Have you visited Lewiston lately? Lisbon Street has a new look and energy with great restaurants and shops up and down the street.

Linda

Eric Agren, owner of Fuel Restaurant, was the spark that lit the way seven years ago. He had a vision for downtown Lewiston, taking a leap of faith in buying an old building constructed in 1871. It was once a 1,000-seat theater. Eric housed the restaurant on the ground floor and converted the top two floors into condos.

Fuel has met with wide acclaim, and rightly so. The urban decor is stunning, with a modern bar area at the front of the restaurant and white linens topping the remaining tables that fill the open room. The food here has been described as French comfort food.

Prior to our most recent visit, we had dined here twice. I ordered the Steak au Poivre both times. (Yes, it was that delicious.) So when Eric offered us a tasting menu, it opened up all kinds of new foods for me to try.

We ordered the small carafe of Parducci wine (Fuel is the first in Central Maine to offer wine on tap), and shortly thereafter a basket of warm, crusty roasted garlic bread arrived. It was astoundingly good and I was sorry I couldn’t polish off the basket. But as food started arriving, I quickly realized it was a good thing I had stuck to only one piece!

Of the four appetizers that Eric sent out, one was from the bar menu, different than the dinner menu. Our server, Erin, told us that the bar offers smaller plates and the menu changes often to keep it fresh. Patrons can stand or take advantage of different seating areas.

The bar was busy that evening, and plenty of people were ordering food. Our sample of soup was a stunning presentation of half green (minted pea) and half orange (miso carrot). The minted pea tasted like spring to me, and contrasted well with the spicier miso-carrot soup. The soups were as tasty as they were pretty, and I couldn’t decide which one was best.

The Charcuterie Plate was excellent. Four types of cured meats, cornichons, a dab of mustard and pickled onions were delicious when piled on crostini pieces. This paired very well with the red wine and was not heavy.

I will let George tell you about the other two appetizers for the simple reason that he ate most of those items.

Luckily, there was a break before our entrees arrived. These were to be smaller versions of the entree portion normally served. But when the three narrow rectangular plates arrived, they didn’t look that small. Erin placed the Braised Pork Belly to the side, scallops in front of George and Steak au Poivre in front of me. It was meant to be!

That familiar plate of perfectly pepper-crusted New York sirloin accompanied by a salad of baby arugula certainly made me smile. And yes, it was just as great as I had remembered.

Braised Pork Belly is one of the favorites on their winter menu. Eric told us that they change the menu four times a year so they can work with seasonal items. The roasted pork belly comes with mustard, white wine and bacon-braised cabbage — another terrific entree — and I was happy to sample this dish before the menu changed.

By this time the setting sun hit the orange stained-glass window at the back of the room, and a streak of orange streamed through the restaurant. When three eye-catching desserts appeared, the Bates College couple next to us couldn’t contain their thoughts. “You guys are going in style!”

A light and delicious chocolate mousse came in a martini glass. A circle tower of chocolate crepes and layers of salted caramel mousse made the Petite Gateau a showstopper. I love salted caramel, and the mousse was perfection when paired with the deep chocolate flavor of the crepes.

Lastly, came two profiteroles, now known to me as cream puffs extraordinaire. House-made salted caramel ice cream filled the pastries and a ribbon of salted caramel swirled across the plate. This is my kind of dessert, packed with flavor, not too heavy and not overly sweet. Salted caramel is my weakness and I polished off my profiterole without a problem. This is a spectacular dining experience, so make your way to Lewiston soon.

George

 

The Saturday afternoon performance at the Public Theater on Lisbon Street, where we have been season subscribers for nine years, was spectacular. This small professional theater wins many awards.

As we exited the lobby we spied an old friend, Lenny Brooks, and walked over to visit. He introduced us to the couple he was talking to and when we explained that we are travel writers and were on our way to Fuel to write a column, the lady said, “Well, the owner is my son!” And they were headed there for dinner, too.

We had about 30 minutes to kill before our 5 p.m. reservation, so we walked up and down Lisbon Street, checking out all the interesting shops and restaurants. We made plans to return to Forage Market, a very interesting market/restaurant that had been recommended to us recently by a friend.

Fuel combines elegance and creativity to provide a remarkable dining experience. Our server, Erin, has worked here five years and was extremely helpful in explaining each of the dishes that Eric sent to our table.

The wine book is hefty, and I noticed the listing of Wine Spectator awards that Fuel has won every year since 2009. Very impressive! And the beer list is very unusual, ranging from Lewiston-brewed Baxter beers to Gavroche French Red Ale. Some of the brews are offered in 750-ml bottles — enough for three generous pours. Alas, Lin insisted on the carafe of wine.

Throughout the restaurant, we spotted several of the actors from the play we had just enjoyed at the Public Theater. Eric said the evening’s two seatings were entirely reserved that night. In fact, when we contacted him rather late the previous week, he had to add a table and two chairs to fit us in.

The two appetizers Lin accuses me of hogging (OK, she’s right) were the Escargot — sauteed and served with garlic emulsion parsley sage and garlic chips (superb and my favorite of the four appetizers we were served), and Steak Tartare-filet mignon, finely diced with shallots, capers and pickles, topped with a quail egg yolk and served with toast points (ok, this was a favorite too!). Erin and Lin conspired to remove these dishes before I could finish them.

That was actually a good thing, because the three entrees were superb. Thankfully, Eric sent out just two scallops instead of the usual four. They were perfectly pan-roasted and served with a delicious caper-raisin sauce and cauliflower puree.

I also noticed some amazing dishes going by for delivery to other tables. The braised beef short ribs at the next table looked especially good.

While I did like the braised pork belly, I have to agree with Linda that the Steak Au Poivre was our most spectacular and tasty entree. I understand why she orders it every time we dine here.

Although it’s out of character, I did ask Erin to tell Eric we could not possibly eat a bunch of desserts, but he still sent out three. I will always regret how little I could eat of each. I did manage to eat my entire profiterole. It reminded me of the cream puffs Linda’s mom used to make — and that is a very high compliment. I had to reach across the table after Lin exclaimed, “This cream puff drives me over the moon,” to make sure I got the other one!

We visited with Eric’s mom before we left. He was sitting with her, and when I asked if he had someone who could help me exit the restaurant because I was so full I could hardly walk, she told us of a Texas saying: “Hobble in. Gobble up. Waddle out.”

For Fuel, we’ll have to change that to “Saunter in. Savor the experience. Sing your way out.”

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed in the “Best of Maine” section.

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