last tuesday, for restaurant week seth and i decided to try the salt exchange. as we browsed through the menus on the maine restaurant week website, their menu appealed to us the most and i have pretty much been wanting to try it since it opened.
at 7pm on a tuesday the restaurant had a nice crowd but was not too busy. seth and i both really loved the space, with the painted brick walls and open duct work -- it is airy and elegant, while still retaining the charm of an old port warehouse. our server was attentive, well informed, friendly, and helpful.
in his classic pirate style, seth started with a winter rum punch with meyer's, bacardi, and captain morgan's rums mixed with pineapple and cranberry juice and an amaretto floater. as i have been suffering from repeated headaches from red wine (i know, i'm drinking cheap wine!) i decided to go with an alagash tripel.
the salt exchange is a small plates restaurant heavy on local seasonal foods. they elected to offer 3 savory courses for MRW, instead of the more traditional starter, main, and dessert courses most of the other restaurants offered.
for our first course we ordered the pork terrine and the cheese board. the pork terrine was, not surprisingly, very rustic and served with whole grain mustard, pickled shallots, and candied lemon peel (i think, having trouble remembering the exact details now). the terrine itself was ... porky, but not terribly flavorful in any other way. the extras on the plate were really nice accompaniments, especially the pickled shallots, whose briney tartness helped to balance the fattiness of the terrine.
the cheese board included two cheeses, honey, apples, baguette, and a few pomegranate seeds. i can't remember exactly what the cheeses were, but one was a grassy vermont cheese and the other was a earthy french cheese (descriptives from our waitress). the plate was lovely, the honey was amazing and floral, and the cheeses were fine, but we both really would have loved to have seen a couple of maine cheeses featured on the plate.
for our second course we ordered the pan seared scallops and the farm greens. the scallops were great: perfectly cooked, with chunks of bacon stuffed inside and served with baby purple potatoes and a broccoli puree.
the farm greens, on the other hand, was the weakest course of the meal. the greens themselves were beautifully tender, dressed lightly in a tasty sherry vinaigrette and served with a smear of briney olive tapanade (the only food seth will not eat are olives so i licked up all the tapande) and the most amazing duck proscuitto. i had never had duck proscuitto before so i was really excited to try it. it was cut so thin you could see through the fat marbling and it was salty and lusciously fatty in my mouth. so i know you are asking, you are raving about this salad, so what was wrong with this dish? the greens themselves were so over salted as to make them inedible. part of me thinks this may have been on purpose as there were these other salty elements on the dish, the chef wanted the salad to also have a nice saltiness. the other part of me thinks there was no communication behind the line and each of the three cooks (its an open kitchen) salted the greens personally. in any event, it was WAY too salty.
for our third course we chose the casco bay cioppino and the confit pork belly. seth was dying to try the cioppino packed with local fish and served with the requisite sourdough bread, and this dish really did deliver. growing up outside san francisco, i have had my fair share of cioppino and this was spot on with its tomato broth tasting of the sea with a great variety of shrimp, white fish, mussels, and crab. the pork belly was my favorite dish of the meal, after all it was pork belly confitted in pork AND duck fat! needless to say it was fatty and luscious and fall apart tender. served over one of the creamiest polenta i have ever had with root veggies on the side, which were just slightly aldente. a great complement to the softness of both the belly and the polenta.
we opted to spend a bit extra and share a slice of the flourless chocolate cake and a deliciously fruity (not yucky fruity like an apricot or blueberry ale) widmer bros. drifter pale ale. the cake was decadent and served with a petite cup of hot chocolate topped with a bruleed marshmallow (aka a toasted marshmallow).
overall it was a great meal and i will definitely be going back to the salt exchange. but due to its moderately high price point, it is one of the many restaurants in portland that needs to be reserved for a special treat, at least until i make that billion dollars. the restaurant week price for three courses was $30.01, which saved us about $5 per person. even if this MRW deal wasn't quite a steal, it did get us to try a new restaurant, and like i said, we will be going back.