By the time you decide to go for a full on date-night, outfit choices are the least of your concerns. Who’s going to pick up the tab? Do I really need an appetizer anyway? What is dessert? Where are we even going? Isa. Isa is where we went.
Located right in Portland, we were pleased to find a quiet, somewhat homely yet upscale restaurant. Even more pleased that on a Friday with no reservations, we were able to be seated immediately.
For starters, I went with the cheese plate. Following my new found obsession with olives, cheese plates give me the best of three worlds. I wanted to love this dish I really did. The cheese portions were good for the amount of focaccia crisps . But the olives were small and unpitted which made it more work than it was worth. Especially without a seed bowl. The aged cheese block was also rather tough and not sliced which made it difficult to get into. The addition of the very sweet jam made it feel as if I was having dessert first. (Which may not be a particularly terrible thing, but you can understand my reservations). I wanted to love the dish, it just missed the mark.
For mains I had the steak au poivre. Perfectly done medallion! Medium rare as I requested. With a fresh pepper corn rub. Did it melt in the mouth? Somewhat. What brought it together? That divine whiskey cream sauce. A Beautiful experience. However, the delicacy of the whiskey, the pepper of the steak and the sweet from the potato gratin made for a salt craving. Nothing too serious, all things considered. The serving portion was healthy, the meal was balanced and the Pinot noir pairing made for an outer body experience.
The dessert part of my night was called bliss. Moist, milky, decadent, dense are all words I would use to describe the Tres Leches. It is easy to go overboard with the sweetness on this cake, but this was done with the finess I would expect in an Nicaraguan home. The chunk of whipped cream did not overpower the dessert as a whole and the sponge cake was well soaked yet not mushy or falling apart. Paired with a coffee to wrap up the night, I must say this was some of the best dessert I’ve had in a while.
ISA is a place of contrast. With an upscale ambiance, but very simple menu. The food felt like what you would find at your company CEO’s chef-enabled home for dinner. Sticking with the basics and authenticity of recipes, there is nothing pretentious about the food, yet worth the price tag. Service at Isa is just right as well. Making you feel comfortable while still maintaining the air of class. A quiet place that can get a bit loud later into the night as drinks take effect on larger groups. Recommended for a dinner party, date-night or even dinner with the kids when you can’t find a sitter.
OVERALL FAS RATING: 8.7
Location: 79 Portland Street, Portland, ME 04101
Designated parking: Yes
Dress-code: Smart Casual