New Eatery Focuses on Food, not Flamboyance


By Joshua Bodwell

Photography Warren Roos

Chef David Turin has used his own two hands to build a new dining experience for South Portland.

Portland chef and restaurateur David Turin enjoys the formal pageantry of a gourmet dinner as much as the next food lover. But when Turin first envisioned his latest culinary venture, David’s 388 on Cottage Road in South Portland, he set his sights on creating an eating experience that would satisfy the connoisseur while remaining casual.

feast1.jpg “I wanted a real neighborhood vibe,” Turin says, “and I wanted to avoid opening the sort of ‘special occasion restaurant’ that people have to save up all year to eat at.” After undertaking most of the new restaurant’s extensive renovation himself, Turin has created a comfortable atmosphere in which great food is served up at a great price. Turin says there is a common misconception among many diners that a high-quality meal has to be expensive. He’s bucked that mind-set with a menu of $8 appetizers and $14 main courses—and there isn’t a single item on the list that would imply Turin has cut any corners in the quality department. With enticing starters such as “tenderloin carpaccio with capers, scallions, truffle oil, and black pepper” and rich main dishes like “roasted breast of duck with coconut chili wild rice, grilled apple salad, and apple balsamic glaze,” the menu is practically dripping with mouthwatering dishes. While David’s 388 has been both well received and hopping busy since it opened in the doldrums of March, Turin says that getting the restaurant ready for that opening night—his ninth in more than 25 years as a chef and restaurateur—was an usually grueling process this time around. As an amateur carpenter, Turin took a hands-on approach with every phase of creating 388, from demolition to design to reconstruction. But what he imagined would take one month of work in the end took nearly three.

The Space
Situated just across the park from the Portland Players’ Thaxter Theatre, David’s 388 is squeezed into the narrow space formerly occupied by Barbara’s Kitchen. At less than 15 feet wide, the former restaurant had an intimate, boxcar-like coziness. Although Turin knocked down walls afeast2.jpgnd opened the dining room to the kitchen, he still managed to create a space that retains all the effortless coziness of a European café. “I got out my graph paper,” Turin laughs, “and I laid out every square inch of this floor plan.” The eatery offers a stylish yet relaxed atmosphere, and Turin’s careful attention to detail is evident throughout; every aspect of the roughly 700-square-foot, 24-seat restaurant has been thoughtfully engineered to make the dining experience more enjoyable. As you enter from Cottage Road, a pair of deep, U-shaped window booths flank the front door. Stuffed with soft cushions covered in a brightly patterned fabric, the inviting nooks are bound to inspire evenings of intimate conversation. The restaurant’s old hardwood floors not only add character and charm, they give 388 a lived-in feeling that makes it seem as though the restaurant has been there for years. Light green wainscoting wraps the lower portion of the dining room, while Tuscan-yellow walls accentuate the room’s generous height. Turin has painted the old tin ceiling a deep, earthy red and sprinkled it with dangling pendant lights. Beyond the restaurant’s small, L-shaped bar is the true heart of the establishment: an open-air kitchen. In a location where most owners would have simply thrown up a wall or counter on which to rest steaming dishes, Turin added seating for four. “We’re getting a lot of requests for those seats,” he says. The diminutive kitchen accomm-odates just two chefs at time—Turin and his sous chef, Robert “Bo” Byrne III. The pair splits the menu right down the middle: each takes half the starters, half the entreés, and half the desserts. “For a chef,” Turin says, “it’s an exciting way to cook because it keeps you involved in every aspect of a meal.”

The Fare
A short letter from Turin entitled “How to Use Our Menu” awaits each diner when he or she is seated. The note explains that the restaurant’s pricing and portion size are intentionally small so that diners might sample several different dishes. A full meal for one, Turin suggests, might consist of one appetizer and two main dishes, whereas those in the mood for something light might prefer to select only one item for each course. Though Turin says his tastes and training tend toward French cuisine, the 388 menu is no paean to any particular culinary tradition; the menu is full of creative and fanciful preparations of old favorites. Turin’s simple and surprising epicurean twists are everywhere—such as in his tomato and mozzarella caprese salad, a re-imagined classic that includes avocados and Maine peekytoe crab.
feast3.jpg While Maine is renowned for its seafood, some dishes at David’s 388 put a decidedly Asian twist on the local catch, such as the “sesame, scallion, and ginger crusted salmon with wasabi mashed potato, Asian stir fry vegetables, and pineapple soy glaze.” If you’re in the mood for some-thing that’s more familiar than exotic, Turin’s got several options, including pasta dishes like “Porcini mushroom papparadella with wilted arugula, oven-dried tomato, mushrooms, goat cheese, Reggiano parmesan, and white truffle oil.” David’s 388 also offers an impressive and eclectic wine list that boasts everything from a $26 bottle of Spanish Salneval Albarino to an $83 Sterling Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa. The David’s 388 menu is also loaded with local foods and changed on a weekly basis. The only way to really know how Turin and Byrne are preparing a particular dish from day to day is to drop by in person. And that’s exactly what Turin hopes will happen. “This is a little neighborhood restaurant,” he says. “And I hope it proves that a small, elegant plate of food doesn’t have to cost $26.” “I guess I’ve become more casual myself over the years,” Turin says, “and this restaurant fits my personality right now.” He pauses. “We’re just looking forward to blowing people away with the food.”

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