Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Food Round-Up: Mami, Local 188, The Treehouse

It's been quiet around these parts—I haven't been eating out much and haven't even had a recent restaurant opening to bring you! But there's still a few tidbits to share, so here's what I've been up to lately in food.

Weekday Lunch at Mami

okonomiyake with pickled ginger

I always think of Mami on Fore Street as a lunch spot. Maybe it's due to its origins as a food truck, but since I don't work in Portland, I don't go out to for lunch often. But when I was passing through town after a program, I stopped in and grabbed A. from East End Cupcakes and we checked Mami out. 

steamed pork buns and okonomiyake with chopsticks
She had a salmon poké bowl ($13) (but Big Fin Poké still has our hearts) and I had pork buns ($5) and okonomiyake ($12). Both dishes were rich and contained mayonnaise—I should have skipped the savory pancake and ordered some shishito peppers. But I loved Mami's counter service, making it a quick option for lunch or a great happy hour where you won't have to wait for a beer refill. 

salmon poke bowl with fish roe, avocado, seaweed and cucumbers

Brunch at Local 188

Original Roomie A. and I went to the farmers' market bright and early on a Saturday for some plants, then found ourselves considering "brunch" (meaning we wanted a sit-down experience) options at the decidedly non-brunch hour of 9am. We thought of Local 188 and it was a stroke of genius. 

scrambled eggs with herbs and mushrooms, home fries, and english muffins

We had the place to ourselves, our bartender was so friendly and attentive, and the food came out quickly and was perfect. I've experienced some lackluster brunches at Local, probably due to the fact that they were slammed, and so going early was a fantastic experience. A. and I both had the scramble ($11), which that day was with mushrooms, herbs, and goat cheese. We shared a fruit plate ($6), and I really felt like I'd reached peak adulting. 

fruit plate of apples, grapes, berries, oranges, and mango
Dinner at The Treehouse

For a dinner out with friends to celebrate their engagement, we went to The Treehouse, formerly Pat's Café, on Stevens Ave. I'd never been before, so I don't know the history of the place... but they certainly ran with the treehouse motif! It's on the second floor of Pat's Meat Market and is decorated with fairy lights, flowers, and I guess tree branches. It's partitioned off into cozy little spaces and I loved it. I look forward to going back to sit on the outdoor deck in the treetops. 

restaurant interior with twinkle lights and flower, leaf decorations
Add caption
The menu featured a lot of repeating elements, like phyllo dough and dishes served "over fettuccine." I had the gulf shrimp saffron sauté ($30) with mussels, bacon, red peppers, tomatoes, shallots, and a saffron cream sauce. There was also half a zucchini—surprise! It was a good meal at a cozy spot, but its prices mean I'll probably stick to drinks and apps when I visit again. 

pasta with zucchini, cheese, mussels, and peppers

Charity Dinner at Oxbow

Finally, I attended a Full Plates, Full Potential benefit dinner at Oxbow, where Rob Evans of Duckfat and his crew cooked. The Duckfat/Oxbow beergarden is nearly ready which allows Evans to cater special events at Oxbow like this one. 

table set with plates, menus, candles, and plant decorations

We enjoyed a three course spring-themed dinner, from scrambled duck eggs eaten out of the shell to a spring-dug parsnip soup topped with burnt marshmallow. The entree was a collection of poultry, from duck meatballs to turkey boudin, prepared on the grill, served with farrow and roasted carrots, and dessert was a sabayon with poached rhubarb and citrus olive oil. 

bowl of parsnip soup with toast on the side
Your next chance to enjoy a Rob Evans prepared feast is June 21st with a VIP night at Oxbow before the Lettuce benefit concert.

And we are due for a flurry of summer openings, so stay tuned for some previews!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

BBF Travels: NOLA Eats

I ended up being a Spring Breaker this year—taking advantage of a week off from my grad school course to vacation in New Orleans for a long weekend. Between Spring Break and St. Paddy's Day, it ended up being quite the festive time in The Big Easy, although from what I understand, the city's residents find something to celebrate every weekend. 

While there were parades, music, and cemeteries to check out, you know I was scouting out the food options. And despite only being in town for three full days, we managed to enjoy a little bit of all the NOLA classics, from the old school institutions to James Beard foodie spots. 

