A new peak

Katahdin relocates, gets even better
By BRIAN DUFF  |  June 9, 2010

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LOVELY HALIBUT A well cooked, well accented fish dish.

Only in a city as small as Portland can a move of a few blocks, like Katahdin’s recent relocation from High Street to Forest Avenue, seem like a significant change of neighborhood. It’s like theater staging, where a mere stroll downstage brings a character from one part of their life to another — appropriately so, since Katahdin’s new location is tucked in next to Portland Stage Company. In many ways the new spot is appropriate for a second act at the start of the third decade for this old favorite.

KATAHDIN | 27 Forest Ave, Portland | Open Tues-Sat 5-11 pm | Visa/MC/Amex/Disc | 207.774.1740
Katahdin was always a bit theatrical. The old location was enthusiastically painted in bright colors, like a community-theater set, right down to the cloudy-blue sky on the ceiling. The bar was always busier than the dining room, because it was where regulars could best perform for each other. But the marquee belonged to bartender Winnie Moody (which sounds like a stage name), who always managed to keep the dialogue lively, in no small part by pouring terrific drinks that come with little overflow-carafes from which to refill your glass.

The new bar still attracts a garrulous cast of characters — we noted a seasoned gallery owner who clearly enjoys the company of young women. The drinks are still terrific. We tried a concoction of vodka, lemon, and blueberries, and a martini with pomegranate. Each brought out the best of the sugar’s sweet and the alcohol’s bite by muting the other in combination. While the faces are familiar, the directors of this new production of Katahdin have made some welcome changes to the playbill. The wine list is more affordable, and the entrees are served with more imaginative sides. Katahdin now takes reservations — reserved seats in a tall, elegant space with very high ceilings, brick walls, and a quiet loft that overlooks the bar. They have preserved their iconic metal mermaid with the lite-brite nipples.

Our waiter, shadowed by an understudy who watched his every move, comes from the method school of service. He is not just serving you dinner but really cares if you have a good meal. You could hear it in the earnestness of his voice and see it in his widened eyes, the small gestures he made with his hands. His monologue made the specials, a halibut and a pork, sound so good we ordered them, though there were plenty of dishes that looked good on the regular menu of mostly seared seafood and grilled meats. Supporting actor-sides like apple fennel ragu and cremini mushroom risotto offer a good bit of the intrigue.

An appetizer of Maine shrimp and corn cakes was expertly done. Just enough of a lime crème fraiche was drizzled over the cakes to cut the sweetness of the corn and shrimp with some creaminess and sour, without making things soggy. The exterior offered a nice crunch, but the oil did not invade the interior. The plate was sprinkled with many more juicy-sweet little shrimp.

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