The Merry Table exudes a homey charm firmly anchored in its French roots. Chefs forge their signature crepes on the hot griddle before filling them with sweet or savory investments, such as Nutella, housemade pesto, or grilled chicken. The heartier selections of beef bourguignon and bouillabaisse rely on the same French influences for their rustic flavors. On select Thursday evenings, the bistro hosts French-themed events where, according to the Portland Press Herald, people gather casually to "eat crepes, sip wine, listen to French music and practice the language." Diners can mingle in the intimately sized bistro, whose yellow-brick walls sport vintage-inspired French posters that advertise cognac and the Louvre's famous snack bar.
Chefs at Hi Bombay have honed recipes for curry, vindaloo, and spicy masala over the course of 23 years, yielding a carefully spiced menu of Northern Indian classics and regional seafood specialties. Fresh-baked naan bread and whole-wheat roti sop up sauce from lamb and chicken dishes cooked in a clay-oven tandoor, and fish labadar from the Bay of Bengal simmers in a creamy tomato sauce. Hi Bombay also rents a 75-person banquet room for catered gatherings, and welcomes diners on major holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the anniversary of Caddyshack II's DVD release.
Vegetarian Asian Cuisine | Soy Meats | Gluten-Free and Organic Drinks | Local Artwork
What to Drink: Besides wines, brews, and soft drinks, the beverage list also sports plenty of vegan, gluten-free, organic, and sulfite-free options. There's even a quartet of locally made meads, including a tart-apple-flavored version.
The Chef: When Danai Sriprasert was young, his mother, who owned a restaurant in Thailand, taught him cooking skills such as peeling garlic and making curry paste. By mastering the essentials and watching his mother create dishes without referring to a recipe, Danai soon developed his own unique culinary style. His homeland also inspired Green Elephant's all-vegetarian menu, since a large percentage of Thailand's Buddhist population avoids eating meat.
While You're Waiting: Scan the dining room for new canvases. The restaurant spotlights work from a different local artist every month.
Inside Tip: Green Elephant doesn't take reservations, so try to show up early. Expect a bit of a wait—after all, the eatery's no longer a well-kept secret since the Portland Phoenix named it the city's best vegetarian restaurant in 2009.
While You're in the Neighborhood
Before: See what tools 19th- and 20th-century firefighters used to keep the city free of flames at the Portland Fire Museum (157 Spring Street).
After: Stop by Flask Lounge (117 Spring Street) for eclectic entertainment that ranges from open-mic comedy to electro dance parties.
If You Can’t Make It, Try This: Head to Green Elephant's sister restaurant, Boda (671 Congress Street), which specializes in Thai tapas and skewers—with and without meat.
Despite their tendency to end up boiled, GetMaineLobster.com's crustaceans somehow managed to keep one customer out of hot water. After waiting until the last minute to plan something for his fiancée's birthday, Emilio put together a next-day delivery of fresh lobsters that turned into an impressive dinner. His gratitude joins a chorus of praise for the company, whose flavorful foods have been featured on Rachael Ray and in the Wall Street Journal. Each of the lobsters is hand-selected from the coast of Maine, whose frigid waters are famous for preserving the meat's sweetness.
In addition to lobsters, patrons can order a menagerie of seafood cakes, marinated meats, and hearty side dishes. Full dinners take gourmet fare out of the restaurant and onto home dining tables with several-course feasts prepared by Chef Margaret Salt McLellan, who was named the 2008 Maine Lobster Chef of the Year. Customers that lack Margaret's culinary chops can reference the site's collection of recipes, which boast everything from Cajun shrimp to stuffed lobster bursting with crab, scallops, and emotion.
At Benkay Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar, voted Best Sushi Restaurant for 15 years by BestOfSurveys.com, Asian tradition meets the fruits of the American East Coast. Prime examples of this partnership can be found in the restaurant's maki rolls?the Maine Roll pairs lobster with flying fish roe, whereas the Crab Union Roll mixes Maine crab, king crab, and soft-shell crab with avocado, cucumber, and red, yellow, and green wasabi. These are only two of the menu's more than 40 maki rolls. But even if you try them all, you're still in for a surprise when you return, as Chef Ando creates different specials daily to highlight the freshest catch.
Another way to ensure a little culinary suspense is to end every food order with "... or is it?", or to simply order an omakase meal. This latter approach leaves all of the nigiri, sushi, and sashimi choices up to the chef, allowing tables to sample a variety of delicacies. The menu also features Japanese entrees, such as udon soups and teriyaki-flavored meats, and a romantic dinner for two that includes starters and a smorgasbord of sushi.
Warmth from the wood-burning oven just visible in the kitchen mingles with the soft diffused glow of overhanging punched lamps, filling the rustic space with a colonial Mexican ambiance. The chefs draw from modern, Old-World, and australopithecus cooking techniques while simmering dishes such as PEI mussels in chipotle butter, white wine, and mexican tequila. Whenever possible, they base their creations around sustainable seafood, local produce, and meat from grass-fed cows sourced from Pineland Farms. More than 80 tequilas, ranging from newborn blancos to 3-year-old anejos, populate the libations list, and the extensive wine list features vinos from Chile, Argentina, and Italy.