Updated: Unfortunately Bar Lola has closed. Thankfully owners, Guy & Stella Hernandez, are working on their next project. We’ll keep you updated!
A month or so ago, Meredith and I met a good friend for drinks at Bar Lola. It’s a shame to say that this was our first time in one of the most loved restaurants in all of Portland, and we ended up leaving that evening having not even sampled the food (although the drinks were outstanding). Needless to say, after falling for the cozy neighborhood atmosphere and watching the dishes coming out of the kitchen for a couple of hours, Bar Lola moved to the top of our list that evening.
I don’t know what took us so long to finally try Bar Lola – definitely not a shortage of good stories from friends or glowing reviews in the press – maybe just the abundance of great places to eat in town, but whatever the reason, I’m glad we finally remedied that by kicking off Maine Restaurant Week with a few courses, cocktails, and two seats by the window.
Since the cocktails were such a hit on our first visit, I made sure to repeat with The Makeup (Bulleit rye, Italian Amaro Montenegro liqueur, Yellow Chartreuse, and orange bitters). The menu at Bar Lola always looks irresistible, with popular four and seven course tasting menus that are widely known to be one of the best values in town. For Restaurant Week, they’d added a five course tasting menu to the mix. It took awhile to decide, but ultimately I started with the salmon rillette crostini, followed by the seared Cavendish Farm quail with endive and grapefruit, then the seared Scottish salmon with sauerkraut and whole grain mustard, and finally the artisan cheese plate with honey. Each course was outstanding, but the quail had me fighting a primal urge to chew the bones clean of every last piece of meat, and the salmon was quite possibly the best I’ve ever had – thick, perfectly prepared medium rare with an extra crispy skin. It quite literally melted in my mouth, and the bed of sauerkraut and mustard was a delightful contrast to the flavor of the fish. I’ll definitely be experimenting with mustard the next time we’re having salmon at home.
Meredith’s favorite dish, by far, was her first, corn cakes with cloth-bound cheddar and roasted red peper. The savory cakes were topped with a pimento cheese-style spread which unfortunately, I only had the chance to sample a single bite. After that, Mere had the Maine potato and leek soup with pepitas and extra virgin grape seed oil, followed by the roasted squash agnolotti with Fern Hill Farm chèvre and fennel tomato sauce, and to finish, the almond tart with brown butter crust. The almond tart pleasantly reminded Meredith of the almond cookies she would bake with her grandmother as a child, and the smile on her face confirmed that she was enjoying her meal as much as I was mine.
The four years we’ve lived here is a long time to wait for a meal as delicious as ours, but slowly but surely we’re covering each of the best places in Portland, and Bar Lola definitely ranks towards to the top of that list. I can’t wait for our return visit.