Recently ranked as “America’s Foodiest Small Town” by Bon Appetit magazine, Portland, ME has been praised for pushing the envelope in culinary creativity. Unlike most other coastal towns in Maine where lobster is ubiquitously on every menu, Portland has more diverse offerings for open-minded eaters that don’t want to eat like the tourists do. Leading this movement is Sonny’s, one of the most buzzworthy restaurants in town. Located in the former Historic Portland Savings Bank, Sonny’s preserved the building’s integrity with original stained glass windows, exposed brick interior, and they even converted the vault into a wine closet (now that’s innovative!).
I was recently invited to Sonny’s for a special tasting menu all prepared by the very talented Chef/Owner Jay Villani. The menu showcased the many flavors of Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, and the Southwestern US. Chef Villani was radiating with passion and I could literally taste it on the plate. It was amazing!
First, we were served a Ceviche with Scallops, Orange, and Fennel (shown in the main picture above). The scallops were thinly sliced and marinated in citrus, mainly from juicy oranges. They were then topped with finely chopped Spanish Piquillo Peppers which provided some subtle spiciness. It was clean, refreshing, and full of flavor. The Ceviche was paired with Eloa Hills Pinot Gris 2009. It was a great start to our meal.
For the second course, we were given an Heirloom Tomato with Queso Blanco, Pea Shoots, and Mango Vinaigrette. The tomato was a bit overripe and caused it to become mushy and watery underneath the thick, creamy Queso Blanco. The cheese was delicious and sourced locally (shout out to Farmer Bob!). The Mango Vinaigrette was also nice accompaniment and provided welcomed hints of sweetness. This dish paired perfectly with the Lesse Fitch Zinfandel 2008.
Next, we were served Fried Plantains with Lentils, Arugula, Red Onions, and a Cherry Tomato. I happen to have a deep and ferocious love in my heart for Lentils and Plantains, however, I never thought of combining them both together. It was genius.
Sonny’s stayed true to their roots here, sourcing the ingredients from Thirty Acre Farms in Maine. It was hearty dish that showed progression from the previous courses, and provided a perfect segue into our main entrée. This dish was paired with the Concannon Chardonnay 2009.
For our main course, we were served a Bahia Spiced Mako Shark with Cornmeal and Coconut cake and Local Fresh Vegetables.
Yes, you guessed it – the shark was caught locally right off the dock and you could certainly taste the freshness. It was cooked perfectly and the texture was like a cross between swordfish and tuna steak. I enjoyed the slight kick from the Bahia Spice that coated the shark. I detected some cumin, turmeric, and possibly even some oregano and parsley. Overall, it is a must try if you ever see it on the Special’s Menu at Sonny’s!
This was paired with the Bonny Doon Dry Rose.
The dessert shown above is a Vegan Chocolate Cake with Ice Cream, Orange and habanero. My main complaint about Vegan Chocolate Cake is that since there is no milk or eggs, it is always unavoidably dense. I probably would have preferred some real cake instead (sorry vegans).
The habanero also took me by surprise because I underestimated its intensity here. This scorching hot pepper had my mouth on fire which is a weird feeling when you are eating dessert. Eventually the coolness from the ice cream and sweetness of the orange helped balance out the heat. I soon began to enjoy it more and more. It was intriguing.
For the grand finale, we were served a Chocolate Flan with Cuban Coffee. Flan is extremely temperamental and is always hit or miss. Luckily, in this case, it was a home run. The light, jello-like texture was perfect and it was jam-packed with chocolatey flavor.
I’m not much of a coffee drinker but I really enjoyed the Cuban coffee…that’s until it had me up all night feeling like Whitney Houston in detox.
It turned out to be a very memorable meal from start to finish and Sonny’s truly became the highlight of our trip to Portland. Not only was the food superb, but it was some of the best service I have had in a LONG time too (and I go out to eat a lot!!!). Trust me when I say this…no matter where you are from, Sonny’s should officially be on your radar. I traveled 400 miles roundtrip from Providence to Portland and I would go back in a heartbeat. In my opinion, you can’t go to Portland without stopping by Sonny’s. Just tell them Front Row Eats sent ya!