111 Middle Street | Portland, ME
I had wanted to go to Bresca for a long time. My friends recommended it; local reviewers raved about it; even my foodie chiropractor extolled its glories. So in March, I made a reservation at Bresca to celebrate my boyfriend Leon's birthday. When I asked about vegetarian options, the woman on the phone informed me that she would personally ensure that I had a few choices. This made me feel so welcome! Unfortunately, Bresca had to cancel our reservation because of a burst pipe. Then I tried to dine at Bresca in June. When I called to make my reservation, I again inquired about vegetarian main dishes; the woman on the phone told me that there were none that evening, so I decided to go somewhere else.
Finally, on July 11th, the stars aligned: Leon and I dined at Bresca. We had made our reservation two days in advance, having been warned that the restaurant only has five tables. We entered Bresca, which turned out to be simultaneously small and airy. One of the waitresses led us to our table, which was about five steps from the door. Leon and I smiled at each other, as it seemed a little funny to be “led” such a short distance.
Our first priority was getting some wine on our table. After a close reading of the wine selections, we finally spotted the least expensive wine ($8.50/glass). It was on the back of the list, written by hand, as if added for the likes of Leon and me. The waitress, bless her heart, formally presented that wine bottle to us each time we ordered another glass. We appreciated the respect.
Though the menu did not contain as many vegetarian options as I had hoped, it proved enticing. As a small appetizer, we ordered the Local Honeycomb and Pecorino Romano ($4). I was in the midst of a craving for fresh greens, so I also ordered a Salade ($9). For my main dish, I ordered the Risotto ($26), which I was surprised to see cost more than Leon's New York Steak ($25). Note that the Risotto was one of two vegetarian entrees on the menu (the other was a gnocchi dish). We were also interested in ordering the Toc ($10) as an appetizer; it was described as “smoked ricotta, creamy polenta, royal trumpet mushrooms, radicchio, and lardo,” and I was curious to see if they'd leave something like “lardo” out per request. The dish sounded genuinely tasty, but the meal already cost enough. We didn't order the Toc.
The Local Honeycomb and Pecorino Romano turned out to be a tiny serving. That's okay—it was supposed to be. After all, it was in a section labeled “before.” It was also refreshing to be appetized rather than filled by our appetizer. On the plate was a large sliver of cheese and about two tablespoons of honeycomb (which looked a lot like orange marmalade). We sliced the cheese and then placed tiny spoonfuls of the honeycomb on it; the combination of sweet and savory, creamy and gelatinously crunchy, was satisfying to the mouth.
My salad was made up of mixed greens and thinly sliced radishes. Nasturtium blossoms brought sweetness to the bitter greens and radishes, and the salad was dressed with a light vinaigrette. It was refreshing and simple; it was a salad.
The risotto was the star of my meal. It was served with an array of flavorful mushrooms and topped with a generous spray of Perigord black truffle, an expensive truffle popular in Italy and France. The arborio rice itself was prepared in a rich vegetable broth, and this broth combined with the mushrooms, generous slices of fresh parmesan, and black truffle waltzed languidly upon my tongue. It was incredible.
For dessert, I ordered a Panna Cotta with fresh strawberries, raspberries, and melon in a fruity broth. This proved a light and invigorating complement to the risotto's richness.
I do wish there had been a few more choices on the vegetarian front, but what we did have was delectable. In the end, our bill came to around $150. It was a pricey meal. Yes, there are places in Portland where one could have a comparable meal for less money, but I'll be honest: this was an excellent dining experience. I'll be back.