Carmen at the Danforth

The Danforth Inn is located in a historic house not far from the bustling and trendy Old Port section of Portland, Maine. Ivy covers much of the brick exterior, and the windowed sun room visible from the street brings the feel of eras past.

Renowned chef Carmen Gonzalez (featured on Bravo's Top Chef Masters) has opened her newest venture just inside the Inn's front door. I have been hearing murmurs about her fabulous menu since they first opened on Memorial Day weekend. Needless to say, I was very excited.

The atmosphere at Carmen at the Danforth is simple but classy. Hanging above the tables are several pieces done by local-to-Maine painter Matthew Barter. His work is bold and almost geometric, like a less colorful Matisse, depicting fisherman and farmers and outlined in thick black paint. They contrast sharply against the swanky grey walls, white chair rails, and crystal chandeliers, giving a bit of character to an otherwise cold space.

Settling in at our table, the menu seemed daunting. The sheer number of things I found myself wanting to eat was intimidating! This can be a predicament... But my dinner partners were good sports and agreed to order with sharing in mind.

Our first round of plates was a dazzling array of appetizers. We started with grilled baby flower octopus with a chayote slaw. The octopus was cooked to absolute perfection. It had a great char, providing ideal amounts of grilled texture and flavor. The slaw was also nice, but the dish as a whole definitely needed more acid. I found myself wishing for a wedge of lime.

Next we sampled the Bacalao fritters. These were served in the wooden box used to ship the fish. An absolutely adorable presentation! The texture of the fritters was light and fluffy, with a delicately crisp crust. PERECT. The waiter explained that they use sodium bicarbonate in the batter, which creates a carbonation effect similarly used in tempura. I highly recommend these!

Our final appetizer was the "Maine lobster and plantain lollipops." Again, an adorable presentation.  Creamy on the inside, crispy on the outside. These were rich and delicious! They would have benefited from more of the keylime mayo, which seemed to be portioned as a garnish. Additional lime in the recipe might have helped to better cut through the richness of the dish.

On with the entrees! My sister ordered the Rohan duck breast, braised duck leg roulade, corn flan, and baby spinach with toasted garlic and fresh lemon juice. The plating was beautiful; a fun and linear presentation. The flan was so surprising (and sweet!). Smooth and creamy like traditional dessert flan, BUT it paired awesomely with the savory meat. Also worth noting, this dish made my historically picky sister like spinach for the first time!

My mother ordered the cod with edamame, housemade chorizo and rainbow chard stew. It was beautiful and truly the most flaky fish I've seen. A simple plate with comforting flavors executed perfectly.

My aunt ordered pork tenderloin with a sweet plantain mash and a pork demi-glace. To me, this dish had the best balance of flavors: sweet, savory, a bit tart from the demi... So satisfying. This was my favorite.

I chose the seared sea scallop with boniato mash and some kind of sage-y sauce. The sear on the scallop was perfect and held up beautifully, even with the sauce drizzled over it. I particularly loved the mash. It was quite sweet, but the savory sauce brought it back down. A seafood Thanksgiving!

We have a serious sweet tooth in the family and decided to share a trio of desserts! The churros with spiked chocolate were the most anticipated treat but turned out to be the biggest disappointment. Sadly, they tasted only of their frying oil, in fact we couldn't even discern the sugar they were tossed in (even though you could see it). The highlight turned out to be the Crema de Chocolate with caramelized pineapple and salty nuts. The creamy, rich chocolate, sweet and tart fruit, and salty whole cashews made it the perfect end note to our meal. Excellent variety of flavors and textures!

Flan with caramel sauce (a classic, but perfectly executed)
Crema de Chocolate

Churros with spiked chocolate

Overall, I was impressed! The menu makes beautiful use of local and seasonal fare while also highlighting Chef Gonzalez's Latin expertise. It is pricey, but it delivers in terms of quality. It was a meal worth saving your pennies for, and I would absolutely recommend it to friends and family in the future!