Duckfat always tops the list of restaurants “not to be missed” for visitors to Portland, Maine that are considering where to eat. Those that visit may or may not know that Chef/owner Rob Evans is a local celebrity of sorts. Chef Evans is a James Beard Award winner and was one of the final two contestants on Food Network’s Chopped Champions. Recently, I dropped into Duckfat, one of Portland’s most noteworthy restaurants, to sample some soup.
The ambiance of the restaurant is rustic and inviting and as is true with most Portland restaurants, the dress code is of no concern. The focus is all about the food. Though Chef Evans and his team make it seem effortless, it is apparent they pay close attention to detail on the final products they send out. Chef Evans focuses on sourcing nearly 80% of his ingredients from local Maine farms. The restaurant cures all of their charcuterie items in-house as well as pickling vegetables themselves.
We sampled two delicious soups on the menu. The tomato fennel is a house favorite and always on the menu. The celeriac shitake soup was one of the night’s specials. I’ve had the tomato fennel several times over the years as it is one of my favorite local soups. The soup is pureed with a bold, not bitter, tomato flavor and the fennel and anise just elevate the soup from basic to a more sophisticated tomato soup than our moms made. It’s very thick and creamy and topped with tasty croutons and fennel shavings. Fortunately, chef offered to share the recipe with our readers…enjoy!
The nightly special, celeriac shitake soup was completely different but equally as delightful. This soup was also pureed and had a distinct earthy flavor from both the celeriac and shitake but it was nicely balanced by the sautéed carrots and cream added to soften the flavors. Additionally, the soup was rounded out with a generous drizzle of truffle oil on top that pulled all the flavors together for a creamy mouthful of goodness.
While the soup was my primary mission, the Chef’s charcuterie tray of delicious cured meats and pickled vegetables was a treat to sample, and sample we did. The special this night was house cured soppressata that had been aged 5 months, lomo, shaved beef brisket, pastrami, and thick-sliced bacon all accompanied by an outstanding kimchee (with just the right amount of heat), fried tomatillos, kohlrabi, pickled radish and tasty sauces. All of these were distinct and delicious, the perfect finger food to have with a glass of wine. He also sent out the famous Duckfat fries that arrived in a paper cone with two accompanying sauces. The texture of the fries are crisp and perfectly browned with a tender, fresh interior – they are an indulgent treat for sure!
Duckfat deserves all the acclaim it has received over the years. It is an unpretentious and comfortable place. It’s just the kind of place you should spend a night out with a friend to catch up and enjoy a nice bowl of soup this autumn.
Tomato Fennel Soup
- 2 medium white onions, frenched
- 4 fennel bulbs, frenched
- 1 #10 can peeled tomatoes
- 1 C. white wine
- 2 T. anise seed
- 2 T. fennel seed
- 2 Qt. heavy cream
- Pinch of sugar
- Salt & pepper to taste
|Sweat onion and fennel, with anise and fennel seeds.
|Deglaze with white wine.
|Cook over medium heat for approx. 20 min, add cream, and scald.
|Simmer for 15 min, or until fennel is cooked.
|Remove from heat and blend in commercial blender (vita prep mixer).
|Strain through china cap.