Wine dinners—and nowadays craft-beer pairing extravaganzas — that most restaurants host for visiting vineyards or local breweries showcase both the restaurant’s cooking and the winemaker’s wares. For me it’s generally too much food and wine in a progression of courses that often yields a reach for Gelusil, the iconic antacid from the last century. Yet after seeing the menu for the Wild Game Dinner with wine pairings held at Little Giant last month I learned that there was nothing diminutive coming from their kitchen.

The bar room and main dining room

The revelation was this:  Little Giant’s chef Rian Wyllie—where until now have you been hiding? He came from Boston where he cooked at two restaurants that had elevated casual menus––what I call guilty of sloshing around the world cuisine orbit. His alma maters, Lone Star Taco Bar and Deep Ellum, in no way indicated the depth of this chef’s abilities that he presented at Little Giant’s recent special dinner.  All six courses featured sophisticated renditions perfectly executed and paired by an unusual spectrum of esoteric wines, cordials and cocktails from Haus Alpenz distributors.

The menu included a starter course of wild Maine Belons with chicharron, Fresno chili and raw honey – a cool starter and even though I love my oysters—especially the briny Belons—unadorned, these were a delicious exception.

Belon oyster

I had been to the restaurant when it first opened in July—a nice little spot for the neighborhood whose only culinary claim has been Ruski’s Tavern across the street.

By the second course, a rabbit liver pâté, I knew I was in exalted territory–velvety smooth and fine, accented by the sweet and tart touch of cranberry relish and hazelnut mustard.

Rabbit liver pâté

After enjoying the remaining courses of venison loin, duck ham and cassoulet, the final star of the show was the dessert by the restaurant’s pastry chef, Morgan Ditmars, a woman pastry chef who made quite an impression with her version of Indian pudding.  It was formed into a little cake and served with mushroom-cap ice cream and pepita brittle.  It had all the flavor elements of a classic Indian pudding made with cornmeal and molasses, but the texture and flavors in this little gem were brought to the next level. Every element of a great dessert–sweet, textural–was captured incredibly.

Clockwise: Venison loin set over smoked turnip puree;  cassoulet with smoked boar, quail confit and rabbit sausage’ and duck ham with beets, orange, spiced pistachios, tarragon yogurt

Ultimately Little Giant is a neighborhood restaurant with a chef who goes way beyond the basics in his simple menu. Highlights include dishes like Moxie braised pork belly, coffee-braised carrots, mushroom tartine, duck confit, house-made pasta, mussels with fennel and hard cider, a killer hamburger and more.

Indian pudding

The room is fashioned in the typical millennial hipster cool, but it’s intimate and attractive with its big bar and bar-room booths and the spacious dining room, which is so comfortable to enjoy this fine addition to Portland’s dining scene for locals and visitors alike.

Little Giant, 211 Danforth St., Portland, Maine, 207-745-5045,

Rating: Excellent, distincitvely prepared fare from a great  burger to haute fare and much in between done well in a restaurant owned by industry veterans, Briana and Andrew Volk of  Hunt and Alpine fame; also pop into their grocery shop next door to the restaurant for some equally distinctive treats and basic necessities

Ambiance: Hipster cool, neighborhood casual

Tables: Spacious

Service: Very attentive

Price: Moderately expensive

Parking: On street and relatively easy