Renowned as the best Portland has to offer, Hugo’s is the spot to experience exquisite degustation menus of six or eight courses of locally sourced and nearly one hundred percent organic ingredients along with wonderful boutique wine pairings.
While one can order a la carte, The Monster puts himself entirely in the hands of the chef for six courses of blind tasting.
It’s a classic room, dark banquettes, rich woods and accents of burgundy. As the downbeat music plays and the restaurant fills up The Monster takes a seat by the window and waits to be wowed.
An organic Spanish Cava (Cava Brut, Pares Balta, NV Pended, Spain) starts things off to a bubbly start along with buttermilk biscuits with sea salt and hand-churned butter. So far, so good.
The amuse-bouche is a deconstructed everything bagel. Absolutely exquisite and surprisingly the disparate flavors (cucumber, roe, toasted bagel) meld seamlessly.
Peeky-toe crab salad shows up next with apple, watermelon and radish and again it is both a piece of miniature art on the plate and a wondrous display of culinary dexterity. The cava is finished at this point.
A Japanese Ale, German-styled but aged in Sake barrels (Hitachino Nest, 7%, Iberaki, Japan) is the next pairing. Hoppy at first blush we’ll see how it pairs.
Barbecue Rhode Island conger eel with sushi rice, miso-squash puree, compressed pear, horseradish foam prepared in a most typical Asian preparation (with it’s own Maine-styled flair) arrives next. The horseradish foam is magical. The dish is almost perfect. Only wish the sushi rice were a touch hotter. The beer is a perfect addendum.
From Wachau, Austria is the next wine a Gruner Veltliner Federspiel, Domaine Wachau 2011. While this region and wine tends to show notes of green apple this varietal drifts more toward honeysuckle and softer fruits.
Rosefish makes the grade next. It is a sweet, local and sustainable fish paired with Szechuan style broccoli and pickled black radish. At this point The Monster must assess this meal is on par with some of the best he has had around the world in recent times.
An Italian red, Aglianico Del Vulture, Bisceglia, 2009 from Basilicata, Italy is next offered up. Toeing the line between dry and sweet this is a Monster favorite so far.
Locally raised Commonwealth Farms duck as breast and bolognese with crispy rice cakes, broccoli and gai lan is the kitchen’s next surprise and what a surprise it is. The Monster is beginning to believe he may be back at Hugo’s tomorrow for dinner.
Roast pumpkin custard with gorgonzola ice cream and a late harvest Viognior (Blanco Dulce, Casa De La Ermita, 2009, Juilla, Spain) is the first dessert course. The Monster is out of superlatives. Suffice it to say the pairing is otherworldy and the meal is truly epic.
The Mexican chocolate dessert (Cateja Ice Cream, Leche frita, mole) is the final course and if you can’t tell how great things are by now there’s no helping you.
Instant classic. Divine. Just magical.
Why go? Perfection.
Monster rating: 5/5 Monsters
88 Middle Street
Portland, ME 04101