Thursday, June 7, 2018

Maine Food for Thought Tour

I previewed the recently launched Maine Food for Thought tour last week and had a great time checking out the new tour, while enjoying some small plates from 6 of the best restaurants in Portland.  

The tours are the work of Sarah and Bryce Hach, a husband and wife team that moved to Maine 5 years ago. That's them in the photo above—Bryce is one of the tour guides, while Sarah does more of the behind the scenes work. 

The tour started at Union, where we heard an introduction from Bryce and then from chef Josh Berry. Maine Food for Thought features businesses that, according to Bryce, "go beyond their bottom line to source locally and sustainably." Union's menu is shaped by local produce availability, with the menu often being determined by what's available at the farmers' market. 

Union's seafood chowder (for the MFfT tour, not available on the regular menu) featured fish and clams from Harbor Fish Market and local potatoes. Coconut milk and kaffir lime gave it a tom kah gai-vibe, and it was a delicious start to our tour. 

Next we headed down Exchange Street to Fore, bound for Evo. I have raved about Evo before—I think it's one of the more underrated restaurants in Portland. At this stop, we heard about the two Maines, the urban and rural divide and about the crops in the rural part of the state, potatoes and blueberries, and they dynamics of these industries. We snacked on turmeric potatoes with yogurt, peppers, and cilantro, again, much of it sourced locally when in season. 

The third stop was Solo Italiano, a restaurant at which I haven't had dinner yet. The chef there, Paolo Laboa, is famous for his world championship wining pesto, so we enjoyed some housemade pasta with it. 

The basil is sourced from Oliva's Garden, a hydroponic growing outfit in New Gloucester, and we learned about the immigrants and young farmers that are a growing part of Maine's agricultural industry. 

At this point, I was getting a little full, having vowed not to finish any of the dishes, but completely disregarding that when faced with a plate of delicious pesto pasta. 

We headed down Commercial Street to Scales, full of activity as the staff performed its weekly deep clean of the live seafood tanks that separate the kitchen and the restaurant. Chef Fred Eliot took a break to welcome us, and to tell us about their mussels, from Bangs Island Mussels, steamed with butter, garlic, cream, mustard, and dill, then served with bread from Standard Baking Co. 


While we pried apart shells and dipped our bread, Bryce told us about the state of seafood in the Gulf of Maine and efforts around sustainability and aquaculture. 

After our cozy snack at Scales, we headed up to East Ender for their lobster melt. Here, we learned about the lobster industry, its telling indicative of the approach of the Maine Food for Thought tour. Rather than repeat the same tired story about prisoners petitioning to not be fed lobster anymore, Bryce delved into the impacts climate change and the pressures of overfishing on our local ecosystem. 

From immigrant workers in the time of Trump to poverty and food insecurity, Bryce didn't present a storybook version of Maine, but represented the real challenges within our food system. 


Our last stop took us to Piccolo for dessert. Chef and owner Ilma Lopez is known for her amazing desserts, as well as her charity work with anti-childhood hunger organization Full Plates Full Potential. 

We loved her poached rhubarb, lemon curd trifle, and at this point I was pleasantly full. The tour had been nicely spaced between stops and no portion too big or small. 

I appreciated Maine Food for Thought's overview to Maine's food system—more nuanced than just lobster, potatoes, blueberries, and great restaurants. This tour would be great for visitors or for locals with out-of-town guests. Tours are $72 per person and offered Tuesday through Saturday at 11am-2pm. 

I participated in Maine Food for Thought tour free of charge. The words and opinions expressed in this post are my own. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

First Look at Eaux Portland

Former food cart Eaux opened its brick and mortar last night, and I was particularly excited about this move. I'd always wanted to try the Cajun-themed cart, but never managed to catch it (I guess my days of hanging for hours at breweries have waned). 

So I walked down to the Old Port last night, a particularly nice night, to have dinner at Eaux, now operating in the former home of Crooners and Cocktails on upper Exchange Street. 

Eaux's decor is pretty minimalist, something I figure they'll embellish as they go, but the space is nice with big windows and a pressed tin ceiling. The tables in the back get a little dark, but it could be seen as cozy. 

There's no host stand, but we were greeted immediately by a waitress, one of two, who ended up being our server. We sat ourselves at a two top and she dropped menus quickly. I ordered a daiquiri from the cocktail list—filled with New Orleans classics like Sazerac and Hurricane. 

A. ordered a Goodfire draft beer from a list exclusively filled with local beers, representing the breweries that hosted the food cart, from Industrial Way to the East Bayside breweries. 

The food menu offers 6 starters and 6 entrees, and I knew from social media posts that I was having the chicken and waffles. So I ordered a few plates of vegetable snacks to round out the meal. 

I didn't know what to expect with the chilled Brussels sprouts ($8), a salad of halved Brussels, mustard greens, cider vinegar, and sassafras. At first I thought it was strange, but then found it oddly compelling. It was tangy, creamy, and crunchy... but you've got to like Brussel sprouts to enjoy them in this preparation versus the oh-so-popular fried version.


The crispy yams ($6) also impressed, indeed crispy and chewy, served with a sweet roasted onion puree and a horseradish cream sauce. Boiled peanuts, a farro salad with shrimp and rhubarb, and fried butter beans are other snacks well representing the Southern genre. 


After a pleasant break—not too short, just long enough for me to wonder if there was starting to be an issue—our entrees arrived (I don't think there was an issue, I think we've all just become accustomed to having all our food arriving all at once.) A. enjoyed his gumbo with shrimp and hake, spicy and served over rice. 


I loved my chicken and waffles ($14), with spicy pickled peppers, apple slices, and fried sage leaves. The most striking part was how much flavor the fried chicken had—the breading was pleasantly salty and the chicken was very tender. 


Eaux is a welcome addition to Old Port dining options, and I'm impressed how easily the chef and staff transitioned from a one-man outdoor show to running a full restaurant. Stop into Eaux for a taste of the South, bringing something different to Portland.

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
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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