Monday, April 02, 2007

Fuelish Saturday

Photos: (Top to Bottom:)

#1 Meet the Baumers
#2 Joe Pez displays his superior listening skills
#3 The Happy Couple
#4 Post-party blurriness, probably courtesy of the wine

[I had hoped to “file” this yesterday, the day after our fabulous Saturday night dining experience. Unfortunately, my Twilight League duties robbed me of my Sunday night; not wanting to miss the chance to rave about Fuel, the truly amazing new restaurant in Lewiston, I’m posting a day late, instead.]

Saturday Night Fuelish-ness

Lewiston’s most anticipated local opening in recent memory has happened; Fuel, L-A’s newest high-end restaurant opened to the public last week and reservations are filling up quickly. Hearing the buzz wherever I went in my travels over the past few months, I made sure to call for a reservation two weeks ago and our party of six experienced firsthand what all the fuss has been about.

If you’re reading this and live in Boston, New York, or some other urban enclave, buzz about openings, swank restaurants and nightclubs, or theatre productions has probably grown old and tiresome. When you live in the far northern reaches of the kingdom known as New England however, we just don’t have enough “happenings” to bypass them. Even more important to me, they become essential to experience if they happen to be in a place that’s rooted deeply in your memories and sense of place, like Lewiston is for me.

I wrote about Carrie and Eric Agren, back in December, long before they had transformed one of the city’s great old pieces of architecture—the Lyceum Hall—into a modern French bistro, the likes of which you won’t find north of Boston. While Portland has a slew of high-end, trendy restaurants, Maine’s largest city’s got nothing on L-A this time and locals can thank these two entrepreneurs for their vision, passion and daring, making it all happen. Business people find success by seeing a trend begin to develop, waiting until they’re sure its moving in the right direction (i.e. can I make money here) and swoop in after visionaries and entrepreneurs live through 100-hour work weeks and lack of sleep to lay the foundation. The Agrens are in the latter category and Lewiston-Auburn residents (and people from the surrounding communities) have a chance to get in while it’s still brand new.

Four (The Baumers and Mr. and Mrs. Joe Pez), from our planned party of six arrived just before our 7 pm reservation time and walked into the long and buzzing room that not too long ago had been a dilapidated storefront, one of the all-too-many that still characterize much of downtown Lewiston, particularly this end of Lisbon Street. Our hostess made us feel welcome, taking coats and offering to get us drinks while we waited for the final couple to arrive. Normally, we would have been escorted to the wine bar area, at the front of Fuel, to wait for our table, but this area was jammed with people enjoying wine, appetizers and face-to-face interaction. With our embrace of technology at every turn, experiencing this kind of vibe is no longer the norm and being in the presence of this kind of palpable, positive energy is an experience to seize and experience whenever possible.

With the arrival of the final third of our party of six, we were off to embark on our three hour journey, experiencing Lewiston's newest eatery. I honestly don't remember the last time I've been this eager for an anticipated event. Part of it probably had to do with the recent articles in the Lewiston Sun Journal and the article and photo spread in the Twin City Times (local weekly) of last Friday's official opening and sneak preview for some of Lewiston's important set. On Saturday, it was just two bloggers, their significant others and one other couple, whose wife works with me.

The restaurant was packed, with nearly every table occupied and the energy palpable as we made our our towards the back of the long, rectangular room that is the restaurant space. Everyone was having a great time and I was sure that we would, also. I wasn't to be disappointed.

As is the case when you try to meld two sets of people--some who already know one another (the Baumer's and the Pez') and the third couple who were unfamiliar with some of the other four people, the first meeting can be an exercise in awkwardness. Instead, we began chatting like we've been out numerous times, rather than embarking on our maiden voyage for this new amalgamation.

By the time we ordered the wine and began contemplating appetizers and first courses, we were engaged in witty repartee and scintillating conversation. The communication, fueled (no pun, honestly) by equal parts red and white vino, the conversation flowed easily, like the spirits.

By the time food began arriving, we were all eager to experience the handiwork of the Fuel kitchen crew. I had a wonderful Potato Leek Soup that was hot, flavorful, with the just the right combination of creaminess, as well as seasoning. It was the perfect beginning for me.

After the initial course, we were ready to order the main course. We all ordered a variety of dishes, with everything from Grilled Salmon, to Slow Braised Beef Short Ribs (mine), which were tender, savory and with the honey carrots and pommes terrine, was exquisite.

Before someone accuses me of being a paid “shill” for Fuel, let me detail a few minor “glitches” that were noticeable. The service was a bit uneven, as our server didn’t quite fit the profile that I’d expect in a higher end establishment. While sincere, this 20-something young lady shared a bit too much information about the chef and his background and prior employment. While not an issue for me, it might have been for someone else. Also, she struggled so much opening one bottle of wine over my left shoulder that I was almost tempted to ask her if she wanted me to do it. Also, there were long stretches when I wondered if our server may have left for the night. Since none of us were in a hurry and enjoying the winning triumvirate of wine, friendly banter and fabulous food, it didn’t dampen our experience.

Since restaurant was barely a week old, it was acceptable, particularly after seeing Carrie Agren running herself ragged all night, carrying food, bringing table settings and doing whatever it took to make the night a success.

The Agren’s have obviously done their homework and preparation and have given considerable thought to the entire experience they hope to provide, even down to the music that’s playing in the background. From the Fuel website, we learn that Eric and Carrie have spent “a lot of time choosing our music, to compliment our urban environment. Classified as ambient, we strive to offer music you won't hear in any other restaurant in town.You will hear sounds from Telepopmusik, Stephane Pompougnac, Thievery Corporation, De Phazz, and more.” Now that’s attention to detail!

If vision, hard work and commitment to community matter, then Carrie and Eric Agren’s Fuel is a can’t miss for Lewiston.

1 comment:

Joe said...

Hey Jim - caught up in all the "budget" excitement, I didn't catch this post first time around. Thanks for the writeup. We had a great time and look forward to getting together again.

-The Pez'