Portland’s Culinary Clock Strikes Twelve

Serving up new ideas and locally sourced ingredients, this Maine restaurant can’t be missed
Words By Alexandra Hall

There’s a moment that happens during many first meals at Twelve, the enormously buzzed-about entry on Portland’s waterfront, when there’s simply nowhere else you want to be. With seamless precision, the staff places a lobster roll in front of you. The first thing you realize: Its name is a cheekily understated homage to Maine’s culinary icon. Thanks to its 108 layers of butter and the deft expertise of pastry chef Georgia Macon, its dough looks like a croissant but tastes far richer, mimicking a roll you’d find at any good lobster shack. But then you bite into the roll’s flaky shards, as crisped and buttery as the perfect griddled exterior on a shack roll, and they simultaneously crunch and melt as you chew. And finally, the lobster comes rushing in—cooked very slowly in butter (so it’s infused with lobster flavor and lends the meat extraordinary richness) and brushed with a cream reduction that, as Georgia says, “puts it over the top without straying too far from a traditional lobster roll.”

Executive chef Colin Wyatt’s menu mirrors the dining room’s design in its balance between tradition and innovation.
Composed dishes sport exacting presentations.
The rich lobster roll mimics one you’d find at a lobster shack.

It’s the embodiment of not just the artistry of Twelve but also its underlying mission: to bring new ideas to local customs, tweaking and elevating them but holding fast to their foundations. “We wanted to create a space that honors both the history with the modern,” explains executive chef Colin Wyatt, who came to Portland via New York’s DANIEL and Eleven Madison Park. With him came general manager Daniel Gorlas, an alum of New York’s Per Se.

Watching the action in the open kitchen is part of the dining experience.

It’s only natural to be a little skeptical when any enterprise with as much advance fanfare as Twelve has had (Vogue named it one of America’s most anticipated restaurant openings) and with pedigreed players like Colin and Daniel comes to a place like Maine. And plenty of ink has been spilled over the restaurant’s brick-by-brick relocation from its original site yards away to its current address on the water. But balancing all that is also the local chops of Prentice Hospitality Group, the folks behind Twelve as well as Portland-area establishments like EVO Kitchen + Bar and The Chebeague Island Inn. More to the point, explains Daniel, “It was always very important to us to honor certain traditions and embrace the legacy of this great food scene,” he says. “We want to be sensitive to the way things have been done while at the same time push the boundaries.”

That started with the aforementioned bricks, and immediately extended to the interior design. “We reused many of the materials in the original space,” Colin says. For example? The chef’s counter is made from the same wooden beams that were in the original building, and all design elements were done by local artisans. “I specifically love the way the Heide Martin chairs work with the wood from the repurposed counter,” says Colin. “It highlights the kitchen perfectly.” Said kitchen, by the way, is open, airy, and brightly lit—making it a central part of the design. “They did beautiful work restoring and finding interesting ways to piece them together,” he says. “It gives the wood new life. In some ways we’re trying to do that same thing with our menu.”

Do we need meticulous design for the food to taste good? Absolutely not. But as Colin suggests, it’s a mirror to the food—refined but restrained—and it adds an additional layer of context to the entire dining experience. That includes dishes like the velvety monkfish with whey broth, foiled with delicate trout roe that pop and release salty sweetness when bitten. And then there are more whimsical takes: “We might create a dish from a conversation with a farmer or our fishmonger,” says Colin. “The halibut with Ritz crackers and bone marrow is an example of a local food tradition making it to our menu.”

Much like the lobster roll, the entire reimagined incarnation could’ve been an utter flop in the wrong hands. But the contemporary elevation of Maine’s classics, as rendered at Twelve, is indeed having a moment—one we should hope lasts a long time.

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