Thursday, May 5, 2022

Portland Public Market House Update

If, like me, you haven't been into the Portland Public Market House for a while due to the pandemic, here's an update on the businesses there. 

I went a few weeks ago to check out Frying Dutchman, one of the newer business there, for one of its pop-up dinners. But before we get into that, here's a rundown of the other businesses in the building:

On the first floor, Mr. Tuna and Roll Call are the sole vendors. Mr. Tuna serves sushi and other Japanese food and has plenty of bar seating along the counter. I frequently pop in to pick up my takeout after ordering online, which I find a really easy experience. 

Roll Call, which opens today, began as a food cart serving roast beef sandwiches. It's run by the same people that own Wayside Tavern, which has great food. But it's so much more than roast beef—there's an amazing grilled cheese, kale salad, and caramelized onion dip. Plus a fantastic sounding pot de creme that I haven't tried yet. So I am very excited to experience Roll Call in its new home.

Upstairs, Kamasouptra (soup), Daily Greens (salad), and Pho Huong (Vietnamese) are joined by relative newcomer Dila's Kitchen, which serves Turkish food like kabobs and bulgar bowls. 

There's also Yardie Ting, which is always tempting me on Instagram with its tantalizing Jamaican curries and chicken. 

But this time, it was Frying Dutchman that drew me in. When it first opened, it served Dutch-style cones of French fries with toppings. But the owners took a break from fries for a while—for some R&D, I believe—and began offering other fried treats like a Korean cheese dog and a fried chicken sandwich. 

So I made the very adult decision to try both for my dinner. The fried cheese dog was a real delight, simple some breaded, fried cheese with a wasabi aioli and smoky bonito flakes. The sandwich was super crunchy with a Thai red curry mayo. 

Its Instagram now says it serves "global street tapas," so stay tuned to see what other international delights they come up with. 

Hopefully you're inspired to check out a new Public Market House business! Each business has different hours, so be sure to check its website or social media for the latest. 

Monday, March 21, 2022

First Look at Paper Tiger

Paper Tiger, the latest from restaurateur Mike Fraser (Bramhall, Roma), chef Nace Cohen, and manager Marcus Alcantara opens today. The restaurant in on Fore Street, in the space formerly occupied by Maine Lobster Shack. The renovation changes the look from New England seafood shack to a moody cocktail bar. 

Cocktails are the focus on the bar menu here, with three pages of original drinks to choose from. Many have a tropical or tiki theme, featuring coconut, fresh juices, rum, and tiki syrups. There's also two large format choices, a scorpion bowl and party punch, meant to be shared. 

My husband had the spicy cilantro swizzle which was very tart and herbal. We also enjoyed the slushie, a delicious frozen blend of lime, ginger, and tequila. 

The menu at Paper Tiger is inspired by "traditional fast food, oyster bars, and late night Chinese restaurants." And there is a little bit of everything—wings, fries, and a burger, but also scallop crudo, roast oysters, stir-fried vegetables, and whole roast fish. 

We started with the wings and fries. The wings ($11) are coconut sambal with pineapple and cilantro and were a great combination of spicy and sweet. We also ordered the tuna crudo ($18) and the scallop crudo ($14), each thinly sliced with different vinaigrettes. 

Next, we went for a round of veggie sides, the garlic-sesame-peanut baby bok choy ($9), the Brussel sprouts with caramelized onions ($12), and the black pepper mushrooms ($10.50). The mushrooms were my favorite, as the slightly thickened sauce delivered the most unique flavors of the night, with plenty of black pepper and Szechuan peppercorns. 

To finish, we shared the classic double patty burger ($16) and the monkfish tail for two ($35). The burger was delicious, with a soft bun and crispy fries. The fish came with a great chili-crisp like sauce on top and then a plate of accoutrements (herbs, kimchi, sauces) to make lettuce wraps with. We had also ordered a side of sticky rice to go with our veggies, so I added in some rice to make a nice finish to the meal. 

Paper Tiger is a nice addition to the Old Port's restaurant scene. I will definitely be back to explore the very deep cocktail selection and enjoy some nice snacks.  

Paper Tiger | 425 Fore St, Suite 104, Portland, Maine | (207) 613-9823

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

First Look at Regards in Portland, Maine

Regards opens tonight—a new restaurant on Congress Street in Portland where Emilitsa was. The chef is Neil Zabriskie, formerly of Little Giant, and co-owned by his wife Kimberly Lund and Cameron Lewin, also formerly of Little Giant. 

The menu was described to us during the Friday night preview as "L.A.-meets-Maine" and has a strong seafood focus with a big selection of tequila and mezcal. The menu definitely belies the cold temperatures we've had in Maine lately, but still felt hearty enough to enjoy on a January evening. 

