Chef et al

Place: Chef et al
Time: 7:30 pm, Saturday February 21, 2009
With: Sabrina
Where: 408 Forest Ave, Portland, Maine

On Saturday night Sabrina, Hubby and I were just lounging around Chez Chris2fer musing on the movie we just saw (“Push” with Dakota Fanning and Chris Evan. I loved it. They, not so much.) and trying in vain to decide where to eat. Doesn’t it seem like that is the true eternal question? Hubby eventually bowed out, so Sabs and I settled on Margaritas. Off we go!

We were traveling down Forest Ave when suddenly, Chef et al popped into view. “How about it”, I asked? Sabrina screeched across traffic to make it into the parking lot. We had been discussing this place for ages, it seems, without stopping. Time to have a go.

Chef et al is located across from the Forest Ave Plaza, on the corner of Fessenden St. It’s a strange location that has been several things in the last few years, but mostly a vacant building. Curiosity compelled us to investigate.

There is parking on the side of the restaurant, and plenty of street parking both on Forest and Fessenden. The inside is a large open room, with several booths and tables in the front, and then more up a few steps into the bar area. There is a cheerful star themed carpet on the floor, which complements the muted yellow on the walls. The lighting is dim (but not bring-a flashlight-dim) and inviting. Everything is clean and presents itself well.

I ordered a gin & tonic to sip while we were perusing the menu. Our waiter was a cute straight guy with artfully messy dark hair, possibly a faux-hawk, and a deep voice. Sabrina was smitten. Heck, I was a little smitten, although Hubby has nothing to worry about. Achem. So, my G&T. I took a sip, and it tasted like it was made with seltzer. Ew. I explained it to fauxhawk, and he had the bartender make another. It still wasn’t right, so I gave up on it. A few minutes later, he came back, having changed the canisters and checked all of the mechanics of their systems. Sabrina said it tasted better but I wasn’t convinced. I finished it ’cause he tried so hard. Points for good service.

The menu is chock full of good stuff. I hadn’t planned on an expensive meal, so I will have to go back and try the entrees later (not too expensive, either. Just more than I wanted to spend). I finally settled on the House Brined Turkey sandwich, while Sabs got a Chicken Caesar Salad. Of course she did. Time to switch it up, Sabs!

Her salad was beautifully arranged, large fresh Romaine Leaves stacked next to her (requested) Dressing on the side, with a large breast of perfectly grilled Chicken. The lettuce had shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano on it. It was beautiful. Sabrina was thrilled.

I don’t even have the words to describe my sandwich. You know if you are cooking something with cheese in it, and the cheese touches the pan, and gets all crispy and tangy and splendid? Yeah – that was what they did to my sandwich, but it was all throughout. The bread was crusty and crispy and light brown, grilled with just enough butter to be delicious, but not too much to be oily. The turkey was filled with briny flavor and the bacon was thick and crunchy. There was an apple and cranberry chutney that married seamlessly with a maple aioli. It was one of the best sandwiches I have ever had. Peerless. And! It was served with homemade french fries. Homemade!

I stared to get a bit worried, as we were one of only three couples there on a Saturday night. I asked our waiter about business. He looked a little squirrely, then said that they were doing fine. I pressed – how can they stay open with so little patronage? He finally spilled that some investors are looking into lending a helping hand to keep them afloat.

Thank god. It would be a cruel joke to allow me a taste of a perfect sandwich, only to deny me every having one again.

4 out of 5 stars (simply for the weird drink)

Chef et al

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