I've been pretty good at sticking to my post-holiday budget while managing to have some stellar eats around town too. Trying to save money is not the most joy-inspiring while it's happening, but I'm starting to feel some of the payoff of this newfound (and surely short-lived) self discipline.
I've found that dining out at lunchtime is a great way for me to feel like I'm not depriving myself of Portland's wonderful food scene - lunch entrees are typically cheaper, plus there's (usually) no alcohol involved.
I enjoyed The Honey Paw's beef rendang - savory, rich comfort food on a cold day, but Original Roomie A's Vietnamese chicken noodle soup ( fermented rice noodles, smoked chicken, meatballs, aromatic broth, kale, jalapeno, herbs) was the clear winner.
Sometimes I don't bring lunch to work, betting that I'll think of an exciting lunch idea before noon. After rejecting all the ho-hum deli sandwiches near my office, I thought of Tandem Coffee's selections. I was up and out the door only a half second after thinking about their veggie banh mi.
This, though, is the egg and pickle sandwich - pickled beets, sliced hard-boiled eggs, herbs, and creamy feta spread on their house-baked foccacia. Super messy. Despite its vegetable components, probably not very healthy. Super satisfying.
I made a riff on Tandem's addictive sesame seed banana bread using the recipe from El Rey (a coffee shop in New York). I'd probably drop the tahini next time - am I the only one to find it super bitter?
I've said it before: a weekday Palace Diner visit is the way to go. Especially in January, there's hardly anyone in there midmorning. On a recent visit, if you squinted, it could be conceived of as lunchtime, so I ordered the cheeseburger. I've always wanted it, but have only ever been there early in the morning (another strategy for grabbing a seat without a wait) and I've yet to eat a hamburger at 9am.
The burger is eye-roll-back-in-your-head perfect. Eating at the Palace Diner kind of makes me angry, because if they can manage to make something as simple as the french fry so tasty, what's up with all the other mediocre versions?? Like, do better, everyone else!
Also, I got a side of french toast (obviously).
I have splurged a few times for dinner lately - once to catch up with an old friend at Yosaku. His choice - I usually gravitate to Benkay, because of its proximity to my apartment.
A. and I ordered this beautiful plate of rolls and sashimi: rainbow and gorilla (tempura shrimp with eel and avocado outside) rolls and prawn, scallop, amberjack, and golden snapper sashimi. Plus many Kirin beers, of course.
Before Christmas, when I was used to spending money, I went to check out Moxy in Portsmouth, and spent way more money on a delicious dinner than I had any business parting with. I loved everything I had - and the tapas menu was right up my alley. I loved getting to try a variety of dishes and sharing with my friend.
The short rib "marmalade" came on sliced bread with bleu cheese and pickled red onions; we also loved the johnnycake community - juicy pulled pork served with thin cornmeal cakes, butter lettuce, barbecue sauce, sweet pickles, and fried onions. Delicious little savory packets that you get to make up yourself - fun too!
As a parting shot, these beautiful beet pickled deviled eggs from Vena's Fizz House deserve some love. I could have made a serious dent in these by myself if I'd allowed it.
Lastly, grab a copy of Jan/Feb's ZEST magazine (free at the Rosemont on the Hill if you're in the neighborhood). I wrote a story on Maine coffee roasters that travel to the country of their coffee's origin to research which beans are the best for their customers.
My friend Claire also wrote a great article about the changing preferences of women's taste in alcohol. She included the Portland Spirits Society, which was nice!