Review: The Maine Oyster Bar & Grill
Industrial interior design in restaurants is nothing new, but making your patrons walk through an underground hotel carpark to reach their dinner takes post-modernism to new levels.
Despite this unusual approach to its - ahem - approach, there is a pleasing hustle and bustle inside the viewless Maine in keeping with its North American brasserie pretentions. Such is the hubbub on a Thursday evening, generated by a mixture of after-work drinkers and casual diners, however, that any couple taking their seat for a romantic tête-à-tête might as well give up on the sweet talk unless they are prepared to shout it.
And if you were hoping to identify the background music, forget that too. Only the beat survives the ambient noise. But to complain about the atmosphere in a busy bar and grill is to miss the point. Montreal “gastropreneur” Joey Ghazal appears to have found his audience at Maine – “an eclectic crowd of young urbanites,” according to its website.
But has Maine found its cuisine? Diving into its Fresh Shucked Oysters seemed like the best place to start – with a mixed platter of six of the 12 varieties advertised. The French oysters, and particularly the Prat Ar Coum (at AED250 for six) were the best of the bed, beating their Scottish and Irish counterparts for flavour, plumpness and substance.
Other ‘raw’ dishes, including the Beef Carpaccio and Tuna Tartare (both AED85) were fresh and thoughtfully plated, though the latter was underseasoned, despite a soy ginger dressing.
The Chargrilled Octopus (AED85) was the first real winner of the dinner, the chewy and smoky limb combining beautifully with puttanesca sauce and sunchoke puree.
And the Crispy Fish Tacos (AED68) were tasty if somewhat unsophisticated – think a Mexican twist on a fish-finger sandwich.
The Dover Sole beat the Filet Mignon as the absolute highlight of the evening – buttery, meaty, flavourful and expertly deboned at the table – but it needed to be all those things to justify the aed255 price sans side dish.
So for a mere extra aed35 try the Charred Brussels Sprouts, a cheerful pile of blackened hearts and leaves. But the cheers would have been louder if they had been tossed with chestnuts and pancetta for some flavour and texture variety.
Maine’s Classic Poutine (AED58) is hearty but somewhat bland. So if you are tempted to try this Quebecois chips and gravy mess, push the boat out, spend another AED60 and add a half lobster with bisque and Bernaise sauce.
Wash it all down with your sommelier’s pick of a well-constructed wine list and an adventurous selection of cocktails, including Maine’s Bloody Classic, its twist on the Caesar, using Clamato juice, horseradish and steak spice.
But if you are still hungry after the Maine event and haven’t busted your budget, try the Key Lime Pie or Soft Baked Cookie to complete your Ameri-Canadian experience, before heading back out into the car park.
The Esquire Middle East 50 Best Restaurants list will be released in November 2017. The list ranks the best restaurants in the Gulf region, and is compiled by a trusted panel of experts. Keep reading EsquireME.com for more reviews, with the final positions announced on November 1.