Happy 2023! Plenty of new restaurants are opening in Portland, including the latest from the owners of Mr. Tuna and Crispy Gai, with chef Ian Driscoll (Central Provisions, Duckfat, Hugo's) at the helm. Bar Futo features a Japanese-inspired menu with many items grilled over binchotan (charcoal).
While there's an extensive selection of sake, we started with some signature cocktails—my husband had the delicious Calpikachu, a rum and chartreuse concoction ($13) with a foam made from a Japanese strawberry soda, while I loved the Sakura sour ($13), a mix of pisco and cherry blossom with an egg white topper.
Later in the meal, I had a Mellon Baller ($12), a fresh mix of homemade Midori (a melon liqueur), absinthe, lime, and mint over crushed ice that was also fantastic.
The menu is divided into two sections of small plates and skewers, with about 20 items total. We were a group of 5, so we were able to sample a large selection of dishes. First to arrive was the fluke crudo ($16), a sesame-forward mix of raw fish and cucumber cubes.
Next, we enjoyed the charred hamachi ($18), thin slices of warm fish in a ponzu sauce, topped with puffed rice and sliced chilis. We also loved the crispy eggplant ($11), fried rounds served in a spicy garlicky miso, and the shrimp tots ($12), balls of bouncy shrimp bits served with a lime kewpie and scallions.
Our first set of skewers was the grilled scallops ($15 for 2) which came topped with a glaze of miso. They were perfectly cooked, although our group was surprised the tough scallop foot wasn't removed. Despite that small quibble, this dish was one of my favorites of the night.
I was also anticipating the Big Mac skewers ($11)—perhaps a nod to the fact that the location used to be a Five Guys??—a beef meatball sandwiched between two onion petals, grilled and then topped with special sauce, shredded lettuce, and sesame seeds. It was a fun, delicious burger bite.
After two more skewers—belt fish in a brown butter ponzu ($10) and a special of swordfish belly with poblano crema ($12)—the short rib beef stew ($24) arrived.
I recently had beef stew made with short ribs for the first time and was an instant convert. Some of my friends thought the stew was too salty, but I was into it. The salt levels were definitely right on the edge, but the tender beef and stewed vegetables were delicious.
The other entrees were a 20 oz. ribeye (a special at $80) and a grilled whole branzino (market price). But we were ready for dessert! The first was a brownie with miso caramel, whipped cream, and hazelnuts and then two options for Japanese shaved ice called kakigori—bananas foster and apple pie.
The mound of shaved ice was drizzled with... actually I'm not sure what it was! By the end of the meal, I'd kind of stopped listening to the server's descriptions of dishes, but thoroughly enjoyed the caramelized, nutty, crunchy, heap of banana-y ice.
We had a great time at Bar Futo, and it's the perfect location for some fantastic drinks and snacks in the heart of the Old Port.
| 425 Fore Street, Portland, Maine | Reservations via Resy