From Down East Magazine, April 2012. Story by Michaela Cavallaro.
Nestled smack in the middle of Monument Square, David’s opens its doors at midday to legions of lawyers and accountants from the surrounding office buildings. And it’s no wonder the mad rush appears: they can dash in, discuss their deals over an Asian-inflected crispy-skin duck breast, a blackened chicken salad, or a steak and lobster pizza, and head back to their desks without having run their expense accounts up too high.
David Turin’s eponymous eatery overlooking Monument Square has become a Portland institution.
But it’s not just reasonable pricing that’s made David’s a Portland stalwart. Nor is this phenomenon new: In what is arguably Maine’s most competitive dining market, the restaurant has not only endured but prospered — at lunch and dinner — for nearly two decades, first on Middle Street, and, since the tail end of the last century, in the heart of Monument Square. (Since 2007, Turin has also operated David’s 388, a neighborhood restaurant in South Portland.) “We’ve worked pretty hard to keep the restaurant accessible,” explains the restaurant’s eponymous chef, David Turin. “Not only in terms of prices, but also in the style of the food. We’re careful to serve food that people are going to recognize — we don’t reach too far for unusual combinations or strange pairings.”
Indeed, David’s offerings will not daunt your elderly aunt or your picky son-in-law. And if — heaven forfend — you’re entertaining a visitor who is more comfortable in chain restaurants with laminated menus than in Portland’s more renowned eateries, a stop at David’s could be a nice compromise. Perhaps an adventurous Caribbean-inspired pizza (jerk chicken, goat cheese, arugula, and coconut-chili sauce) for you, and a more familiar mixed grill (sirloin, shrimp, and scallops on a skewer) for him. The décor is non-threatening, if unmemorable, and the servers are casually friendly — there are no concerns about using the wrong fork here.
As you may have noticed by now, dishes at David’s often feature an international twist. Turin, who this July marks his thirtieth year as a restaurateur, travels frequently, and he’s often inspired to tweak the menu upon his return, adding an Asian influence here or a Mexican spice there. The salmon, for example, comes with a ginger and scallion crust, along with wasabi mashed potatoes, while both the meatloaf and the grilled sirloin sport a side of crispy cumin onions. Turin’s menu stays relatively consistent from week to week. “When we change it at all, we field an enormous amount of complaints,” he says. But those side dishes and flavor accents give him room to freshen up a dish without alienating regular diners who love it just as it is.
And that’s important to Turin, a friendly, unpretentious guy who’d be the last one to mention that he was named Chef of the Year for 2012 by the Maine Restaurant Association. When the subject comes up in conversation, the normally chatty Turin goes a little quiet. “When they came to tell me about it, a little voice in the back of my head said, ‘They’ve got the wrong guy,’ ” he says. “I’m quite certain it’s the most prestigious award I’ll ever be given.”
In addition to serious staying power, Turin also has a real reputation as a force of good in the community. His restaurants participate regularly in benefits such as Taste of the Nation, an industry event aimed at ending childhood hunger, and Turin puts his money where his mouth is when it comes to his belief in the importance of healthy lifestyles: This year he challenged staff members to lose weight, quit smoking, or exercise more.
Participating employees have ten dollars deducted from each weekly paycheck, and at the end of fourteen weeks, those who’ve followed through on their commitments get the money back — along with a full match provided by Turin.
“This business is a marathon, not a sprint — it can be very taxing,” says Turin, who also runs a surfing camp in Scarborough during the summer. “I advise younger chefs that it’s really important to keep a balance in your life. I’m passionate about a lot of things, and I think that’s why I feel as excited about going to work and cooking now as I ever have.”
Original story at: http://downeast.com/magazine/2012/april/passion-project