UNDER THE AWNING: David's 388 makes good use of the space.
My mission in this essay is to convince Greater Portland that mission statements are useless. They should be removed, for example, from the top of every résumé, where they reduce the complex ambitions of unique individuals into something banal. They should be removed from our personal lives. The strange magic of emotional chemistry has never survived a conversation about “where this relationship is going.” They should be stricken from politics. One of our nation’s mission statements, the Declaration of Independence, is whiny and dishonest. The other, the Constitution, is murky, ineloquent, and palpably ashamed of itself. Its hideous compromises made the Civil War inevitable and to this day it renders plausibly legitimate the interpretations of Alberto Gonzales and Antonin Scalia.
And for god’s sake let’s take mission statements off menus. Chefs’ mission statements are unappetizing and come off as defensive, didactic, or pretentious. David’s 388, the new venture from owner/chef David Turin (who also runs David’s Creative Cuisine in Monument Square), has nothing to be ashamed of. But you immediately suspect otherwise when you sit down and are handed a letter from the chef in which he explains exactly why he has chosen to serve the portions he does for the prices on the menu. When your waiter arrives she repeats it. The truth is that the portions and prices at David’s 388 are perfectly sensible. In making all his starters $8 and his entrees $14, and making the portions a bit smaller than usual, Turin has simply taken one of Portland’s more welcome food trends (pioneered at Bar Lola, and Hugo’s bar) and brought it south. In defending himself so ostentatiously, David’s 388 offers the oddest beginning to a meal in these parts since Oolong’s introductory essay on the nature of Asian food.
Once you have digested the manifesto, things improve quickly. You begin to notice how much the space has improved since the place was Barbara’s Kitchen. Where the lavatories used to be is now a cozy bar that gives off a happy buzz in the manner of the one at Caiola’s. While Barbara kept her kitchen hidden, Turin has opened things up, to good effect. The inlaid ceiling looks terrific still, and the walls, roughly painted yellow, prepare you for the comfortingly mild eclecticism that you will encounter on the menu.
The service is warm, informal, and refreshingly middle aged. At one visit the bartender plopped down next to us to discuss cocktail ideas, and at another the waiter indulged us with tastes of the many wines that intrigued us. While she warned that our appetizers would be two or three bites, in truth there was more to them than that. A seafood sausage was creamy and mild, with a flavor that was somehow more than a mélange of the lobster, scallop, and shrimp encased in it. There were plenty of the plump, tender rope-cultured mussels, but the broth was watery rather than rich, and did not inspire us to dip our bread. A salad of avocado, tomato, mozzarella, and crab, built up into a sort of sphere, seemed fresh but unremarkable. But the arugula, barely bitter and barely dressed in something creamy, was wonderful with sweetened pecans and plentiful currant.