Name game

The Frog and Turtle evokes Uffa!'s strengths
By BRIAN DUFF  |  November 7, 2007
NEW SPOT, NEW SIGN: Outside the Frog and Turtle.

Frog and Turtle | 3 Bridge St, Westbrook | Tues-Thurs 5-9:30 pm; Fri-Sat 5-10 pm; Sun 5-9:30 pm | Visa/MC | 207.491.4185
The Portland restaurant scene is crowded and confusing. Like all humans confronting overwhelming choices in a crucial aspect of life, we cannot resist the urge to create taxonomies — the most comprehensive of which is on display online at the Portland Food Map. Though divisions and categorizations do violence to the quirks and particularities that define our experience at any particular restaurant, they give the mind a place to begin — a foothold from which to start the difficult journey toward a decision about where to eat.

The Frog and Turtle, a new venture from James Tranchemontagne (formerly of Uffa!), confronts this dynamic in two ways. First, it's in Westbrook, which is a sort of escape from the struggle for attention among restaurants on the peninsula. Second, he has laid claim to his own taxonomic designation as a “gastro pub.” Gastro pubs took hold in England in the last decade when chefs who cared about great food began serving it in casual drinks-first settings. In embracing the moniker Tranchemontagne promises a departure from Uffa!, which always seemed to take itself seriously, despite the playful name.

The Frog and Turtle does have a very different feel. The room pulls off casual elegance, with lots of wood under red-tinged light, with cozy booths by the windows and a comfy-looking lounge area. At Uffa! you planned to stay a while because serious dining takes time. At Frog and Turtle you linger longer than planned because things are so pleasant.

Fortunately the Frog and Turtle also features many of Uffa!’s old strengths. Among these are skill in the kitchen and the thoughtful staff out front. Apparently the entire staff from Uffa! has moved to the new spot, meaning that for a new place everyone seems very settled in — knowledgeable about the food and the little touches that make for a great meal — like when the bartender slipped me some of the pate (sweet, creamy, and perfect on crispy toast points with a sharp Dijon) that sounded good on the charcuterie plate.

The menu has taken its own taxonomy a bit too far. Dishes are divided into nine categories — familiar ones like entrees and more novel ones like crepes and flatbreads. Having gone to Westbrook to avoid difficult choices you confront them once again. But amid the categories it is easy to sniff out strengths familiar from Uffa!. Tranchemontagne is great at sauces, so I tried an unfamiliar nage over a seafood crepe. The brown-edged pancake was exploding with small Maine shrimp, halved scallops, and haddock — which combined inside without forming a stewish muddle. The watercress within had wilted enough to lose the bitterness that might have overwhelmed the fish, and the light creamy sauce complimented the seafood’s flavor without overwhelming it.

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