I started off with a delicious Paloma cocktail and a beautiful plate of raw Japanese yellowfin tuna, buttermilk aguachile (chili water), and onions ($18). This dish was one of my favorites, with its rich broth and silky herb oil. I loved the bite of the raw onions too. 

Next came charred cabbage, anchovy caesar, white kimchi salt ($16) followed closely by a salad of endive, brown butter & soy, bosc pear, sheep gouda, hazelnuts ($18). 

The bitter char on the cabbage was cut nicely by the Caesar dressing, and same for the classic pairing of bitter endive and rich cheese and pear. 

Crab claws with smoked butter and charred lemon ($16) were a fun diversion as we cracked and picked the meat out of the hard shells. 

The grilled king oyster mushrooms ($16) were both lightly grilled and raw with a scallop garum (like a fish sauce). The broth by itself was so salty, but where it lightly coated the mushrooms, it added great flavor. 

Lastly, we had the Hamachi collar, garlic aioli, raw lettuce, toasted nori ($24). Our server described as a take on fish tacos, as we used the lettuce and nori to enjoy the sweet-glazed fish and rich mayo. Just add a little rice and you've got an upscale version of that viral TikTok dish! 

We tried both desserts—a sheep ricotta ice cream with blackberry and lime folded in ($12) and a coconut crema catalana (custard) with a kumquat granita ($12). It was like a creamsicle dream. 

There's so much more to the menu—another 10 small plates and even a 40 oz. dry-aged ribeye that I bet is fantastic. I love seeing what Chef Neil (an L.A. native) wants to offer now that he's opened his own restaurant and the concept is certainly unlike anything else Portland has. 

Regards | 547 Congress St, Portland | 207.747.5940 

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Dinner at Wayside Tavern in Portland, Maine

Wayside Tavern is the latest restaurant to occupy the cozy space at The Francis Hotel. Since the hotel opened in 2017, there have been two other restaurants in the space, first Bolster, Snow & Co. and then Flood's. I stopped in for dinner the other night with my husband and two friends in from out of town. One used to live in Portland, so she was excited to check out a new restaurant, as was I.

Wayside's owners didn't make too many changes to the interior—Flood's had given the dining room and bar arrangements a pretty substantial overhaul. There's a couch and some chairs in the back dining room, but the other two rooms are filled with small tables. 

We started with a round of cocktails; I had the Hemingway daiquiri, always a fave, while others tried a Negroni, Manhattan, and a Paper Plane. 

The dinner menu is comprised of a selection of about 12 small plates, several of which are priced by the each, and 6 larger entrees. We decided to order several things to share and each got an entree. 

I wanted to order more than we were able, but we narrowed it down to a few dishes that came in waves. We started with the Castelvetrano olives ($6), broiled oysters ($4 each), and a chicory salad ($13). 

We ordered the salad on the recommendation of our server at Helm, where we started the evening with oysters and wine. I'm so glad he mentioned it because it wasn't apparent from the menu that it's a take on a Caesar salad, and it was so good with the bitter chicory greens. Olives, especially these buttery green ones, and broiled oysters are some of my favorite preparations, so I was happy. 

Our next set of appetizers was the beer battered cod bites ($6 each) with a dilly aioli and lots of fresh lemon juice, and warm delicata squash with gorgonzola, and spicy honey ($11). We all loved the unique flavor combination of this dish. 

I went big for my entree with the steak with an au poivre sauce and whipped potatoes ($35). And I was so glad I did. The sauce was delightfully peppery and the meat had a great crunchy crust on the outside. My mouth is watering recalling this dish! 

Other entree choices included a pork steak with fennel, onions, and hazelnuts ($27) and a special 'nduja pasta ($21). We didn't slow down for dessert either, ordering both a tiramisu and a butternut squash apple cake with ice cream. Both were great, but the standout was the Irish-ish Coffee, with walnut liqueur and a thick layer of pistachio cream. Delightful. 

We had a delightful meal at Wayside—I heartily recommend you check it out! I'm definitely planning another visit this holiday season so I can sample more of its delicious small plates. 

Wayside Tavern | 747 Congress St., Portland, Maine | 207-613-9568

Friday, September 10, 2021

Summer Recap: Eating Around Maine

Whew, what a summer! This time of year, I always feel like it went by too fast and that I didn't do enough. But when I look back through my pictures, I find that in fact I did do a lot—and much of it involved eating really good food! So here's a bit of a recap of my summer highlights in food.

In early July, we welcomed Cafe Louis to the Knightville neighborhood of South Portland. This cafĂ©, run by chef Evan Richardson, serves Costa Rican/Caribbean food like hand pies, fried plantains, and this delightful fried halloumi cheese with honey and nuts. 

