We went to Walter’s on my birthday. We wanted to go somewhere new to us, to a place that felt dress-up fancy. Walter’s fit the bill. It was a quiet Sunday evening in Portland, which suited me just fine. I’ve had more than my share of whiskey-soaked piñata birthday parties. Walking into Walter’s, there’s a fire wall, a cute waitress, a deserted, sumptuous bar and a mostly empty dining room. Immediately we knew, well, we already anticipated, we were in for a different experience. This is not farm to table. There’s nothing rustic or Bobo about it. It reminded me of dining on a cruise ship – an underwater effect created by the light – in the late eighties. To say that it’s a throwback is too easy. It’s defiantly anachronistic in the whole current locavore zeitgeist, and not like the old school steak house I wish Portland had. (Seriously, could someone please open a red-boothed-martini-side-car, chateaubriand-for-two plus creamed spinach and sauteed mushrooms, order-your-souflee-immediately restaurant? Please. I must have it.) Walter’s wants to present Asian fusion, with a few Italian ingredients. A little silly maybe, but tasty. Who am I to say? I couldn’t cook this way. I heard on the radio that Pete Townsend made disparaging remarks about iTunes and what it does to an artist’s integrity. Well, of course he did. but I’ll still sing along to Baba O’Riley.

Malcolm: I decided to take Jillian to Walter’s on her birthday, not based on anything on the menu, but because it feels like a place you take someone on their birthday. And, honestly, for as much as I love getting to meet the owner of the local nearby farm before dinner, learn about how he feeds his free range animals strictly on a diet of square-trade certified coffee grounds and organic, hand-sifted parsnip-top mulch, and then watch him kill the pig that makes my pork chops right in front of me in an open, rustic kitchen, I’m also ready to have a little bit of the mystery come back to fine dining. I don’t mind being romanced a little bit by a restaurant; sometimes, I want the lights dimmed, with some soft muzak playing, as the staff buzzes around bringing me mysterious plates from somewhere. In this aspect, Walter’s delivers.

Leather bound menus. An extensive cocktail list for those that can imbibe. Entrees from the days before emo boys and sparkly vampires. We’d read good things about the Crispy Asian Raviolis, but I used birthday leverage to order more calamari: “Cracklin Calamari,” ($10) spice dusted fried calamari, with lemon caper cherry pepper aioli, basil leaf, and candied jalapeños. It just seemed like the thing to do. The squid was cooked exquisitely, not too greasy or chewy or heavy with breading. And the candied jalapeños were piquant adult candy flecked throughout the plate. Unfortunately, a saccharine vanilla sauce coated every morsel in an overbearing fashion. I didn’t like it. Wished I had a clean salad.

Malcolm: The calamari was a bit of a bummer, but only because it was so close to greatness. Cooked perfectly, in bite-sized morsels that weren’t too tentacle-y. I liked the heat from the candied jalapeños, and the lemony aioli, but the overpoweringly sweet sauce covering the whole thing was just one element too many. It was too much.

My dinner was the most decadent, most expensive item on the menu. It was my last totally selfish birthday, after all. Two petit filets, with roasted beets and haricots verts, covered in a red demi-glace, served with a side of lobster mac & cheese ($30). I wish I’d asked about the cheese in the mac and cheese, which was a little sharp and funky, but not like the deepest recesses of an underground cave. The pasta shape was tulips or trumpets, and filled up with cream sauce ideally. Normally I care little for lobster paired with cheese, but this was done with a light touch, the meat was sweet and complemented the heady cheese perfectly. Each steak portion was so divinely medium rare, pink in the center. Again, filet mignon is adorable, but not my usual cut. It has a mouth feel that is so barbaric while ostensibly ladylike. They know their red meat at Walter’s. Also vegetables, cooked with flawless technique. Have I mentioned my fondness for beets? Yes, I have.

Malcolm: Because I prefer cuts of beef that have flavor, I feel like I was the winner with my order, a grilled sirloin sliced and served with bulgogi barbeque sauce, spinach, local mushrooms, hand-cut fries, and a bit of a bucket of miso-and-Japanese-mayo dipping sauce ($30). The steak was cooked beautifully to a perfect medium-rare, and the barbecue sauce added a pleasant tang and richness that I really enjoyed. The fries were also excellent; salty, crunchy golden skin-on slivers that I kept dipping and re-dipping into the Japanese mayonnaise. As technically perfectly as everything was prepared, though, I felt again like I wished the dish had one fewer thing in it. It seems like this could be a bit of a theme at Walter’s. I wanted to like it more than I did, and for $30, there are other places in town that I will revisit, first, before I come back for more of Walter’s fusion.

Dessert was a bit of a disappointment. Cold and solid from the walk-in. Conservative. Not the richness I desired from chocolate olive oil cake with espresso caramel sauce ($8). Without many rounds of drinks we find our nights out are much more affordable. For a sensual evening with your tax attorney, go to Walter’s. That’s not fair. It was really, really nice. Big, brassy food cooked with flair and a surplus of skill, and not a little pretension. But that’s the point, right? In the right context, this would be fare to impress your fiancee’s uptight parents, a restaurant you’d make reservations at after you passed the bar exam, or go with your brothers from the Order of Balls and Shaft. Wear a sport coat. Have an old fashioned cocktail. But not an Old Fashioned. Nothing muddled by a mixologist. Order a B & B. Get great meat carefully prepared. Be a rebel without a cause for just one night. Go to Walter’s. (Only if you want to, no pressure).

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. I wish you guys had been able to visit the old Walter’s. That was by far my favorite venue for any restaurant in Portland. It’s too bad that the Exchange Street Cafe took over. The last time I visited Walter’s was a few months after they moved. The food was decent– definitely not what it was, and I was quite bothered by the vanilla scented candles. Their calamari used to be the best intown- easily surpassed by Boda’s (now), and their Asian Ravioli’s are okay too.

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  2. I have yet to eat at the new Walter’s location, but I can say the cocktail menu at the bar is pleasing and quite varied (with tequila, whiskey, vodka, rum & bourbon offerings — and more!). “Bartender Steve” takes great pride in his unique creations — using real fruit purees & herbal infusions as much as possible — and made the finalist round in the recent Bombay Sapphire Bartender Competition in Boston. Finally, the label “mixologist” is warranted! We enjoy going to Walter’s (or Armory Lounge in the Regency) when in town for a strong pre-dinner drink.

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  3. We ate several times this past summer at Walters, and each time enjoyed the presentation and excellent food. Not only is the restaurant spotless, but nicely laid out and a beautiful bar area……Parking is easy in the rear of the building, so it has everything going for itself.

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