Bohemia for business folk

By BRIAN DUFF  |  April 17, 2013

DIVERSE PORTFOLIO Charcuterie stars on the North Poiut menu.

Nietzsche thought that "however vigorously a man may seem to leap over from one thing into its opposite, closer observation will nonetheless discover the dovetailing where the new building grows out of the old." So it is at the North Point, a new Old Port restaurant and drinking spot run by a transplanted New York restaurateur and his brother. The siblings came to Portland to escape the rat-race and try something different. But despite bohemian touches, the North Point retains some the feel of New York — not contemporary Brooklyn-hip but old-school Manhattan business culture.

And there is nothing wrong with that. In fact North Point offers us a chance to re-appreciate our own Maine corporate culture. With its slower pace, friendlier tone, and relative lack of rapaciousness, it's like New York 50 years ago. At North Point, instead of beards and skinny jeans, patrons are mostly well-coiffed in button-down shirts and slacks or a little black dress. They can afford a semi-pricey cocktail if it is thoughtful and well crafted, as it is at North Point. And they like to snack and imbibe in a handsome space, which North Point has created from what used to be a hair salon. The brick walls are decorated with huge mirrors and an appealingly eclectic group of paintings and photographs (much of it is the work of a third brother, it turns out).

One of the proprietors greets you at the door, or at least stops by your table. They are warm and good talkers in the old New York style, sort of like Regis Philbin; the tables themselves are great looking but tiny, like Kelly Ripa. This is not a problem until you start ordering food — especially as the menu encourages sharing from several plates. It's a menu that says: my kitchen is tiny but I care about food — an experience familiar to many New Yorkers. There are lots of cold meats in the form of patés and charcuterie, and a nice selection of cheeses. A pheasant paté was quite good — sweet but peppery with some gaminess, with a texture more meaty than creamy. Even better was a trio of juicy sausages — a spicy-smoky andouille, a sweet and fatty kielbasa, and a peppery rabbit — served with four sauces.

The menu also features a number of flatbread sandwiches on tenur from the terrific Iraqi bakery Tandoor Bread and Restaurant on Forest Avenue. The sandwiches are grilled, but preserve what is best about this flatbread — its wheaty flavor, soft but chewy texture, and appealingly crisp exterior. North Point stuffs it with any number of fillings, from salmon to mushrooms to cured meats to brie, all mostly to good effect. A version made with local mushrooms was stuffed with thick slices of several dark, juicy, funky varieties of fungi. Their flavor stood up to the sweetness of thick slices of fresh mozzarella topped with a schmear of blueberry puree. Bits of feta added some welcome saltiness. Another sandwich made with brie, apples, and pears plus a touch of peach chutney and honey was somewhat less successful. The flavors got lost in a single note of sweet.

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