I went for breakfast, and they serve lunch and dinner. I sadly haven't been back! I need to remedy that pronto with drinks at the cute bar. Richardson will be hosting a fundraiser for Hurricane Ida relief on Wedesday, September 15 from 5-9 p.m., serving chicken and waffles and hosting the Little Easy Snoball truck. Sounds fun! 

I also made it out to Crown Jewel for dinner on a rainy July night. We took a water taxi, which while kind of pricey, was perfect for the glum weather since we were whisked out to the island quickly and under cover. 

I enjoyed chef Sara Devereux's new menu, especially the deviled eggs, scallop crudo, and tuna poke. Lots of fresh seafood on the menu! The hospitality from the Crown Jewel crew always makes a night at this Great Diamond Island spot special. 

My role as Maine magazine's food editor has me thinking about restaurants all around the state (suggestions always welcome!). Recently I profiled Broken Arrow after I ate there in mid-June. 

I typically eat at a restaurant about 2-1/2 months before the story runs in print. I've faced some unexpected challenges during the pandemic, from a restaurant closing (temporarily, but for an unknown duration) while I was in the middle of writing a feature on it to a new and well-known chef leaving before I could even make it to the restaurant for a meal. There has been a fair amount of scrambling behind the scenes. But we make it work and the pieces look fabulous thanks to Nicole Wolf's photography and Joel Kuschke's design. 

I had a great meal at Broken Arrow and then enjoyed meeting and talking with the owners and chef. That's by far the part of this job I have enjoyed the most—talking to restaurant owners and chefs about their industry. It has been really interesting (and sad at times) to hear what these folks have gone through in the last year and a half. I am grateful for every day these people show up to work so we can come and enjoy a nice meal or a drink at their restaurants. 

In Biddeford, Magnus on Water is back in the swing of things with a new chef, Ben Jackson. I loved this charred squash and ricotta dish, as well as the great cocktails from bar manager Brian Catapang. A meal on the beautiful patio this fall would make for a great night if you haven't been yet. 

Farther out of Portland, I went to a new area in Maine last month (!!). I'd. never been down the Blue Hill peninsula, just south of Mount Desert Island. So we made a reservation at Aragosta in Stonington and planned to spend the night at a friend's place in East Blue Hill. 

We enjoyed dinner on the deck overlooking the water and then ten delightful courses. From this tomato salad with a fried tomatillo to smoked duck breast and gnocchi, everything was prepared with care and presented delightfully. 

The wine went down easy and it was a real treat to have a special night on the beautiful Maine coast with friends. 

Back in Portland, Crispy Gai, the new Thai street food restaurant from chefs Jordan Rubin (Mr. Tuna) and Cyle Reynolds, quickly became one of my favorite new restaurants. I absolutely love the lively flavors of Thai food, and everything on the menu is so well-prepared. 

The fried chicken is obviously the star of the show, but everything else on the menu is fantastic too. Especially the waterfall salad, with fresh herbs and seared flank steak. It's like my ideal dish! The tropical cocktails from Arvid Brown are so fun and creative. 

Speaking of the generous use of cilantro, another one of my Portland favorites returned—Cong Tu Bot has reopened as a breakfast and lunch spot. I went for breakfast last weekend and ordered almost one of everything on the menu. 

There's fry bread, breakfast sandwiches, pandan coffee cake, yogurt and rice pudding, and congee with tofu, veggies, and a salt-cured egg. Plus boba tea! Everything was so good, but if I had to pick a star of the show, it was the breakfast sandwich. 

The fry bread comes sliced with an egg patty, mayo, green onions, and Chinese sausage. It's so good! The perfect portion and not too heavy. Ugh, I love it. I can't wait to go back for lunch and be reunited with bun cha. 

On my radar of new places to try is Helm, Wayside Tavern, and Il Leone pizza on Peaks Island. Sounds like a fall bucket list is shaping up! Hope you're all eating well and safe and healthy. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Crown Jewel Preview Pop-up

While it's definitely too early to take a victory lap, there are signs we're emerging from this awful pandemic. I'm getting my second vaccine shot today (thank you, public health!!), and many of my loved ones are fully immune. Many restaurants have adapted to the pandemic, creating comfortable outdoor spaces in which I feel a low risk of catching COVID. And I've only come to appreciate dining out even more in this past year. 

In my role as food editor for Maine magazine, I recently covered Little Giant's pandemic changes, from its change in ownership to the new heated patio that, like Terlingua's, has become one of the best places to dine out in Portland during the pandemic. Since its patio opened in January, Little Giant has been hosting monthly pop-ups, like Central Provisions and Izakaya Minato, on Mondays when his restaurant is closed.

So when I heard Crown Jewel was the next restaurant to pop up on Little Giant's patio, I was beside myself with excitement. I didn't get to eat at Crown Jewel last year (but did enjoy some cocktails and wings to-go on my friend's boat, so don't feel too sorry for me). I'm especially looking forward to trying the new chef Sara Devereux's island menu this year. 

