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Finch’s Restaurant opened by owner Johnny Robinson, formerly of Hugo’s, and chef Rick Barbata, formerly of Rick’s, is another example of the growing interest in Falmouth by potential restaurant owners. Backers, chefs, and owners, feeling pressure from the growing cost of rent in the Old Port and Arts District, have started to move to the out-lying areas of the greater-Portland area to seek shelter from the sometimes-obscene overhead costs of staying in town. The potential benefit to the paying customer? Better food, lower price. The potential pitfall? Same food, same price, longer drive.
Finch’s falls somewhere in between these two.
Eying the menu before heading in, you’ll notice why people tend to classify this restaurant as American fare: Finch’s Crabcakes, Steamed Local Mussels, Classic Caesar Salad, Choice New York Sirloin. Upon entering the restaurant, however, you might feel as if you stepped through a time machine into Casa Napoli, which occupied the former space. A mural of the Italian coastline still looms over the back wall while Sinatra sings mob-house classics, evoking my childhood memories of spaghetti dinner at Joe Marzilli’s Old Canteen on Federal Hill in Providence (a treat we affectionately called "A Night in the Slammer," due to its bars surrounding the booths . . . and judging by Old Joe’s clientele, it might have been to keep the patrons comfortable while away from their "second homes" up the river).
Upon closer inspection of the menu, we realized the ghost of Ol’ Man Napoli haunted the menu as well: Pan-seared Haddock Carciofi, Rigatoni Vodka, Scallops with Risotto, and Fried Calamari. And while our server, Paul Levesque, had a last name that ended in a silent vowel, he showed all the verbosity and constant presence that hallmark the warmth of many Italian-American joints. And then some. And then some more.
He was most proud of his "baby," a nice small-capacity restaurant wine list that contains 50-plus bottles, ranging for the faint-of-wallet to the big spender, as well as representative of plenty old-world and new-world styles. There are also 18 options to order by the glass, breaking well away from most establishments’ offering of three Californian whites and three Californian reds. But to order by the bottle is a boon, Paul explained in hushed tones, because state law allows the re-corking and carrying out of unfinished bottles. Good to know.
The Roasted Beets, served with fried pears, blue cheese, and hazelnuts, was a nice, classic, wintry pairing of earthy, sweet, and tannic flavors. Both red and golden beets were sliced thinly and fanned out under the other ingredients, making a pretty presentation, but bringing the vegetables to room temperature rather than serving them cold would allow for a greater presence of the main ingredient’s earthy sweetness. On the other side of our table was the Exotic Mushroom Tart, a collage of mushrooms and Gruyere baked inside of a puff-pastry shell. It was drizzled with a creamy and acidic sauce, and nestled alongside a very delicately dressed mesculin mix. The acid of the vinaigrette, as well as the tart’s sauce, served to cut through the richness of the tart itself, making this a well rounded plate.
Our Braised Lamb Shank was falling off the bone even while sitting on its plate, perched on top of slightly wilted Swiss chard and a pile of mashed white beans. The beans were a welcome change from typical mashed potatoes, and furthered the Italian atmosphere as much as the accordion music drifting above our table. I would have loved a bit more jus from the braising process to dunk the lamb in, as small spoonfuls revealed it to be a nice, hearty broth. The Seared Diver Scallops, served with crab and mushroom risotto, a butter/caper sauce, and three broccoli florets perched hilariously on top of the whole thing, were golden-seared and tender. The rice was sweet with crabmeat, but the butter sauce was broken (the butter separated from the acidic elements, making for a slightly greasy vinaigrette rather than an emulsified, smooth sauce) and added only a slight tinge of the caper component. As a vegetarian option, the Baked Vegetable Pave, a layered vegetable lasagna without noodles, was not nearly as substantial (for better or for worse) as the other two meals. It was served with wilted Swiss chard and no starch, making it Atkin’s friendly for those who choose to suffer through that sort of thing.
Desserts were offered as "little jewels" by Paul, who ended up taking an order for a Chocolate Mousse Cake and an Orange Chocolate Torte. The former was unmemorable, and the latter was served with a generous but unceremonious squirt of orange sauce covering the dessert and plate alike. But it did have an addictive chewy texture that got me going back for more bites, despite it being in front of wife Jackie. Before paying, I might have grabbed a cup of Finch’s signature Irish coffee ("the best I have ever tasted," our Paul reported) but for the fact that I never pair Ireland with Italy and America at the same time. It reminds me too much of getting my car towed in Boston.
Andy King can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Issue Date: March 5 - 11, 2004
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