During my recent trip to Maine my family and I dined at Tao Yuan. The small plates Asian restaurant is owned by Chef Cara Stadler, who was nominated for a James Beard Rising Star Award this year. After discovering Tao Yuan’s sister restaurant, Bao Bao Dumpling House in Portland last winter, I was very eager to Tao Yuan, which is considered the more upscale of the two restaurants.
Tao Yuan serves up small plate Asian cuisine inspired by fresh seasonal ingredients. It is the perfect place to dine with a group. Our group of 7 was able to try a good portion of the menu. The menu at Tao Yuan is constantly changing based on what is available seasonally, and only a couple of dishes stay on the menu year-round.
Before I share the details of our meal with you, a note about my brother. Nothing gets between my brother and food. With that in mind, I took quick photos with my iPhone, and left the DSLR camera in my purse so I wouldn’t hold everyone up.
We started our meal with local oysters, the Asian Slaw, and the Fried Goat Cheese. The Asian Slaw is one of the few items that remains on the menu all the time. It’s a hearty salad with greens, pea pods, cabbage, peanuts, carrots, and fried shallots. This was one of the crowd favorites.
The Fried Goat Cheese was unlike anything I have tried before, in a good way. The act of frying the goat cheese made it firmer than most goat cheese, almost spongy, yet it retained its traditional taste. The goat cheese as dressed with cucumber, mint, and chili, a creative combination with a nice summery flavor.
Pork Belly and Shrimp Spring Rolls with Thai basil, mint, cilantro, cucumber, scallion, and a duck liver peanut sauce were loaded with fresh vegetables. The peanut sauce added a richness to this appetizer.
The house dumpling just happened to be the Kung Pow Chicken Dumplings which I tried at Bao Bao and loved. Grandma Tang’s Roast Pork Buns were so amazing that we got two orders, and ordered two more. The bao buns are filled with shredded roast pork, brown bean paste, hoisin, and scallions. The texture of a bun was pillowy while the roast pork was tender and meaty. Unfortunately the photos I had didn’t do these dishes any justice, but I could have kept eating them all night long.
The Butter Basted Halibut was tender and flaky and served with mung beans, herbs, and lemon. It was light and fresh. I have recently discovered that I really like halibut, it is a flaky fish that isn’t “fishy” in taste. This preparation with lemon and butter is classic New England while the mung beans gave it an Asian twist.
My father’s favorite was the Dry Aged Duck Breast with black garlic, potatoes, and garlic aioli. (I don’t really eat duck since we raised ducks in the sixth grade).
The Grilled Maine Asparagus with yellow curry and aioli was a great example of how Chef Stadler combines Asian flavors with local Maine ingredients.
I loved the creativity of the House Turmeric Fettuccini with Lamb Bacon. The lamb bacon was thick and meaty, and the turmeric complimented the flavors of the tomatoes, day lily shoots, and pickled mustard greens that were tossed in the pasta.
The Hainanese Chicken Rice with hoisin was simple, but beautifully executed. The thick hoisin sauce was a real treat.
We tried a couple desserts, the first was a rhubarb crumble with ice cream. Classic seasonal New England at its best. The crumble dough had the buttery crumbly texture you would expect, and the filling was made with fresh local rhubarb.
The dessert that we couldn’t stop talking about was the butterscotch. It was so thick, creamy, and sweet (without being overwhelming sweet). I don’t see butterscotch on menus often, but it needs to make a comeback, this was a delight.
Tao Yuan‘s address is 22 Pleasant Street in Brunswick. It is about 30 minutes from Portland and totally worth the drive. They do accept reservations.