Gary E. Nelson
When an unregenerate carnivore has a hankering for a fine slab of prime rib, there are only so many places to go in Medford. Fondly remembering the superlative version offered by Porter's a couple of years ago, I decided on a return visit.
I wasn't disappointed.
My two dining companions opted for somewhat lighter fare. They, too, pronounced themselves well satisfied.
Medford's historic train station was extensively renovated into The Depot, a dinner house and brewpub, nearly a decade ago. The building had sat idle since 1999 when three longtime restaurateurs joined forces to open Porter's in September 2001.
Visits to the casually elegant dinner house in its first couple of years were marked by memorable food - especially that prime rib - but marred on occasion by a high noise level, the result of tile floors that evoke the train depot theme but do little to dampen sound when the place is crowded. More carpeting has been added since, significantly improving the atmosphere.
On our recent visit, we began with an appetizer of fried calamari with chipotle aioli and a superb marinara sauce for dipping. The dish arrived overcooked, the batter too dry and the squid chewy. When we alerted our server, it was promptly replaced to our satisfaction.
I decided to sample beef and seafood at the same time, ordering a six-ounce prime rib paired with pan-fried oysters ($22.50).
All too often, we lovers of prime rib order it rare, hoping against hope that it will arrive at least medium rare, but all too often getting medium or even medium well. Establishments that take their prime seriously will inform diners if they have no rare slices left, but too many do not.
I needn't have worried. The prime rib was as I remembered it - crusted with a mixture of herbs and spices dominated by fresh rosemary and garnished with a rosemary sprig. The meat was rare and juicy, exceedingly tender and flavorful. The oysters were tiny, succulently sweet and cooked to perfection.
My wife selected ahi tuna from the nightly specials ($17.95), grilled rare with wasabi butter. The fish was delectable, the wasabi just hot enough to complement the tuna without troubling the sinuses.
My son settled on roast duck, also from the specials sheet ($18.95). It arrived beautifully arrayed, a fan of slices displaying the pink flush of properly cooked duck accompanied by a drizzle of orange sauce.
Entrees at Porter's come with soup of the day or a house salad; I chose a cup of excellent clam chowder. My wife had the Caesar salad, a $1 upgrade, and my son chose a savory split pea soup, prepared with a hint of cream. The salad and soup were delicious; the Caesar was enhanced by Parmesan cheese that had been thinly shaved rather than grated, providing more flavor.
For dessert, the three of us shared a crème brulée ($5.50). Billed as "silky smooth custard," it was a little more grainy than silky, but rich and tasty, topped with a perfectly browned crust.
In all, a very pleasant dining experience with attentive service, a relaxed, inviting atmosphere and top-quality food.
The Porter's menu is generous, offering a number of appetizers including babaganoush ($7.50) and crab and bay shrimp cakes ($8.95).
Entrees include an array of pasta dishes, meat and seafood.
Future visits may be necessary to sample ginger crusted steelhead over sautéed spinach, or perhaps grilled rack of lamb with fresh mint glaze.
Porter's is open nightly for dinner. The smoke-free interior is wheelchair accessible and the restaurant offers a full bar. In warm weather, outdoor dining is available on the spacious rear patio. * * *
Porter's, 147 N. Front St., Medford. Open 5-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5-9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday for dinner; bar opens at 4 p.m., closes at 11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and at midnight Friday and Saturday. 857-1910