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. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

BBF Travels: Florence, Tuscany, Cinque Terre, Italy

Alright kids, it's finally time for pics from Italy! My husband and I went to Italy for our honeymoon in mid-October, piggybacking on a friend's destination wedding in Tuscany. We started our trip with a few days in Florence, then headed to Tuscany, and wrapped up exploring the Cinque Terre (big shoutout to Mister Meatball, who helped us with the itinerary). 

Our two week trip looked like this:
  • Days 1-3, Florence
  • Days 4-7, wedding at Il Borro, Loro Ciuffenna
  • Days 8 + 9, Montepulciano
  • Days 10-13, Cinque Terre

In addition to spending time with our friends at their wedding, we also overlapped with them in Florence, which meant we had lots of company and advice about where to eat/what to do. Being me, I also checked the Eater Heatmap and Essential 38 map for restaurant recommendations. Some hits, some misses. 

Wild boar (cinghiale) is the regional specialty, so I had it over pappardelle on our first night in town (after a nap, of course!). The Florentine steaks are also big—like literally—and A. enjoyed one at his birthday dinner. We enjoyed delicious pastas and crostini, so-so pizza, and one fail of an expensive meal that took a stab at modern cuisine. Stick to the classics in Florence. 

We had a few action-packed days, touring the Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens, the Uffizi, and Accademia Gallery (the home of Michelangelo's David) and climbing the Duomo. We stayed in a nice Airbnb apartment by the Arno, and after 3 days of taking the sights of Florence while bumping into tourists and dodging cars and bicycles, we were ready for the Tuscan countryside. 

We rented a car and drove away from the city to the south, stopping by the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial, where my husband's great uncle is buried. This beautiful park memorializes the graves of over 4,000 American soldiers who died in Italy during World War II. I was not prepared to be as moved as I was, but it was touching to think of all those men that died in a foreign country and the staff that maintains their memorial today. 💕

We spent three nights at Il Borro, a villa now owned by Salvatore Ferragamo, but once a Medieval village built in 1040 (!). We stayed in the old village, connected by a steep stone path to the newer event center, restaurant, and main house where the wedding took place. 

The wedding itself was next level beautiful and the food was amazing (um, what?!) at all the events at Il Borro. The best pizza I had on the trip was served at Il Borro, as well as my "this is kinda healthy, right?" lunch of burrata bruschetta. 

Sunday after the wedding, we said goodbye to all of our new friends and drove further south to Montepulciano—where, as my sister said, it looked like we were in a painting. 

Our Airbnb apartment overlooked the Val d'Orcia (the valley) and was right inside the old walls of the city. We were the shortest walk up to the main drag and its shops and restaurants. It was ridiculously charming. 

After we explored the town on our first night, we indulged our inner introverts and stayed in to make dinner and watch football. The Pats game came on at 7pm local time, so we cooked up some pasta with sauce I'd purchased at Eataly in Florence and drank Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Perfetto. 

Recharged the next day, we again set off on vacation sightseeing mode with a vengeance. I fell in love with Caffè Poliziano, with its sweeping views of the valley, display cases full of tempting pastry, and delicious cappuccinos. And this was one of the first places we'd had really warm service from wait staff, so I immediately loved the place. 

We spent the day driving around the countryside on a scenic tour, with stops at wineries along the day. One treat to ourselves was to rent a Fiat Spider Abarth convertible, because if you're going to do a lot of driving, it should be in style, right? 

We found a memorable dinner at Rosso Rubino where I fell in love with the saffron cream gnocchi (sidenote: can I get good gnocchi in Portland or do I have to learn to make the stuff myself?). 

After driving back to Florence and returning the rental car (boo), we took the train to the Cinque Terre for two nights. We planned to hike between the towns, hit the beach, and enjoy some wine in the sun. 

A note about Italian trains: I read multiple times that train travel is easy in Italy. And now that I've figured it out, I agree. But before you know how to read schedules and learn the idiosyncrasies? It was confusing as all get out. The strike that wasn't really a strike on our last day of travel didn't help things either! But aside from a few tense moments, traveling by train across Italy was a nice way to go. 

Cinque Terre is stunning—I mean, all of Italy is, but the coast particularly so. The way the towns are built into the hill makes everything feel like an exploration, like you've just stumbled on this perfect place to have happy hour overlooking the ocean. 

We stayed in Riomaggiore, the easternmost town, and hiked from Corniglia to Monterosso (sections of the trail are closed due to landslides, so you can't hike from Riomaggiore to Corniglia). The hiking was beautiful—not too strenuous, but just enough so that I felt I'd earned that Aperol spritz when we arrived in Monterosso. 

Cinque Terre is known for its pesto, seafood, and white wine. We found the sweetest spot in Manarola and stopped in for a glass of wine—it was the sort of spot that looked like it would create a forever memory, with tropical plants and hammocks on its outdoor deck. We enjoyed a flight of local wines with a mezze board, including some of that local pesto. 

After one night out for dinner in Riomaggiore, we opted to bring pizza back to our apartment the next night. Our Airbnb host recommended a place... back by the train station, down an unlit alley with practically no signage. I don't know how it survives in such a tourist town, but I'm glad we sought it out, it was some fantastic pie. I didn't see how carbonara could translate to a pizza, but K & Pris did it! 

After a few magical days in Cinque Terre, we trained it back to Florence for one night before heading to the airport early. We ended our trip with a last meal of ramen in a hipster Japanese restaurant—still noodles, but we were ready for a break from Italian cuisine (blasphemy, I know). 

What a beautiful place! I'm already planning my next trip to the Italian Riviera. I think as far as honeymoons go, we got a good one. We'll just have to come back for an anniversary or two!