Restaurant Week: Vignola

Vignola beckons like a city on the hill, alluring with its light the heathen valley dwellers below. Inset among cobblestones, bathed in hanging amber, the demure dining room appears to the uninitiated as the sole source of mirth and laughter. This is how it has long seemed to me, as everything often does from outside. For once, being within the brick walls felt right where I belonged. I wanted to like Vignola, and I did, in spite of food that was merely good; it gave me what I craved. From the tangle of cylinders that illuminate each nook, to the gaslamps beyond the windows panes, to harbor lights in the middle distance past Commercial Street, in the marina, this is a restaurant that glows incandescent and feels enveloped in electric warmth.

For Restaurant Week they are serving a three course menu, priced at $20.00 per person. With a side of Kettle One martinis, rustic, crusty bread dipped in deep and dirty olive oil, it was an absolutely satisfying meal.

Malcolm’s beef carpaccio appetizer made me feel upset, for reasons I don’t understand. It wasn’t light or paper thin, but the greens and fried provolone bite were nearly redemptive. My small plate of penne was actually perfect: pliable noodles, neither toothsome nor mushy, in a slightly spicy red sauce spiked with hunks of little lamb (who made thee?) [ED Note: it’s lamb pancetta!]

I was sort of smitten. I could eat cauldrons of this macaroni and give up all hope of a waist. Luckily, I was spared from myself; our waitress cleared away the plates to make room for entering entrees.

I ordered pork milanese. My malleted, breaded, fried pork sprinkled wth baby spinach leaves, sweet baslamic, glazy red onions and broiled tomatoes would have been amazing as a grinder. That’s totally it. Slap this cutlet on Italian bread and call me the Earl of Sandwich. Malcolm’s chicken breast with artichokes was tasty, if atavistic. Phyllis Nefler and I might have had this catered for a Troop Beverly Hills fundraiser. And then we would beat those bitchy wilderness girls at their own game. What a thrill.

We were having a lovely time, drinking and laughing, as everyone in the dining room seemed to be. At the bar were a few small groups of thirty-somethings, ordering crafty beer, I suspect, while the tables were set for couples in matching gray bobs and fleece vests. We took our time over dessert and coffee. My banana cake was delightful. Bananas foster is my favorite, and this could be its Mormon cousin.

Malcolm chose the almond tort topped with a delicate scoop of gelato, which was also simply good. None of what we had was particularly innovative or arresting or explosive, but we savored every bite. Vignola makes the food your grandmother would make, if she wasn’t so busy watching Dancing with the Stars and reading biographies of Katharine Hepburn. I really like it there, for reasons I have yet to understand. And we will go back again soon.

Jillian Bedell

Jillian Bedell is a writer and mother living in a farmhouse in Cushing, Maine. She is very good at talking about herself in the third person. She is co-author of Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road. She creates content on the internet, on subjects ranging from summer camps to semi-precious stones to the folklore of food. With Malcolm, Jillian was one of the original “Insiders,” for the Visit Maine tourism campaign. She loves telling the stories of her adopted state, finding out-of-the-way places, and people making interesting things. Watching her daughters play in the wild woods and fields of Cushing makes her very happy.


  1. Since it appears to be my day to comment on everything you two have written in the last 3, I’ll put in here, too.

    We love Vignola, for largely the same almost indefinable reasons. Restaurants that rely on ambiance to make up for adequate food rarely do well by that theory, but I think the escape for Vignola is this: 1) Their food is solid, but only by Portland standards. As you have some Connecticut experience I’ll go there for analogy. If you put Vignola down on Chapel Street, it would instantly become one of the best restaurants in New Haven and, in sad fact, all of Connecticut. Very few cities have the embarrassment of very good food options that Portland does. We very quickly become used to the very good. 2) Ditto the ambiance. The room at Vignola is so deeply purple it’s beyond aubergine and nearly into brown. Set against the brick of the 200-year-old structure it inhabits, with crown molding crafted into a flat wall covering, the glass-encased wine room, huge, gorgeous windows looking out on to our cobble-stoned streets, water barely teasing the eye beyond…well, that’s all awfully hard to beat.

    Finally, we really enjoyed the staff. They love food and know what they love. Sit at the bar some Sunday afternoon and order a cheese plate and a tall glass of adult grape juice and quiz them about it — their excitement is contagious.

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