We stayed in an Airbnb in the Central City neighborhood, a few blocks north of St. Charles Street. I'd recommend the area, as it was centrally located and close to the streetcar line that runs the length of St. Charles. We loved our shotgun house with its porches and architectural character. Plus, I love staying in a neighborhood, especially one that regularly hosts a second line. 

From snowballs and beignets to muffalettas and po'boys, we ate most of the classic New Orleans foods. Hansen's makes the best snowballs and I was delighted to visit another area that celebrates this unique style of shaved iced. Baltimore and New Orleans are the two places in the country that serve snowballs, and despite not having my favorite flavor egg custard, Hansen's made me happy. 

We sat outside under an old tree and dug into big platters of crawfish, sausage, potatoes, and corn at Bevi Seafood Co. And of course we had delicious, powdered sugar-dusted beignets at Cafe Du Monde (and maaaaybe definitely inadvertently cut the long line for a table). 

We had lunch at Cochon Butcher, which was perfect for our group with a menu that pleased everyone, local beer on tap, and lots of Star Wars ephemera to entertain my nephew. The muffaletta was killer, even though I was too full from beignets to eat more than a quarter of it. 

Po'boys at Domilise's were recommended as the best, so we stopped in before hitting up Hansen's nearby. Protip: if it's too busy inside with a wait to order, snag a number and wait outside for yours to be called. I went with fried shrimp, my faves. 

Our one foodie dinner was at Shaya, modern Israeli cuisine. We went early to snag a seat before the dinner reservations filled up the restaurant and scored a table on the patio (more like a courtyard). 

My favorite dish was the hummus with lamb ragu and crispy chickpeas. It might not look like much, but between the soft, warm pillowy pita and the crispy chickpeas, it was outstanding. 

The fried halloumi over strawberries (it was strawberry season) and roasted cabbage with harissa and tahini were both amazing too. I wish I had the ability to eat through the menu, as there were so many other tempting things on the menu. 

After dinner, we walked through Audubon Park as the sun set. Then we were off to hear live music on Frenchman Street. A wonderful last evening in New Orleans, and I already can't wait to go back.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

First Look at Black Cow

Everyone who mourned the closing of Sonny's, Jay Villani's Latin-themed restaurant on lower Exchange Street can breathe easy—Black Cow is now open, and the bar remains functionally the same. The food, however, is completely different with a focus on hamburgers, ice cream, and sodas. Those who enjoyed cozying up to Sonny's large bar and ordering a creative cocktail will be pleased to see Black Cow has a list that rivals Sonny's in its inventiveness.

Black Cow offers counter service, so you place your order at the register that greets you when you walk in. Other than a fresh paint job and some new stools, the decor hasn't changed dramatically, leaving the soaring ceilings and exposed brick of the former bank to speak for itself.

I ordered a hamburger and fries at the counter, then snagged a seat at the bar to enjoy the True Romance ($10) with Plantation pineapple rum, Chartreuse, lime and sugar. It was crushable, just as the menu said it would be.

Other drinks that caught my eye included the Hardshore gin fizz; When Doves Cry with chili-infused tequila, ginger syrup, Campari, and grapefruit; and the Shirley Temple of Doom with rum, lime, ginger, pineapple, and a housemade grenadine. The tap list has 12 beers, most of them Maine breweries from Bissell Brothers to Barreled Souls. There's a large number of housemade sodas like blood orange crush and Brooklyn egg cream.

LBK ordered the chicken sandwich ($8), with a chicken patty made with some dark meat that was juicy inside and crispy out. Just like the cheeseburger, it comes topped with shredduce, onions, pickles, and American cheese. It had that perfect hot meat/cool toppings contrast going on. 

The burger was small ($6), and I found it to be the perfect size. The server didn't ask for a temp on the burger as it's a thin patty, and it comes dressed with mustard and mayonnaise. The fries ($5 for a small or $20 for table fries) are shoestring-style, but on this night a little too crunchy. 

My total bill, including my cocktail, was $21, which was amazing—I figured I'd spend $50 going out to eat and drink. Black Cow will be a popular meet up spot, whether it's for a cheap burger or for the happenin' bar scene that Sonny's was so well-known for. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Snacks at Chaval

Friday night I finally corrected the error that was not yet having made it into Chaval. This West End restaurant has been open for 7 months or so, but I'd yet to make it "alllll" the way over to the other side of the peninsula to try it. 

