Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland hasn’t even been open for a year — it started business the last week of June 2012 — but the Old Port seafood restaurant has already accumulated a wealth of accolades. It has been busy since Day 1. The Wall Street Journal and the Boston Globe praised its unique take on the traditional raw bar. And just this week, chefs Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley won the People’s Best New Chef New England award from Food & Wine Magazine, a distinction voted on by readers.
“It’s a big thing for us, and it was voted on by fans, so that’s even better,” said co-owner and manager Arlin Smith, who, with Taylor and Wiley, also owns Portland mainstay Hugo’s, located right next door to Eventide. “It’s definitely been a whirlwind.”
Smith and company signed the lease on the 88 Middle St. location — the former home of culinary-themed Rabalais Books — in March 2012. In three months, they gutted the old carpets and drop ceilings, painted the walls a cheerful pale blue and installed a 1,200-pound slab of Maine pink granite, which serves as the platform upon which Eventide’s 18 varieties of oysters rest, staying cold and briny until they’re shucked and served. Most nights, a mixed crowd of tourists and hip young Portlanders sip cocktails such as a celery gimlet or gulp down oyster shooters, ice cold liquor with an oyster in it, to a soundtrack of smooth ’70s and ’80s rock.
The chalkboard next to the bar lists the oysters available on a given day — nine varieties from Maine, nine “from away.” On my visit to the eatery, I sampled three Maine oysters, including ones from North Haven, Pine Point in Scarborough and Bagaduce in Penobscot, with house-made kimchi-flavored ice and red wine mignonette, served on a Maine-made shell-shaped ceramic plate. I also tried some lightly roasted jumbo oyster from Winter Point in Bath, a rare eight-year-old oyster in a nearly six-inch-long shell, topped with crispy potato and pickled vegetables.
“We’ve been able to cultivate relationships with individual oyster farms that allows us access to stuff a lot of places would never be able to get,” said Smith. “You never see oysters that big on menus, but because we know Winter Point so well they can get them to us.”
Aside from oysters, however, Eventide pays tribute to some classics of Maine seafood joints statewide. There’s clam chowder and lobster stew, of course, and battered Gulf of Maine hake, as well as a New England Clam Bake, a hearty meal of steamers and lobster served with potato, salt pork and a hard-boiled egg, presented on a bed of seaweed.
Smith says that Eventide’s signature dishes, however, are its lobster rolls and oyster buns. The lobster is cooked sous vide — a method that involves sealing the meat in airtight plastic bags and cooking it for a long period of time in a water bath with a lower than usual, highly regulated temperature, resulting in uncommonly tender texture and no loss of juice. The lobster is tossed with either mayo, a brown butter vinaigrette or hollandaise sauce and is served on a Chinese-style steamed bun. The fried oyster bun is also served on that same style roll.
“The Chinese-style steam bun [was] the best decision we ever made,” said Smith. “We had this recipe we were using for our pork buns at Hugo’s next door for so long, so we decided to [make our lobster rolls] in these cute little buns. In a lot of lobster rolls the meat is just pouring over the sides. We were looking for something more compact, and more affordable. They’re just warm, soft and sweet.”
Eventide takes reservations for parties of six or more. Expect to spend between $30 and $40 per person for food and a cocktail. It is open from 11 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. For information, visit eventideoysterco.com.