205 Commercial St., Portland
Since it first opened four years ago, Mims Brasserie has garnered mixed reviews from both diners and critics. The French-influenced menu has shown promise, but inconsistency and less-than-stellar service have kept Mims from reaching the upper tier of Portland eateries. So when I heard Mims had recently reopened with new executive chef Scott Olsen at the helm, I hoped to be pleasantly surprised.
My wife, our 3-year-old daughter and I arrived just after 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning — still early by upscale-brunching standards. A chilling wind dissuaded us from accepting a seat on the patio, so we followed the host to a table in the tiny downstairs dining room. Coffee was requested and delivered, and so armed, our eyes focused on the menu.
We started with a grilled mixed-berry muffin ($2) which, like all the baked goods at Mims, was made on-site that morning. It was a basic, decent pastry, nothing spectacular, though the volume of butter absorbed by the muffin during grilling could have felled a lesser man. I washed it down with some fresh-squeezed orange juice ($2.50 for the smaller of two sizes) and the remainder of my cup of excellent, strong coffee, which was promptly refilled just before our meals arrived.
I chose the daily special: an omelet of sausage, chèvre, spinach and tomato ($10). Although the omelet itself was cooked perfectly, the sausage was excessively greasy and rather bland. If I had paid better attention to the menu, I would have noticed that potatoes are not included with brunch entrees — cottage fries, frites and gnocchi are available for an extra charge. The omelet and accompanying toast proved hearty enough to fill me up, but I missed the contrasting textures of eggs and potatoes. Chalk it up to a lesson learned.
My daughter was happy with her “farm egg” sandwich of scrambled eggs, thick-cut bacon and cheddar atop a butter croissant. It was quite tasty, but we would have appreciated some fruit or something on the side given the $7.50 price tag for what is really a pretty standard breakfast sandwich.
My wife tried the gnocchi “benedict” ($13), one of a handful of new items on Chef Olsen’s revised brunch menu. Superb potato dumplings and sautéed spinach, mushrooms and leeks were topped with expertly poached eggs and a heart-stoppingly rich gruyere-cream sauce. The flavors worked together wonderfully, though we wished there had been more variation in the textures. And again, a side of fruit or salad greens would have helped.
By the end of the meal, we had a disappointingly familiar sensation — while there were definitely some glimpses of brilliance, the food didn’t shine enough to warrant the hefty price tag. That said, we had visited soon after Chef Olsen’s debut, so in the interest of fairness, we resolved to give Mims another try a few weeks later.
This time we waited until noon, in order to get a better sense of how the kitchen handles a busier house. After a brief wait, we were shown to a corner table in the cozy upstairs dining room. I followed close behind my daughter as she danced past the bar to James Brown’s “Papa Don’t Take No Mess,” a longtime family favorite.
Moments later, a cheerful bartender appeared holding a glass of chocolate milk topped with whipped cream and a caramel smiley-face for “the James Brown fan.” Initially excited by the attention, I grew a bit jealous once I realized he meant our little girl. Whatever. She graciously shared a sip, and it was delicious.
While my daughter inched her way toward a chocolaty nirvana, my wife and I hunched over the menu, waiting for our server to arrive. We waited. And waited. Then we waited some more. After about 15 minutes, my wife mumbled something about “caffeine” and “justice” before disappearing downstairs to ask — nay, beg — for coffee. She returned a few minutes later, followed by a frazzled host offering two steaming mugs and a heartfelt apology. Fortunately, the trusty Sesame Street activity book and a burgeoning sugar buzz had kept our daughter content. We decided to forgive and forget.
In keeping with the dictates of responsible journalism, my wife and I varied our beverage selection this time by ordering a couple of cocktails. Mine was a pear martini made with “organic pear essence;” hers was a fig martini with Stoli, fig puree, tawny port and a champagne float. Both were outstanding, if a bit pricey at $10 apiece. Other tempting options included a traditional gin gimlet and a champagne bellini made with lavender and honey syrup.
True to form, I chose the daily special, which this day was a crab scramble with roasted onions and parmesan, served open-faced on a butter croissant ($14). It was nicely presented and had plenty of fresh crabmeat. However, this dish, like the others before it, would have benefited from a more varied combination of colors and textures — perhaps some tomato or roasted red pepper. The eggs were light and fluffy, but the onion was undercooked and somewhat off-putting. Having learned from my previous visit, I requested a side of cottage fries ($2.50). They were crisp and nicely seasoned.
My wife chose the pain perdu with maple syrup ($7.50). This is not to be confused with the eggy, batter-dipped treat known as French toast. Rather, this version involved two thick slices of bread drenched in butter and gently burned at the edges. As you might expect, it left something to be desired.
My daughter’s continental breakfast ($9) included a bowl of grapes, pineapple and honeydew melon; a sizable dish of plain yogurt; and a pastry (she chose an apple-spice muffin). Having already downed a big glass of chocolate milk, she gobbled up most of the fruit but left the rest largely untouched before returning to Cookie Monster’s zany misadventures.
The best dish by far was the Caesar salad ($9), simply prepared with organic Romaine hearts, croutons and anchovies. My wife ordered the salad with the intention of sharing it with the rest of the family, but ended up eating most of it instead of the disappointing pain perdu.
The atmosphere at Mims is the restaurant’s main selling point, one that at least partially justifies the high prices. Inside, they have succeeded in striking an enjoyable balance between elegance and hipness. Outside, the ground-floor and second-floor patios are choice spots for people-watching and views of the harbor.
I would definitely include Mims on the short list of places to bring out-of-town visitors for a cocktail and a croissant on a warm summer morning. But I can’t recommend Mims to those who, like myself, consider the food the most important factor when choosing a restaurant. There are lots of other brunch options in town, many offering superior food at significantly lower prices.
— Dan Zarin
Mims Brasserie serves breakfast Mon.-Fri. from 9 a.m.-11 a.m., and brunch Sat. and Sun. from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. For lunch and dinner hours and more information, visit their Web site.