Things were pretty bleak when I moved to Maine. It was the mid-1990s. I will never forget one of the first restaurant meals here, at a place that is (mercifully) no longer. Sitting across from an associate I have grown quite fond of through the years, I detected a darkness descending right about the time our appetizers appeared. It lingered (the darkness, not the apps) and grew thicker through the entrees. Before the table was cleared I heard the awful words that I myself had been thinking ever since the thawed-and-heated bread showed up an hour or so earlier.
"What have we done?" said my companion, trying mightily to cover tears of despair. "What have we done?"
Months and many a sorrowful evening later a restaurant called Fore Street opened in a converted brick warehouse in Portland's Old Port district. Led by chef Sam Hayward the place became the best restaurant in town on the day that it opened. Nothing came close. Because nothing tried to.
But the urban-hip space and smartly sophisticated menu were so unlike anything Portland had seen that I was sure the restaurant would not last through the year. I was wrong, of course. Not only is Fore Street still with us but Hayward's brand of cooking helped to spark a real movement. For a city its size Portland offers some very decent grub. My companion and I still pine for the kind of restaurant scene that only a big city can provide, yes. But the deepest despair passed some years ago, and for that I must, in part, thank Hayward.
This is a roundabout way of copping out on cooking something for you all this week. I have been busy constructing stone retaining walls outside of my home and there has been no time whatsoever to cook — let alone write about cooking — food.
But that didn't stop my trusted companion from preparing me a killer meal after an especially trying day of manual labor last weekend: One of my favorite dishes from Fore Street's menu, the wood-roasted mussels. They have been on the menu since the day the place opened and, with a good crusty bread, have provided comfort to me many times.
If you like mussels I'd strongly suggest giving these a try. At the restaurant, for sure. But also at home.
Gotta run. There's another three or four ton of stone out back that still needs stacking. And I'm older than I was when I started this project last week.
Fore Street's Mussels Roasted with Almond-Garlic Butter
1/2 cup salted roasted almonds, chopped
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium shallot, minced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon minced jalapeño
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1/2 cup dry white wine
Preheat the oven to 450°. In a food processor, coarsely grind the almonds. Add the butter, garlic, shallot, parsley, lemon juice, lemon zest, jalapeño
and pepper; process until blended. Season the almond-garlic butter with salt.
Put the mussels in a large roasting pan and add the wine. Spoon the almond-garlic butter over the mussels and roast for 12 minutes, stirring the mussels and shaking the pan a few times, until all of the mussels have opened; discard any that do not open.
With a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to bowls.
Spoon the almond-garlic butter on top.
Serve with hot, crusty bread.