by Bill Addison
The current richness of Portland’s culinary landscape — the cherished Maine ingredients mingled with the international reach of its dining options — manifests most rewardingly in the three restaurants owned by Arlin Smith, Mike Wiley, and Andrew Taylor. In 2012 the trio purchased Hugo’s from Rob Evans. They had been overseeing the restaurant as Evans began concentrating on Duckfat, a runaway success specializing in Belgian fries and sandwiches that Evans opened in 2005 with his wife, Nancy Pugh. The same year that Smith, Wiley, and Taylor bought Hugo’s they also took over the space next door to Hugo’s to create Eventide Oyster Co., a bar that muddles foods from Maine and "from away" in dazzling mash-ups: Pemaquid oysters glossed with kimchee or pickled ginger ices, a classic New England clam bake alongside green curry lobster stew, peekytoe crab rolls next to fried chicken buns topped with pickled watermelon.
And this past April, on the other side of Eventide, the three of them launched The Honey Paw, a casual hangout serving homemade pan-Asian noodles and other globetrotting comforts. The back of the block-long building they’ve effectively taken over now stretches into one extended mega-kitchen.
Among the group’s trinity of restaurants, Eventide remains my favorite. I continue to marvel over how the menu nails an irresistible balance of tradition and innovation. (Crowds still occasionally spill out the door in the fall; go early or late.) That said, I enjoyed the other two restaurants mightily on this trip. The Honey Paw struck me as a restaurant that will be deeply useful to its community, a place to stop in solo for a lunchtime lobster tartine (beautiful with its blanket of radishes and hijiki seaweed and celery leaves) or for sharing bowls of Thai khao soi (potent with smoked lamb, coconut curry broth, fermented greens, and fried noodles) when winter descends. The lists of craft beer and unusual wines come off as skillfully calibrated as the food.
Smith, Wiley, and Taylor renovated Hugo’s but have otherwise maintained the levels of relentless creativity that Evans initiated. Categories of dishes focusing on meats, seafood, and vegetables define the menu, with diners encouraged to mix and match from each section to create two-, three-, or five-course meals. Choosing a volley of contrasting proteins paid off: fluke cured in umeboshi (pickled plum-like Japanese fruits) with translucent apple slices and crackly rice puffs segued to a hearty salad of duck tenderloin, gizzards, and liver punchy with mustard vinaigrette and then to gently smoked cod over potato puree and a clever, pleasantly rough sambal made from tomato skins. Taken together, the group’s restaurants capture Portland’s specific strengths — a mingling of cherished Maine ingredients with a port city’s receptivity toward international influences.