday, May 28 this year, and reservations are available beginning May 1. I can't wait to see which dishes make the final cut for this season's menu and what other Asian/Pacific island delights Chef Sara and owner Alex Wight come up with.
Crown Jewel | 255 Diamond Ave, Portland, ME | (207) 766-3000