Chaval is the second restaurant from Damian Sansonetti and Ilma Lopez, the chef couple that owns Piccolo. The duo purchased Caiola's and closed it to freshen up the space and reopen it with a new concept. The menu features Spanish and French dishes and seems to draw inspiration from tapas/pintxos with a selection of inexpensive snacks like tortilla, brandade (whipped salt cod), and house cured meats. 

Anyone who frequented Caiola's will enjoying seeing the rennovation of the bar and kitchen area—the restaurant now has an open feel, versus the cozy nooks created by the walls in its previous iteration. 

Due to the soggy weather we had the night I visited, there wasn't a wait even though it was 6 p.m. on a Friday night, and we found two seats at the bar (right next to the kitchen, where the heat lamps kept me warm). We caught the tail end of happy hour, where a rotating special features a few $5 snacks and sherry. 

To drink, I ordered a take on the Brown Derby, a bourbon, Benedictine, blood orange, and grapefruit cocktail. It was tasty, but I loved most of all that it was big. Even if it was mostly ice or juice, I just appreciated the volume of the drink. I'm tired of rationing 4 oz. cocktails with tiny sips. 

To start, we ordered the brandade ($6) and the tortilla ($4). The salt cod needed, well, a little salt, and then it was a delicious spread with pops of flavor from the pickled sweet peppers. The egg and potato tortilla was perfect, topped with flaky salt and served with a dollop of mayonnaise. 

The next round of snacks was the lettuce and nuts salad ($9), North Spore 'shrooms ($12), and beef tartar and bone marrow ($13).

The 'shrooms with duck egg and chorizo was hands down my favorite dish of the night. The mushrooms were full of flavor, and the chorizo gave it all a salty richness. The beef tartare and bone marrow wasn't for me—I just wasn't feelin' the bone marrow that night. But the beef tartare topping with zingy pickled onion and mustard seed was excellent on the griddled toast. And the salad with endive, pickled red onions, and bleu cheese was a fresh foil to the other dishes. 

Our meal was about $90, including tax and gratuity. One thing Damian, Ilma, and company excel at is making you feel welcome. We left feeling like we'd spend the evening hanging out with friends, sitting at the bar, and engaging in some witty banter (theirs, not mine 😉). With dishes that encouraging sharing, Chaval is the perfect place to catch up with friends over some snacks and drinks. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

First Look at Drifters Wife

Drifters Wife reopens in its new spot today, after moving next door into a larger space that was formerly occupied by Roustabout. The new space has been completely rennovated, with a wall down the middle that sections off the natural wine bar from the retail shop. And the decor has been updated, with a modern, dark look that is very different than the old space, but still conceptually similar with funky accents. 

The food and drink menu retain the same feel as in the old space—maybe not the same items as before, but both changed frequently anyway. I didn't look closely at the wine menu, because I don't tend to know too many of the wines owners Peter and Orenda feature, instead asking for recommendations based on my preferences. 

I started with a pinot noir and then enjoyed a fizzy, fruity rose (the second one I picked just because I saw it being poured out of a giant bottle and was like, I want that). To go with the wine, we ordered the egg with trout roe, potato chips, and mayo ($9) and toast with duck liver mousse and pickles ($12). 

Egg was basically egg salad with potato chips—not for everyone, but pretty much my dream snack. Same with duck liver mousse—could eat tons of, probably should not actually do that. 

Other starters/small plates include bread and butter, olives, cashews, beet salad, and cabbage with turnips. 

We shared the spaghetti with clams, beef tongue, and chanterelle mushrooms ($16) and the hake with potatoes and sweet onions ($28). Both were amazing—the pasta was coated with a creamy, egg sauce like carbonara and the hake skin was crispy with a creamy herbed sauce draped over it. 

Other entrees include chicken with carrots and pork with beans and kale. There's two desserts—malabi (an Israeli custard) with blueberries and date cake with meyer lemon and mascarpone. We skipped dessert, since we'd been there for three hours, but I'm regretting that choice now. 

The new Drifters Wife is like the big sibling to the old space, its elegant menu and unique wines set against a cooler, sophisticated backdrop. As anyone who has visited the restaurant before knows its price point is high, so it's not for the faint of wallet. But the new space elevates the experience, with more of the same expert natural wine picks and delicious small plates. 