We started with gin fizzes on the streetside patio as there was a short wait for our table. Despite it being a whopping 38*F on Monday night, the cheerful cherry blossoms and pink drinks put us in a summery mood. 

We made our way through the restaurant to the patio where it truly was toasty. The patio is open on one end, covered, and surrounded by vertical wood slatting that breaks the wind. The electric heaters mounted on the walls pump out a lot of heat and Huga heated seat cushions are available too. While our freezing days of dining outside are hopefully behind us, Little Giant's patio is amazingly comfortable for being outdoors. 

We continued sipping our drinks at the table with a delicious snack mix of furikake popcorn and rice crisp crackers. The menu was a prix fixe of 5 courses, so no decisions were necessary. The dishes soon started arriving, starting with oysters on the half shell topped with a tart, pickled pineapple mignonette. 

Next was tamari cured deviled eggs, topped with pickled red onion, trout roe, green onions, tempura flakes, and edible flowers. Together the flavors tasted like a sushi roll. 

Then mussels, steamed with black garlic miso butter and shiitake mushrooms. The wedge of sourdough bread was perfect for dipping in the butter (honestly the best part of steamed mussels). 

The main course was crab fried rice with a swipe of coconut cream, tinted green from the addition of pandan, a Southeast Asian tropical plant with a coconut-like flavor. I thought the rice dish needed a little punching up with some chili crisp or other spicy/flavorful drizzle. But that was my only feedback on any of the dishes! 

For dessert, a bouncy butter mochi cake came topped with sesame, toasted coconut, a drizzle of thick caramel, and Parlor ice cream. So fun. 

Crown Jewel opens Friday, May 28 this year, and reservations are available beginning May 1. I can't wait to see which dishes make the final cut for this season's menu and what other Asian/Pacific island delights Chef Sara and owner Alex Wight come up with. 

Crown Jewel | 255 Diamond Ave, Portland, ME | (207) 766-3000

Monday, March 8, 2021

New Restaurants in South Portland, Maine: 2021 Update

It's been just over a year since I published my last look at all the new restaurants opening in South Portland. And so much has changed—between Covid, South Portland's continuing popularity, and surely some would point to the minimum wage increase in Portland (which I whole-heartedly support), many restauranters are headed over the bridge to SoPo. 

The last update detailed the opening of Big Babe's Tavern and three businesses coming soon: Judy Gibson, Solo Cucina Market, and the unnamed Matt Moran project in the old Terra Cotta building. Big Babe's has since closed. Music venues and restaurants have both been hit hard during Covid, and as Big Babe's was both, I imagine it was especially difficult to keep the business going. Owner Ginger Cote listed the building for sale in July and is searching for a new location for the tavern. Big Babe's we hardly knew ye. 

Judy Gibson | 171 Ocean St, South Portland, ME | (207) 808-8649

Judy Gibson opened last year on March 4th (oof, that opening announcement video on Instagram is hard to watch knowing what we know now). I went late that evening for some light snacks and a fabulous butterscotch pudding. The restaurant had a great outdoor dining set up last summer/fall, and I enjoyed my birthday dinner there in mid-October. 

Since the outdoor tent has come down, chef Chris Wilcox and crew have been offering a to-go menu of fried chicken and cocktails. I haven't gotten to the fried chicken yet, but this research is bumping it to the top of the list. That chocolate pudding cup is calling my name. 

SoPo Seafood | 171 Ocean St, South Portland, ME | (877) 282-7676

To the right of Judy Gibson sits the shuttered Uncle Andy's Diner. This business closed last May after 66 years in business as a result of the pandemic. SoPo Seafood is opening a retail seafood operation with a raw bar in the space. You can read more about the details of SoPo Seafood's new venture at Portland Food Map.

Cafe Louis | 173 Ocean St, South Portland, ME 

To the left of Judy Gibson is the shuttered RJ's Pub—another South Portland institution put out of business by the pandemic. Chef Evan Richardson of Eaux in Portland is opening a restaurant in this space that will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner with baked goods in the morning and small plates at night. Richardson says the restaurant will have a Costa Rican and Honduran theme. The opening date is reportedly March or April via PFM

This restaurant row is forming right down the street from Taco Trio, which is opening a second location in Saco. The popular Mexican spot is closed for a while to focus on that project but should open here soon (its Facebook says early March).

Other restaurants in South Portland open for takeout/limited indoor dining over in this area of South Portland include The Snow Squall, Foulmouthed Brewing, Cia Cafe, and Bridgeway Restaurant. If you haven't visited downtown Knightville in a while, come over and check out all the changes. You can reward yourself with an Italian pastry at Solo Cucina and some JG fried chicken.