Hungry for Design’s authors are Susan Battista and Fritz Klaetke—partners in both work and life. By day they run Visual Dialogue, a branding and design firm where Susan leads strategy and Fritz leads creative. By night, they can be found sharing meals (and opinions) at restaurants all over Boston and beyond.
A pearl in Portland
Eventide Oyster Co. stands out in a sea of destination restaurants
Portland, Maine (not to be confused with Portland, Oregon of “Portlandia” fame) has charm, ocean views, and a restaurant scene that’s making waves—all only two hours from Boston. Portland’s culinary boom can be traced to James Beard award-winning Fore Street, a true Portland anchor with opened in 1996. Fore Street pioneered the locally-sourced food movement that has swept the city and inspired some of the industry’s top talent to open up shop here. Today, Portland is thought to have the most restaurants per capita of any city in the United States—roughly 230 restaurants serve a population of just 63,000 (and a host of gastro-tourists like us.)
We were lucky enough to finally get a reservation at Fore Street (one of several excellent restaurants we dined at during our recent visit), but for this review we’re focusing on one of Portland’s newer destinations: Eventide Oyster Co. Just outside the Old Port district, Eventide shares the ground floor of a nondescript storefront with its sister restaurant Hugo’s on the corner. The restaurant’s glass façade faces west toward an open view of the neighborhood, allowing end-of-day sunlight to stream throughout the entire space—perfectly in keeping with the name “Eventide,” which means evening hour.
Eventide’s interior is clean, sparse, and casual. In many ways, it references a higher-end version of a beachside seafood shack. The interior is simple, awash in a pale blue and white color palette that evokes summer even on a brisk northern New England spring evening. The hostess stand doubles as retail display with branded t-shirts and keepsakes. And it’s small—not much bigger than a shack. Seating is limited to two cement countertops along the front windows, the small bar, and just three (only three!) wooden picnic tables. While there are no reservations accepted, seats turn over fast.
Even though the Eventide team keeps design simple, they’ve clearly considered all the details. For example, the cement bar features a large granite oyster well. It’s a beautiful focal point, not to mention a fitting habitat for fresh shellfish that occupy it. We also loved Alison Evans’s custom-made dinnerware, which even carries through to the bathroom sink. Little touches like the hand-painted (not printed vinyl) window signage and branded wood oyster markers enhance Eventide’s invitingly hand-crafted feel.
The owners also had the good sense to hire Might & Main to create the visual identity for Eventide. (Might & Main has also created the branding for the aforementioned Hugo’s, Piccolo, and Duckfat, all within a few blocks of Eventide on Middle Street in Portland.) They established a handsome, thought-through look and feel and infused it in all touchpoints. From the hand-done painted signage to menus to branded merchandise, they made sure to strike the right tone of casual yet considered throughout. The online experience of the restaurant is also on point; the website, while simple, features attractive photography to give a feel for the experience and responsive design to access on the go.
Like its design, Eventide’s food is simple yet lovingly crafted. The menu changes daily and features a wide variety of oysters (even very rare wild oysters from Darmiscotta which we don’t often see on any menus), cold and cooked appetizers, entrees, sides, and a classic New England clam bake. We tried many dishes, including the octopus, fish entree, veggie sides, and of course, oysters. Beyond the usual accoutrements of lemon wedges and cocktail sauce, we had ours with kim chee ice, which was tasty, refreshing, and unexpected. Another can’t miss item? The lobster roll. It’s out-of-this-world delicious and comes prepared to your liking (we chose the brown butter vinaigrette style and it was awesome). Order one roll for each person in your party or be prepared to fight over it!
Not surprisingly, Eventide’s drink menu celebrates sunshine year round. Even on a cold day, you can sip summery cocktails like the Mai Tai, Scorpion Bowl, and signature bottled drinks like the Twisted Tea (orange, tea-infused vodka, lemonade.) If you’re a wine drinker, don’t be afraid to ask your server to make a selection. You simple convey what you’d like and the perfect glass of wine arrives. Trust them—they know what they’re doing.
We couldn’t help but notice that, intentionally or not, Eventide took design cues from its seafood focus. While seafood can be simple and basic (like the Eventide interior) thoughtful preparation (like the branding) enhances the experience.
We’ll leave you with one pearl of foodie wisdom. If you find yourself in Portland, be sure to eat at Eventide. (And remember Wild Dams and the brown butter lobster roll!)