Linda

Looking for an adventure in eating? Do you like trying new foods that are full of flavor, spicy and creative? Then we have the place for you. Tempo Dulu serves Southeast Asian cuisine and is located at the Danforth Inn in Portland’s West End, where we enjoyed a lovely visit before Christmas.

You will know you are someplace special upon entering the inn’s front door. Huge pieces of Asian art are mixed with a tasteful decor to create a restful atmosphere. The dining room is actually separated into three beautiful spaces, allowing diners a more intimate experience. Liz, the dining room manager that evening, explained that the staff tries hard to maximize the experience for their guests. They take great pride in the service here and rightly so.

We would have been lost without our server, Thomas. He was able to explain all the dishes in detail and provided lots of attentive service. Warm, wet towels enhanced with the fragrance of jasmine and frangipani were carefully presented at the beginning and the end of the meal. The relaxing aromas will take over your senses and calm your mind.

You have a choice of three tasting menus here. We found plenty of interesting choices from the Three Course Menu ($69) and were plenty full by the end of our meal. A Chef’s Tasting Menu ($85) and a Lobster Tasting Menu ($109) are available too.

Thomas said that the Gado Gado Indonesian Salad is a signature dish and one he loves. I was already leaning that way, and I have to say it was the most interesting salad I have ever eaten: papaya, smoked tofu, green beans and bean sprouts combined with greens and peanut sauce. This wasn’t a salad, it was an experience. Taste explosions of sweet and salty, crunchy and creamy, and just a bit of spiciness. It was too pretty to eat, but rest assured I did.

You will begin with Krupuk, light and crunchy shrimp crackers that come in pastel colors. Dipping sauces of Spicy Sambal or Peanut Sauce cooked with Sambal accompany these. Wow!

Several surprises such as an amuse bouche and sorbet were presented between courses. We both loved the strawberry chili sorbet. This palate cleanser was so smooth and refreshing, and you didn’t feel the chili until after. It was so pleasant.

Plan on a leisurely, slow-paced meal. The food is so aromatic I could smell the aromas from the Chef’s Tasting Menu being served across the room. One of those diners asked the server which dish of all those entrees presented was his favorite. His reply: “Beef Cheeks.”

Yes! For my entree I’d chosen the Beef Cheek Rendang Padang. Don’t you love the name of this dish? Shredded tender beef in a Sambal Sauce was combined with coconut, green papaya, green beans and steamed jasmine rice. Beef and coconut — who knew? It held a deep rich flavor with mild heat of chilies. Unusual and very tasty.

Another signature dish on Tempo Dulu’s dessert menu is the Passion Fruit and Saffron Panna Cotta. Do not miss this. It is dressed with a Pandan Leaf Syrup and topped with apple ice. It’s fruity, light, creamy and delectable. This makes a lovely ending to a spectacular meal.

By the end of the evening, I’d experienced many flavors I had never tried before. I’m probably never going to travel to Southeast Asia. How nice that Portland now has a spectacular restaurant to let us experience those flavors.

George

It’s a long trip that takes this Mainer, whose favorite meal was once beans and hotdogs, all the way to Southeast Asia for a two-and-a-half-hour luxuriously spicy dinner. And not only did I love this unusual meal, but I learned a lot too. We were delighted to find one thing on the menu we recognized, one of our favorite wines, Prince Valiant from Cellar Door Winery in Lincolnville.

My appetizer, Crispy Duck Leg (cured foie gras, pickled ramps, fried shallot and fried garlic), was so exciting that I must have been jumping up and down, losing my napkin in the process, only to discover a bit later that I was sitting on it. I also learned that foie gras is actually meat! This is not something Mainers would typically know.

I loved all the chef’s surprises served between courses, most especially the shrimp crackers with spicy sambal sauce and cooked peanut sauce. Those were addicting. The dining room schedules only a few people each hour to make your experience special and changes all your silverware and dishes between courses.

My entree of steamed cod with mussels, yellow curry and steamed rice smelled so good. The mussels were small and soft, the sauce nice and spicy. I was pleased to learn that these were Bangs Island Mussels from Casco Bay. By now the white tablecloth in front of me demonstrated how much I’d been enjoying my meal with splashes everywhere, but Thomas reassured me. “I’ve seen worse. You can’t believe what I’ve seen,” he chuckled.

After dessert came a real surprise. Lollipops! I did save mine — a coconut chili lollipop — to savor the next day. Remarkable self-restraint, you might say. Dining at Tempo Dulu is a unique experience that you will savor and remember forever. Or at least until you return.

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