I don’t put much credence on body art as a symbol of the soul. Especially when I’m dining. But chefs with tattoos has been a thing for a while and now that I’ve met Emil Rivera of Sur Lie, I know this form of personal branding is more than skin deep.
This chef, who moved to Maine in July from D.C., has a series of concentric circles on his forearm that, besides being a cool visual, translate to “circles of happiness.”
A quick conversation with Rivera in his new Free Street restaurant reveals that his ink is not just a label. A stamp. A millennial rite of passage. A Culinary Institute of America edict. This is a warm man cooking country fried chicken, barbecue shrooms and mussels with pork cracklings. Exciting, sharable fare.
His Maine Grains oatmeal pudding with brulee sugar and cranberries should do for Maine what cheese cake did for New York — an instant taste of place. Sur Lie’s deep wine list (viognier to ice cider) can rival any other fine dining establishment in town on variety and scope.
But here’s what he isn’t serving: attitude.
Chefs come under fire for being blunt and arrogant. And other chefs create manifestos to counteract the movement. Restaurant owners are not immune either. The trendier the outfit, the more acute the affliction, it seems sometimes.
So it’s ultra refreshing when a newcomer like Rivera arrives with fresh ink and a fresh perspective. He’ll look you in the eye, shake your hand and share his tales of cooking in his Puerto Rican village. Rivera is dialing into the Maine dining scene with a menu that is built with grazers in mind.
This is the place to go when you want to dine well, relax and marinate in the thick of Portland’s dining culture minus the pretense. The symbols we brand into our bodies, and the attitude we exude, carry a deep significance. Let’s keep these happy creatives embedded and permanent here.
Sur Lie, 11 Free Street, has a great “happy” hour daily from 4 to 6 p.m.