Sea critters like to bulk up.

Today’s post is all about seafood, cooked in the elegant French style. The restaurant featured is Paragon, located in the upbeat Pearl District. Note, however, that I’m rather picky when it comes to seafood. After all, I think that seafood opinions are more personal than universal, sort of how not everyone likes boba. Oysters are slimy but mussels are delicious. Scallops are fantastic but abalone is perplexing (that chewiness weirds me out). I also tried sea urchin in Japan this summer and honestly found it  grimey–it was like eating a cold, gelatinous paste with a shudderingly grainy texture.

Paragon, however, hit my sweet spot with mussels and Dungeness crab on the menu. I was debating at first about trying the blackened snapper BLT, which sounded delicious, but then I figured that I don’t get to eat mussels very often.  This restaurant is a wonderful place for a casual outing, yet it also provides enticing French culinary options created with fresh, local ingredients and a touch of sophistication. Inside, there was an impressive bar along with a modern, slightly rustic touch everywhere. Hipster light bulbs hung from the ceiling and there were lots of customers chattering away, most of them meeting up with friends for a nice meal. Prices were a little more on the expensive side, but I really enjoyed the food nonetheless.

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We first started off with an appetizer of a Dungeness crab cake, which was rather small and would have been adequate for one person but we managed to split it in fours so everyone could take a nibble. The cake was fried to a delicate crisp and chock full of meat, and there was a fennel slaw included that had a slightly spicy vinaigrette full of a lemony tang.

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It didn’t take me that long to decide on the mussels for my main dish. I immediately zeroed in on it. And as an interesting side note, the trend I’ve been seeing when mussels are served as a main dish is actually along the lines of the whole meat and potatoes combination. Mussels are often only accompanied by a decadent carb, like a heap of fries or grilled bread. Not much vegetables are included; usually the mussels are stewed in a rich broth perfect for dipping bread.

Similarly, Paragon served piles of little mussels in a thin tomato broth with a hint of creaminess. The presentation was beautiful, completed by two large slices of grilled garlic bread. Eating the mussels was a rather entertaining activity, since most of it involved picking apart the shells and uncovering the juicy, plump meat inside. Paragon’s mussels were also loaded with tomatoes and onions inside the shells. There was quite a generous amount of meat, so I happily made my way through the dish until only a haphazard stack of shell remnants were left. The only thing was that the soup was not as piping hot as I would have liked, but the mussels were tender and flavorful.

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All in all–it was A LOT of seafood.

Website: http://paragonrestaurant.com/home.portland

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