Sur Lie opened somewhat quietly early last October on Free Street in Portland, Maine. But it didn’t take long for the tapas-style restaurant to become a major player in the city’s dining scene. Chef Emil Rivera’s small-plates menu is inventive, yet never veers into that over-the-top, trying-too-hard territory. We’ve especially enjoyed the luscious rabbit rillettes, fried, milk-braised cauliflower with honey-soy glaze, and the local cheese platters, and there’s a lot more we’d like to try.
The drinks are just as important as the food, with wine, beer and cocktails given equal presence. Presence also applies to the man you will most likely see behind the bar, Sam Babcock, creator of the fabulous cocktails.
The first time we visited Sur Lie, shortly after it opened, I ordered a drink made with kombu, the Japanese seaweed broth, and was secretly pleased when Sam complemented me for knowing what it was. The cocktail, whose name I no longer remember, was mellow and delicious, the salty tang of the kombu blending beautifully with the other ingredients.
The Owls Are Not What They Seem is an equally complex drink, made from Espolon reposado tequila, Cocchi Barolo Chinato and Averna – both Italian digestivos — and persimmon bitters from the company Sam owns with Michael Gatlin, Owl & Whale. While these ingredients sound esoteric, you should be able to find the tequila, barolo chinato and Averna at a well-stocked liquor store. The Owl & Whale bitters are sold at Vena’s Fizz House in Portland.
If the drink’s name sounds sort of familiar but you can’t quite place it, “The owls are not what they seem” is a line from the cult David Lynch TV series “Twin Peaks,” one of three clues offered by The Giant after Agent Cooper is shot in a hotel room at the Great Northern Hotel. If you want to take a (much) deeper dive, just Google it.
- 2 ounces Espolon reposado tequila
- 3/4 ounce Barrolo Chinato
- 1/2 ounce Averna
- 3 dashes Owl & Whale Persimmon Bitters
- Strip of orange peel for garnish