Fifty Dollar Dinner

photo/Hannah Joyce McCain

MK Kitchen
2 School St., Gorham

A meal at MK Kitchen, the upscale restaurant in the heart of Gorham, begins with a small basket of bread. The bread’s fine, almost cake-like crumb can’t hold its own against the pungent olive oil provided for dipping. It falls apart in your fingers. “I hate this,” my date proclaimed after the first bite.

Not much else about MK Kitchen elicits such strong sentiment. Generally speaking, the food is enjoyable, the décor is classy but comfortable, the waitstaff is all smiles and water never dips below the halfway mark. The place is apparently quite popular with folks from this part of the county — on both visits I made for dinner, the dining room was consistently close to full. I spied young couples dressed up for date night, professionals in button-downs, moms and daughters in dresses drinking pink cocktails, dads and boyfriends in Polo shirts slurping martinis.

The menu circles the New American wagon (grilled salmon, braised short ribs, chicken under a brick), with nods to Italian, French and Argentinian cuisine. Chef/co-owner Mitchell Kaldrovich grew up in Argentina and married a woman from Gorham who’s had her own culinary career. Thus the townspeople can now savor a dish like the gaucho mixed grill (chimichurri grilled ribs, confit duck leg, pork belly, sausage, and fingerling potatoes, served with “steak sauce;” $28) without the hassle of parking in the big city.

One night, a friend and I started with apps off the bar menu: a basket of herbed fries with “red hot chili ketchup” ($7) and a bowl of New England clam chowder ($9). The potatoes were super salty and fried a deep golden brown, just short of too crisp. The spicy ketchup lived up to its name. The chowder was basic and rather bland.

On the next visit we skipped apps and ordered cocktails. In the Raise the Barr ($12), Barr Hill Gin (from Vermont) is infused with lemon and combined with basil simple syrup. The syrup overwhelmed the gin, and its sugar erased the basil. The Fig & Orange ($12) was just as sweet and more intensely flavored, a dark and stormy mix of infused bourbon, Grand Marnier, walnut liqueur and fig puree. MK also has a respectably deep wine list, with bottles starting at $25, and a decent selection of local and imported beers.

The Pastas & Grains section of the main menu gives you the option of ordering full or half portions, which comes in handy on a $50 budget. After a few bites of her vegan quinoa bowl ($13/$22), a jumble of unevenly cooked vegetables tossed in an uninspired vinaigrette, my friend said, with genuine naiveté, “This tastes like it maybe was a mistake.” The gnocchi mac & cheese ($14/24) was much better: soft gnocchi in a rich béchamel-based sauce topped with breadcrumbs and fatty, crispy pieces of pork belly.

The herb ricotta ravioli with lamb sauce ($14/$26) was dotted with tender chunks of lamb whose savory gaminess infused every bite. But there were only three raviolis in the half portion; if you can swing it, go for the full. The pasta in our rigatoni Bolognese ($13/$24) didn’t quite reach al dente (it was almost crunchy) and the light meat sauce was monochromatic in flavor. Ordering more won’t fix that.

— Hannah Joyce McCain

MK Kitchen opens for dinner Tuesday-Saturday at 4:30 p.m., and closes at 8:30 p.m. weekdays, 9 p.m. weekends.