By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,493)
Admittedly, because of all the hoopla surrounding the opening of Harding Lee Smith’s seafood mecca and my own love of sea food, mhn.com beat it down to the opening of the controversial chef’s fourth restaurant in Portland; Boone’s Fish House & Oyster Room, on Commercial Street for lunch today. The reincarnation of the original Boone’s on the same site has a seating capacity of 250. Last night there was a soft opening with the public invited. The restaurant received approval from the city to open at 4:15 pm in the afternoon.
The flower boxes full of petunias at the entrance were charming and a gracious invitation to guests about to enter the newly renovated Fish House. There appeared to be no available space left on the outside porch, so mhn.com stepped inside into a plain, but light main room. To the left and center, is the chef’s station (is that what it’s called?) where all the cooking is done. At the center of it all, was chef Smith overseeing the cooks and wait staff. There was a space at the long, curved lunch counter in front of him where I seated myself.
After exchanging a few “pleasantries” with Smith, I ordered a crabmeat roll and diet soda from the attentive waitress. So often, crabmeat can be bland. I wasn’t disappointed. It was ordinary and lacked any flavor that would have made it special. A small salad went with it which was delicious. The presentation of my $18. crabmeat roll was disappointing as well. It would have been enhanced by a sprig of parsley or a dash of paprika on the plain crabmeat roll. Or perhaps a toasted roll. There was no lettuce served on the roll either. When I asked Smith why so, he said in a surly voice: “That’s my tradition. That’s the way my mother does it.” Served on tissue paper on a tray, it just didn’t live up to the standards one expects from a Smith venue.
The room which was empty except for a few tables scattered around the large room, seemed noisy for no apparent reason. It reminded me of the popular Front Room on Munjoy Hill, (Smith owned also) which at its busiest, can be too noisy for some. But I don’t know who was making all the noise, except maybe Smith as he occasionally cursed when things didn’t go smoothly. That was loud. It was out of place too. A good dessert brought the mhn.com bill to $25. plus an ample tip for the brave waitress.
MHN.com took a deep and slow breath aware it could be her last for a while and said to the surly and snarly chef: “I have another question for you before I leave. Have you given up drinking yet?” It was a question that should not have surprised Smith given the scathing cover article, Satan’s Sous Chef, that appeared in the July issue of “The Bollard” about his alleged unprofessional treatment of employees following his drinking binges, a lawsuit filed against him by former and current employees and his accidental frosty dip in the Harbor at DiMillo’s last winter on a stormy night from which he had to be rescued, because he was intoxicated then as well.
“Why should I?” he glared back at me, eye ball to eye ball. Maybe for the sake of his soon to be born baby? Late next month.
Most likely, Boone’s is still a work-in-progress and deserves another visit. It even occurred to me that perhaps with all the expensive renovation work and the ordinary outcome, except for the flower boxes, Smith is running on low cash flow and needs to fill up his coffers by serving bland and overpriced crabmeat rolls.