A warm, summer breeze followed me and my girlfriends into the gorgeous Press Hotel for a night of noshing, brought to us by the talented Josh Berry. The Press Hotel, located in the upper part of the Old Port, is exquisitely designed and offers an upscale and classic dining experience in its restaurant, UNION. This building was formerly the Portland Press Herald headquarters but is now one of the hottest hotels and restaurants around. At the center of this modern bar and restaurant is the bustling kitchen where I could see Chef Berry hard at work upon my arrival.
A hilarious and knowledgeable waiter seated us, and we were warmly greeted by Josh. Josh is humble, warm, and a fellow Mainer in addition to being a talented chef. After graduating as “Apprentice of the Year” from the Balsams Culinary School, he spent time working with chefs in Switzerland, before returning to the US. He is a strong proponent of having passion for what you do and completely exudes that.
When I asked Josh how he would describe his restaurant he used two words — “Enhanced local.” The local markets inspire his ever-changing seasonal menu.
We started by eating smoked carrots served over whipped ricotta and drizzled with smoked Maine honey and scallion ash. The carrots were perfectly cooked and the creaminess of ricotta and sweetness of the honey complimented the almost salt-like nature of the scallion hash. This course was created because Josh “couldn’t not use the beautiful carrots!”
Next, we had compressed shrimp with cucumbers and chile threads. The chile threads had a punch of flavor that created a smokey yet refreshing dish.
For a main course, we had seared Maine scallops with local golden beets, topped with a dollop of black garlic, and served over turnip greens. These perfectly seared scallops were also dusted with shavings of dried scallop — wow.
I learned that black garlic is slightly different than normal garlic, and really enriched the taste of the scallops. The local vegetables were beautifully done, and almost sweet in taste.
For dessert, we had salted caramel gelato with macerated cherries in peach vinegar, and coconut macarons. It was the perfect ending to a meal that left my stomach satisfied, yet not stuffed. Josh told us about how he loves to juxtapose different flavor profiles, and this dessert was a great example of that.
After cappuccinos, and much thanks to Josh’s wonderful su chefs and staff, we exited the restaurant through the famous lobby, which included a wall of vintage typewriters.
I had trouble picking one dish or one ingredient that was my favorite during the meal – the overall experience was very memorable. UNION is refreshingly classic in a time where food almost has more fads than fashion.
Spoon: If you could eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
JB: My mom’s chicken pot pie.
Spoon: What’s your favorite restaurant in Portland (besides UNION)?
Spoon: What are the strongest influences in your cooking?
JB: Sustainability, seasonality and Maine.
Spoon: What is your role on a daily basis?
JB: I’m the idea guy.
Spoon: Where do these gorgeous plates come from?
JB: It’s a mix between Edgecomb Potters locally; Dudson (from England); and a random assortment that I find around Maine and my travels.
#SpoonTip: Check out UNION for an amazing brunch, available every day and perfect before an afternoon of shopping or watching a performance.