Drifters Wife | 59 Washington Ave. Portland | (207) 805-1336

Friday, January 19, 2018

Korean Food at YOBO in Portland

Korean food has returned to Portland with Yobo—the first dedicated Korean restaurant since Little Seoul closed (in 2014, I want to say?). The new restaurant occupies the space on Upper Forest Ave. where Bibo's Madd Apple Cafe was before its owners retired. Yobo is now run by a husband (back of the house) and wife (front of the house) team serving his family's Korean food for dinner and her family's desserts. A group of friends and I enjoyed both on a recent visit. 

The menu is small and the portions medium sized, meaning you can order nearly everything on the menu with a group. We started with the boneless Korean fried chicken ($12) and a mung bean pancake with leeks and kimchi ($9). The KFC was tossed with a gochujang sauce which had great flavor and a nice, slow building heat. The pancakes were crispy and nutty and served with a sweet dipping sauce. The meal was off to a good start. 

Our group ordered three entrees to share: the bibimbap ($15), Sunny's boneless beef short ribs ($19), and the bosaam pork belly lettuce wraps ($18). Our server (the owner) was very helpful in communicating which dishes were spicy and making changes to the dish for my friend who doesn't do spicy food. 

The bibimbap was delicious—that signature mix of textures with crispy rice bits throughout. We also loved the bosaam pork belly lettuce wraps, always a fun way to eat your dinner. The sliced pork came with gochujang and salted shrimp sauce with kimchi and rice (the chef provided sauteed zucchini as an alternative to the spicy kimchi). 

My favorite was the short ribs, served in a spicy coconut curry sauce with roasted brussels sprouts and a fried slice of Japanese sweet potato. Once I recovered from the bird's eye chili that scorched my mouth (so small! so spicy!), I loved the combo of crispy vegetables and the tender meat. 

I thought I'd found a favorite dish until dessert came, just one option that night of fried bread pudding with creme anglaise and salted caramel sauce. It was amazing—soft on the inside with crispy edges and the fresh apples provided a nice brightness. 

Yobo brings a delightful Korean option back to the peninsula, each dish solid in its preparation and flavor. While it's on a relatively quiet block in Portland, I recommend you think of it next time you're in the mood for some Korean spice. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Updates to Portland's Washington Ave. Restaurant Scene

I recently went on a Maine Foodie Tour of Washington Ave.—the
East End Artisan Tasting Tour—and in walking around my neighborhood, I realized how much change is coming. If you follow the Portland Food Map, then you've read the news of new businesses opening and existing ones moving. I thought I'd illustrate some noteworthy changes for those of you who may not live in the area and might not know specifically what's happening where. 

First, RIP cool Sahara Club mural at 135 Washington Ave. The AA-meeting spot has moved onto a larger location, and it was announced the Washington Ave. space would be filled by a coffee shop. Those plans fell through and White Cap Coffee is instead moving to a new location in South Portland. What would you like to see go in here instead? 

Just down the street is the new home of Maine Craft Distilling, behind The Shop, the new oyster bar. Maine Craft Distilling has completed its move into the space, and I was surprised to learn, now also has local beer on tap and a menu of delicious-looking happy hour snacks (chicken and waffles—my fave!). 

Next to The Shop and Maine Craft Distilling is the new home of Forage Market. This Lewiston-based market (more of a cafe, really) is opening a Portland location. They're known for their wood-fired bagels and pizza nights, meaning we've officially reached peak bagel. 

Portland Pottery added dinner option to its popular cafe with Lena's Italian Comfort. It's open Thursday through Sunday nights from 5-9 p.m. 

Natural wine bar Drifters Wife and wine shop Maine & Loire will close at the end of the year to finalize the move next door. The new space, the former home of Roustabout, will offer a much larger kitchen, more seating, and more space for the retail operation. Owners Peter and Orenda Hale anticipate the businesses will be open again by late winter of next year. 

Kittery-based Bob's Clam Hut is opening a location in the former home of 3 Buoys, and while the lack of progress on the building made me think the project had fallen through, Bob's PR rep. assured me the project is still happening. No word on the projected opening date as the project is still in its infancy. 

With these new businesses, Washington Ave. continues to grow and establish itself as a destination for eating, drinking, and shopping. Don't miss next summer's Inner Washington Ave. block party for a chance to check out these new businesses all at once.