What is a Tasting Menu? Why, it’s a combination of art, theater, and incredible food! Over the course of many courses, a restaurant’s star chef presents a progression of small bites that showcase his or her most splendid cookery.
Though tasting menus can be pricey, consider that you’re essentially paying for a multi-hour play, art museum, and giant dinner all in one… meaning you get serious bang for your buck.
It has long been my dream to combine my passion for food photography with my lust for tasting menus, but I’ve never found a place with enough natural light to do so… until now!
This week, my husband and I traveled to the foodie paradise of Portland, Maine, and made yummy use of our tax refund check at the 30-foot-windowed restaurant, EVO Kitchen + Bar. (Note to businesses about social media: It was EVO’s scrumptious Instagram account that lured us in!)
Because tasting menus aren’t exactly an everyday thing (the next one I had was years later at Cava, one of the best Portsmouth, NH restaurants), my hope with this article is to recreate the dinner for you via photos and mouth-watering words, so you can feel the happiness of beautiful food, wherever you are right now.
Ready? On to Course One!
The first dish of the night featured a Crudo Fluke fish in its tender, raw glory. (If my 7th grade students are reading this, “Crudo” means raw, not crude and rude. The fish did not sass us.)
The flavors were SO GOOD, but I was also struck by the choices that went into this dish, visually. The purple radish slices popped against the green, red, orange, white and yellow, expertly embraced by the gray-blue, circle-swirled plate. What process, I wonder, goes into arranging food at top restaurants?
The second dish was our favorite of the night for deliciousness. Seared Tuna — mouth-meltingly soft — danced with avocado toum (a Lebanese garlic sauce), ginger, and cilantro.
EVO’s theme is Mediterranean, and the chef riffed on those classic ingredients, swishing them with unconventional additions.
This riff on Mediterranean classics was evident in the next dish: Kale Tabbouleh! The picture above is perhaps my favorite food photo I’ve ever taken, and I’ve taken a heck of a lot of food photos.
I’ll take credit for my fancy camera skillz, but the main kudos goes to the kitchen team for pairing the greens of kale, parsley, and mint, with the red pomegranate seeds, purple radish, and glistening white bulgar and quinoa. See? It’s not just food — it’s art.
Let’s shift gears for Course Two!
Being a fan of cooking shows that feature food foam, I was ecstatic to encounter the kaffir lime and butter foam on the Lobster and Cod that came out next. “FOOOAM!” I squealed. Artistically, I also loved how the curve of the lobster claw mirrored the lines of the sauce on the plate.
The surprise standout of this dish, however, was the cauliflower. Coming from a vegan family, Colin felt proud that the flavors of a vegetable could be so mighty.
In keeping with Maine’s nautical soul, the next course was Monkfish with Mussels in a fennel and golden chickpea stew. I love stews and delight in mopping them up with bread and slurping them from spoons. This one was complex and comforting — made all the more enjoyable by the spiky green garnishes.
Note the use of fennel again. We hypothesize that Portland, Maine has a bit of a crush on fennel, as it appeared in every restaurant we frequented… including a fennel scone in a cafe!
In comes the meaty drum beat of Course Three!
I don’t have occasion or opportunity to eat rabbit often, but when I do, it reminds me of the wonderful family vacation we took to Quebec City, during which I experienced a rabbit pie like WOW.
EVO’s Rabbit Farfalle was juicy and sweet from dates, yet bright from sprouts and peas. (Food photography challenge: How the heck do I lift out the rabbit chunks to get them in the frame, without sullying the sprout garnish? We tried and failed.)
It’s beef time! In general, the climax of a tasting menu is rich meat, and it doesn’t get much richer than Beef Ribeye. Good thing Colin and I were sharing all these plates, eh? So much brilliant food! One has to really strategize and prep the whole day before a tasting menu to have tummy room for full enjoyment.
Artistically, note how the chef has managed to weave in almost all colors of the rainbow, from the scarlet turnips to the green garnishes. Each detail makes a difference to the full-body tasting menu experience!
But wait — there’s more richness!!! I said “it doesn’t get much richer than beef ribeye,” but I was wrong: It doesn’t get much richer than seared Foie Gras! (I would explain here for my 7th graders what foie gras is but… just look it up, students. Or don’t, and be content to simply know that it is delicious.)
What I loved about this dish was how it segued from the savory courses into the sweet dessert ones that came next. The challah was soaked in sweet, buttery date and foie gras juices, and the pineapple gave an unexpected trumpet blast of fruit. The pineapple and challah slabs looked alike, so the contrasting flavors were a zing of surprise.
DESSERT! Course Four.
The scandalously dark Chocolate Sorbet was basically my dream dessert. The more intense the chocolate, the more valid the dessert in my book, and this one — sparkled up with orange and mint — won my heart.
I love how the photo turned out, too, with the shiny sauce streak along the bowl’s curve, and the mint calling out, “Let’s hit the full rainbow spectrum with my happy green!”
Wait, what? Another dessert to cap off the night?! The Tahini Parfait with chocolate, hazelnut, and banana winked up at us like: “Surprise!”
This is the theater element of a tasting menu: Because you rarely get a menu up front, you don’t know what’s next. You’ve got to be prepared for anything. In our case, this last bite required letting out our belts (or in my case, praising my friend’s dress company for designing stretchy dresses with tummy ruffles).
The parfait was exquisite. I’ve been using tahini in my dinner salads, but never thought to meld the sesame paste with dessert. What an ideal combo, though! Earthy, sweet, satisfying, and… beautiful.
(Speaking of beautiful, do check out my 40 art prompts article which features this food in one section!)
I hope you’ve enjoyed this tasting menu tour! Now, which of these dishes looks most luscious to YOU?
Do share: If you’ve tried tasting menus before, I’m so curious to hear: In which restaurant in the world have you had the best one? It just might be our next destination…
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!