Mi Sen Noodle Bar (Portland, Maine)

I rather like a good trip to Portland, Maine, especially since Portland has managed to cultivate quite a beer and food scene, with everything from a good Belgian beer bar, to a good regional pizza chain, to potato donuts, to even Asian fare like dumplings. So when we were looking for a nice variation on our usual joints, we decided to try Mi Sen Noodle Bar, a relative newcomer on the Portland scene (opened in 2013).

Mi Sen is nominally a Thai noodle bar, but they mostly have found a relatively pleasant niche: most of their dishes are small portions of noodle soup, so you can build a meal for your table out of a few appetizers and a few selections of different soups and noodle dishes. And looking over the menu, it was a rather impressive set of dishes, with a good variety of curry soups (red and green), tom yum and tom kha soups, and quite a few other noodle dishes.

But we also saw a nice selection of appetizers, so we started with one of their specials: chive cakes. Nice little cubes of rice flour and chives, these were perfectly crisped up and served with a nice sweet but spicy soy-based sauce, making nice little tender packets that remind me of the better parts of fried dumplings and turnip cakes combined. I’d definitely get these again.

Next up was “pak moh rice crepes”, which were delicate little steamed rice flour crepes wrapped around a filling of peanuts and pork, making for basically a nice little dumpling: a great rice wrapper filled with some rich, nicely-seasoned minced pork. Also worth getting again.

For the main course, we ended up splitting three small bowls between the two of us. We mixed up some noodle dishes and soups, so we ended up doing drunken noodles with chicken, dry noodles with pork, and num daeng with slow-cooked beef. Starting off with the drunken noodles, these were a rather nice take on a classic dish: nicely toothy flat noodles served up with some very spicy chicken, a good mix of vegetables, and a little bit of egg, making a pleasant dish. Texture-wise, this was about perfect, with the noodles just starting to absorb the sauce.

The dry noodles with pork were also quite enjoyable: a mix of noodles and a sweet and sour sauce tossed with some nicely marinated pork, bean sprouts, and vegetables, this ended up being a pleasant, lighter dish.

And probably my favorite was the num daeng. Basically a beef soup with an ample portion of slow simmered beef that’s just hit point of falling apart, served up in a lighter brother with lots of star anise, this was a pleasant, homey sort of soup. Definitely a nice way to round out the meal.

So, while it’s a bit unusual in that it’s not really a “Thai” place or a “noodle bar”, I like the basic concept: lots of nicely conceived and well-executed small dishes, served up in a pleasant restaurant. Again, another place (among many in Portland) worthy of a revisit.

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