SMOOTH BUT CRUNCHY The Muhammara offered up at Evo consists of blended hot peppers, crushed walnuts, olive oil, garlic and spices. garnished with radishes and greens, the dip is served with seed bread.
I don’t know about Shifty and D-Money, but Governor LePage got one thing right: If you hear the name Smoothie, watch out. Especially when it comes to food. Our national obsession with blending up perfectly good ingredients until they can be sipped or spoon-fed exemplifies the infantilization of our culture. We sustain childish lives with childish nourishment. Smoothies allow us to indulge the infantile suck-reflex well into adulthood, along with our feelings of helplessness before forces (climatological, economic, emotional) we cannot understand or control. If we are ever going to stop acting like babies, maybe we should stop eating pablum.
Of course, transitions are hard, whether to adult roles or to solid food. Maybe we need a transitional cuisine. One place to find it is at Evo, an Old Port restaurant whose name is short for evolution. At Evo it is possible to eat a sophisticated and elegant meal consisting entirely of dishes that are smooth and creamy. Evo specializes in the cuisine of the “eastern Mediterranean” (you might know it as the “Middle East”). This is the culture that gave us hummus and baba ghanoush – both on Evo’s menu. But Evo’s elevation of the smooth is best exemplified in less familiar dishes like muhammara.
Evo’s muhammara is smooth enough, but also has a hint of crunch from its base of walnuts. The dish looks sophisticated. Three amber-red mounds group on one half of their bowl, topped with some radish and greens. Most importantly, the flavors, like a mild heat and some roasty sesame, balance and enhance each other rather than just blend together. It’s a pleasure to scoop it up on a crisp seeded flatbread.
A softer flatbread accompanied the labneh, a simple yogurt cheese. It is smooth as can be, with an appealing brightness and tang. It was spotted with crunchy herbs and some sharp capers. Shakshuka, a hot dish made with crushed and stewed tomatoes and egg, is not exactly smooth. But it’s dippable in its cast iron bowl, and when the yolk from the egg runs into the herby tomato, things get plenty creamy. It manages to be rich but not heavy, with plenty of bite from garlic and some stewed jalapeno.
The shakshuka feels complex and adult, and provides a useful transition to some of Evo’s more chewable dishes. But many of these still dabble in the smooth and creamy. Roasted brussels sprouts are served with sweet dollops of golden raisin blended until they resembling applesauce – or baby food. We preferred the dollops of rich tahini, which worked better with the sprout’s subtle bitterness.
For those who work their way up, Evo offers plenty of dishes with unadulterated adult texture and flavor, like the terrific sharpness of mackerel with charred onion and roe – all salt, oil and sour. It looked gorgeous stacked up on its plate. The look of dinner at Evo in general is sophisticated, to the point where the plating (they like to leave half the plate clean) can feel a bit trendy and precious. The room is striking, with a huge front wall of glass at jagged angles, looking out on the busy old port streets.
So Evo offers a way to smooth our transition to adult tastes and habits. LePage said he is most concerned about the babies that Smoothie and his friends leave behind. But we should worry instead about the babies that we are and the hard work of growing up. Sure, it feels good when politicians tell us that we can be “winners” or “revolutionaries.” You could carry your smoothie right into the voting booth, while letting childish fears and fantasies govern our choice of leader. It is the kind of voting that got a petulant governor re-elected here in Maine, after all.
Evo, 443 Fore St., Portland | 207.358.7830 | Tuesday – Wednesday 4:30pm-10:00pm; Thursday-Saturday 4:30pm-11:30pm | Most (smallish) dishes between $10-$15