You know you are in for a treat when the chefs and the kitchen are on full display. Though you might imagine this to be a noisy environment, it isn’t at Hugo’s Restaurant. Each chef is working quietly and earnestly as if on their own little culinary planet. It is spellbinding to watch such an enormous amount of effort, detail and sheer artwork going into the preparation of these tiny portions of food.
In 1988, this restaurant opened as a humble family eatery and it has changed dramatically over the decades. It is now a refined space with a dark wood interior and elegant yet subdued artwork. There are booths up against the walls and a bar with bar stools that surrounds and envelopes the über cool industrial kitchen. (I noticed cookery books on display including a volume from NOMA).
With Hugo’s, haute cuisine is simplified but also has a presentation that is fresh and exciting. The offerings change daily depending on what is in season and which market ingredients have inspired the chef on any given day.
The menu is separated into three sections with four categories and four items under each category. Guests can mix and match across the categories as they wish. Diners choose any five courses from all three menus for $90 or two courses for $45. Also one can add additional courses for $22. Dessert is included.
The categories are:
Foraged and Farmed, From the Sea and Forest and Field
My starter is firmly in the Forest and Field category. It is a luxurious cream of broccoli soup with parmesan puff, yogurt and carrot. The parmesan puff is divine and the soup is tasty and perfectly seasoned.
For my third item I select the Kuri Squash, also known as Japanese Squash. It has an orange coloured firm flesh yet quite delicate flavour. My companion and I receive a sizeable portion which I didn’t finish it was so filling. It is accompanied by duck liver mousse, crispy quinoa (which is stunning in appearance and taste) plus peach jam. Yum!
My main course is the grilled swordfish which arrives with vinegar glazed mussels, head lettuce and sulfar beans. The swordfish is quite a good sized portion and very succulent with the accoutrements being equally delicious.
But it is the dessert that wins the award for ‘Best Presentation’. Two separate creations appear on a single wooden plank. One is a succotash (a take on Southern style mixed vegetables…but sweet) with tiny brown tomatoes (I have never seen miniature or brown tomatoes before). The largest fragment is a two tablespoon sized portion of cake topped with a minty foam.
Golden raspberries with a chocolate bark are the main ingredients of the next desert which includes a dollop of raspberry sorbet, tiny floral leaves and a smattering of crumble. Both are displayed on the plate beautifully and tasted as good as they looked.
The imagination that goes into each individual portion of food is truly impressive. I would go to Hugo’s Restaurant again and again.
Hugo’s Restaurant, 88 Middle Street, Portland, ME