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Dear TAO: I owe you a long, well written and photographed review. But alas I arrived at your restaurant tonight unprepared. Instead I arrived hungry and tired from campaigning. The experience I had at your establishment was so phenomenal that I felt compelled to run back to my apartment and publicly profess my newfound love for you.
I live right around the corner from TAO and have been meaning to stop in since it opened earlier this summer. Tonight Benjamin and I were thrilled to find out that they are open past 9 pm (a rarity in this town) and finally headed over to Pleasant Street to check them out. We were the last diners for the evening and had the place to ourselves.
The restaurant is expertly decorated and arranged. It is great to know that someone has put so much love and care into the building. I was a big fan of the former Tearoom and Provisions and was sad when both establishments closed. TAO has done a great job of refurbishing the building. The vibe is up-class and hip but inviting and warm all at the same time. My only complaint is that the air-conditiong vents on the floor can freeze your legs. But our excellent server Emma quickly covered the vents and saved the day.
Chef Cara Stadler has an impressive resume and has trained all over the globe. With TAO she is focusing on a small plates menu with the goal of creating “the perfect bite.” On TAO’s website they describe her inspiration:
At the same time as she was learning from these modern masters, Cara began noticing what has become her core guiding concept – what she calls, “the perfect bite.” Specifically, she became fascinated with how, in a single bite, flavors harmonize in a sequence of moments, supported by the cadence of texture.
The menu features a wide variety of these “perfect bites” and the intent is that each plate is to share with each person ordering around 3 – 4 plates. Benjamin and I ordered 6 plates to share.
I had done a little preliminary food stalking and had noticed that they served “Roasted Pork Buns.” Pork Buns are one of my guilty pleasure foods and I haven’t had many good ones outside of Boston. So naturally I was dying to know how TAO’s Pork Buns measured up. We ordered Grandma Tang’s Roast Pork Buns, the Fried Goat Cheese, the Steamed Shao Mai, the Pan-Fried Dumplings, the Wok-Fried Cauliflower, and the Turnip Cakes. We also ordered a Sangria to share.
The good news: The Pork Buns lived up to all my hopes and dreams. The bad news: The purveyor of these heavenly treats is within easy walking distance of my apartment. We were informed that they had run out of the aesthetically pleasing buns but offered us the “ugly” buns instead for half off. The Pork Buns were delightfully pillowy, light and steamed to perfection with luscious roast pork bursting from the inside (despite their appearance). I will be returning soon to have this delectable treat again and again.
Other stand out items in our meal were the Pan-Fried Cauliflower that was bursting with flavor. Benjamin was particularly fond of the maple cured bacon that accompanied the cauliflower. The Turnip Cakes were fantastic and unique with a great texture. We are always suckers for dumplings and Benjamin and I fought over who got to eat the last Pan-Fried Dumpling (I lost). All of the accompanying sauces with the dishes were delectable.
My only complaint was the Sangria. While it wasn’t bad it did not live up to the rest of our meal. The drink was lacking in flavor and frankly just didn’t thrill my tastebuds. It left me wanting something else to pair with our meal. Next time I will have to check out their tantalizing wine list. I think a white might be a better bet next time.
Benjamin and I were already in love with TAO after the first plate but to top everything off Emma returned towards the end of the meal with an order of Black Sea Bass compliments of the kitchen. This was the perfect end to the meal. I am a complete and utter seafood addict and this sea bass was phenomenal. Tonight I was glad that Benjamin isn’t crazy about fish as I hogged this tasty dish. The bass was served with fairy eggplant, a broth of red curry and kaffir lime. The fish skin was perfectly crispy and balanced the sweetness of the rest of the fish. The eggplant meshed expertly with the other flavors and a splash of red pepper brought it all together. When I reached the end there was a leftover pool of broth that I desperately wanted to slurp down by drinking straight out of the bowl. But alas social conventions told me to not embarrass my boyfriend by licking all of the plates…
So with a very full and satisfied stomach I implore you all to go check out TAO Restaurant. They are breath of fresh air in the Brunswick dining scene. I am excited to have Chef Stadler and her tantalizing creations right around the corner and look forward to seeing what she cooks up next.
TAO Restaurant, 22 Pleasant Street, Brunswick, ME.
For more info on TAO Restaurant please check out their website: http://tao-maine.com/