Tao Yuan: Brunswick’s best restaurant
World-class cuisine in a classic atmosphere
November 8, 2019
During my three years at Bowdoin, I have dined at nearly all of Brunswick’s restaurants. I have enjoyed meals at Frontier, Little Tokyo, Enoteca Athena and Shere Punjab. I have eaten passably at Richard’s, Joshua’s and Sweet Angel. I have been disappointed by The Great Impasta. But this Family Weekend, I ate a meal so good that these Brunswick fixtures simply do not compare. Tao Yuan is the best restaurant, by far, in Brunswick.
The restaurant is located on Pleasant Street next to the post office. On the inside, there is intimate seating and plenty of windows—think candles on tables, sweaters over button-downs and spotless surfaces. But the setting, though excellent, is not Tao Yuan’s main selling point.
The food at Tao Yuan is great; the restaurant specializes in classic seafood dishes transformed with an Asian flair. The chef and owner, Cara Stadler, began her career as a chef at age 16.
She worked in Beijing, Berkeley and Philadelphia before moving to Gordon Ramsey’s two-Michelin star restaurant, Au Trianon Palace, in Versailles, France. She owns two other restaurants in Maine, in addition to Tao Yuan—Bao Bao Dumpling House and Lio Restaurant, both in Portland. Her credentials are indisputably impressive.
We drank cocktails and glanced at the menu before deciding, as a table, to order the tasting menu. I can’t recommend this highly enough. It makes the dining experience more enjoyable by eliminating the need to make difficult choices, but more importantly, it is a delicious and exciting journey. After we made our choice, the staff whisked away our menus and our agency as we embarked on a culinary tour of the finest quality.
We started off with New Meadow River oysters in a Thai basil mignonette. The oysters were delicious and effectively introduced the restaurant’s focus on Asian-inspired seafood dishes.
After the oysters came a variety of salads. There was a classic Asian coleslaw with cabbage and peanuts, a spicy salad with hearty greens and tomatoes and, most importantly, an unusual and fantastic smoked-duck salad, served cold, which seemed to melt in my mouth.
Following these dishes, with conversation flowing and another round of drinks on the table, we transitioned to hot food with a course of dumplings, buns and shumai filled with shrimp, pork and scallions. Stadler’s second restaurant, Bao Bao Dumpling House, emphasizes these same dishes, and they were magnificent.
With the dumplings and buns cleared away, we began the main event—a bombardment of rich and sophisticated dishes.
First came a plate of hot pan-seared scallops with a citrus sabayon, cooked to perfection. Followed by a plate of sautéed bok choy topped with oyster sauce and chili-thread, a string-like Korean garnish, which provided just the right touch of spice (one of Stadler’s favorite dishes). After that, we ate tender chicken breast, rich strip steak and a plate of smoked pork ribs with a kick from a chili-basil sauce. Like all masters, Stadler had saved the best for last, leaving us somehow completely stuffed and, at the same time, hankering for more.
Settling back in our chairs, we had coffee and dessert. It was a perfect meal, the best I’d had in years and certainly the best I had ever had in Brunswick. I wish I’d discovered this wonderful restaurant sooner.
Tao Yuan is located at 22 Pleasant Street in Brunswick Maine. They are open Tuesday through Saturday starting 5pm and accept reservations over the phone at 207-725-9002.
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Really? How about mentioning the cost? TaoYuan is also Brunswick’s most expensive (or if you prefer, least affordable) restaurant. And it is long on form and perhaps less so on quantity. Hungry people need not apply.
It’s also pretty pork-centric, an issue for some, if not many.
In terms of the sweet spot of value and quality, I think El Camino was far superior– but that ship has sailed (to Bath). A pity.
But rather than drop north of $200 for dinner at TaoYuan, we’ll head to Freeport or Portland
If you want authentic — and not so exorbitantly overpriced — Chinese food, try venturing into Portland for some Chinese-owned businesses such as Sichuan kitchen, where they serve equally as good if not better dumplings for double the portions and a third of the price. Or even Empire is much affordable, since the portions are traditional to what you’d expect from Dim Sum. I went to Tao Yuan one year for my birthday and we were literally starving after lashing out some $ 80 on our dinner … had to go to Dominos afterwards, if that tells you anything. I don’t mind spending money on food, but I take issue when you serve literally 4 pieces of Bok Choy and call it a “plate.” No hate against Tao Yuan personally, I’m sure the chef is talented and all, just as a Chinese person I get a tad annoyed at American chefs calling their food “Asian-inspired” but lacking the true spirit of Asian cuisine. In short, more variety and more regard for authenticity when it comes to ethnic food, please.