Sunday, October 31, 2010

Havana South Not Reviewed

ED NOTE: Havanah South closed in January of 2012.

I *was* going to tell you about my semi-mediocre batch of bar snacks at Havana South, but last week John Golden beat me to the punch in his Food for Thought column. There seems to be a temperature issue. And in addition to that, I'm not in the mood to complain.

M. and I love going to Havana South's bar to have some drinks. M. always gets a dirty Stoli on the rocks, and I enjoy working my way through the specialty cocktails and wine list. I like the atmosphere there, and the bartenders are always friendly. While we were a little bit disappointed that the good vibe didn't carry over into the food we ordered, we will continue to visit for drinks.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Figa First Impressions

At first, I was going to give Figa some breathing room on their opening night. I went down to Havana South instead, a place we've really enjoyed drinking in two or three times before. This time, we decided to push our luck and order some bar bites. I'll elaborate later in the week, but suffices to say I wasn't impressed with my two dishes and decided to go check out Figa after all.

I arrived kind of late for Figa (8:30 or so), since they stop serving food at 9pm. But after I chatted up some friends and got the skinny on what was good, I sat at the bar with East End Bartender Bob, who has relocated from the Front Room to Figa. I ordered a glass of Montepulciano and M. a Peaks Organic Nut Brown Ale (on draught).

From smushing my face up against the glass for months (a year?), I knew the place was beautiful inside, plus the construction was done by my good friend Ryan! It is so cozy and cute - bright but warm, with lots of personal touches. It looks like a restaurant that's been open for a lot longer than it has.

My date and I quickly ordered the Wild Boar Rendang and Bharta from the "Spoons" section of the menu (the smallest portions). While we waited for our food and enjoyed our drinks, the restaurant was winding down. Chef Lee Farrington was in the kitchen (visible over a half wall), and she looked happy to be in her element. The wait staff buzzed around me, since I was sitting at the end by the service bar, asking each other questions ('how many scoops go in the single French press?'), and then later on, showing their excitement over our food ('isn't the Bharta so good??').

I was excited about the food too- hearty, slow-cooked, shredded boar in a spicy, tomato-esque sauce; the Bharta, curried stewed vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, onion), sweet but spicy. I asked for something starchy to go with it and was rewarded with slices of two quick breads, blue cheese walnut and an orange herbed one. And of course a ramekin of butter.

While we savored our appetizers, the kitchen closed, leaving us wanting more, but happy with the small selection we had. I'll certainly be back for a full dinner, as I'm looking forward to see what else Chef Lee and her staff are cooking up in the back of this charming, much anticipated restaurant.

Figa on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Baked Potato Bar

At first, I didn't consider our recent dinner of baked potatoes to be "blog-worthy." It doesn't involve a recipe, it wouldn't be found in any food magazine, it doesn't require any special or new cooking skills... you get the picture. It's a baked potato, topped with everything but the kitchen sink.

But as M. and I were eating, we were so happy. We must have said at least three times, "I'm so glad I'm an adult," and I think M. giggled in anticipation once or twice. The beauty of baked potato bar is that there's no one there to tell you to not use so much butter, or to eat three bites of skin before you can be excused, or to eat your vegetables. I remember baked potatoes being a delicious treat growing up, but also a bit of a downer, because you had to eat that plain, dry skin since "that's where all the vitamins are." [@#$!* vitamins!]

Bacon, cheese sauce, butter, sour cream, chives, broccoli, hot sauce... the list goes on. Sure, we may have bills, and need to put gas in our car, and to set our alarms, but dammit, I'm going to use as much butter as I want.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Szechwan Carrot Soup

I took this Spicy Szechwan Carrot Soup to a food blogger potluck last night, hosted by Appetite Portland (thanks, Dawn and Adam!), and I was a little nervous about it. I thought it was good, but would my food critic friends??

Turns out I had no reason to fret; after all, food is intensely personal- some people are going to like what you like and some people aren't. The good thing about friends is that they'll be too polite to tell you if they don't like it anyway. But I trust that this is a good soup to bring to potlucks- it's rich but not too heavy, while flashes of heat and spice dance across your tongue.

Adam made the main dish, Proscuitto Wrapped Hake, and I highly recommend it. He used fennel, which is not included in the recipe linked here, so be sure to add it. It gave the dish great little zings of flavor throughout the braised veggies.

Szechwan Carrot Soup
Adapted from Epicurious

1 medium onion, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
a 3/4-inch piece fresh gingerroot, peeled and sliced thin
1/8 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1 pound carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 cup coconut milk

Heat oil in a large stockpot. Add onions and heat until translucent. Add celery, garlic, and ginger, and saute a few minutes more. Throw in the chopped carrots and chili flake, and cover with chicken broth. Bring to a boil, and then simmer over medium heat until carrots are tender (about 45 minutes to an hour).

When carrots are fork tender, stir in the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth in batches in your food processor or with your immersion blender.

Suggested topping is sour cream mixed with 2 tablespoons of heavy cream, but I didn't find it needed anything.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Come Closer...

Otto Pizza is moving closer to me!

Otto’s Moving to Hill – to Occupy Former North Star Cafe Site from Munjoy Hill News

Since I'm apparently obsessed with all things Otto/Enzo, I am very excited to hear that the owners are going to be opening another restaurant called '225' in the site of the former North Star Music Cafe.

And the puppy? Cuz pizza and puppies make me happy. Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Butternut Squash Soup

I've been off the grid lately (while relying heavily on the *actual* grid in the form of Internet TV and Netflix), since I came down with a nasty bug. I know, it's a food blog, no one wants to hear me bitch about being sick. So I'll leave you with a soup that's good no matter your state of health, inspired by my friend Laura at Sweeter Salt.

I adapted the soup by using apples, rutabagas, and potatoes too. Next time I'll leave out the apple though, since with the leeks, it made it kind of sweet. But a lot of salty Parmesan made up for it!

Served with some of Rosemont's Foccacia (love you, Rosemont), this meal made a great light dinner and some seriously delicious lunch leftovers.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Otto/Enzo Pizzeria Review

I was so happy when Otto Pizza came to town. Before their arrival, I didn't have a good go-to slice bar in town, having been disappointed with Bill's Pizza and not loving the New York Slice Bar. But Otto changed my pizza life- I love their pizza and want to eat it all the time. OK, I'm exaggerating, but it is the perfect place to stop whenever you're out with friends on the First Friday Art Walk, out drinking, or just want to have a good, no frills dinner.

And then, to make things even better, they opened Enzo, their eat-in pizzeria. Enzo is just as big as Otto (which is to say, not very), only full of seating and a long bar, and serves their slices, whole pies, and beer, wine, soda, and water. Simple, but done well. I respect a place that has no problem doing one thing and that one thing well.

Last Saturday, when M. and I dined in, we had to snatch up the only empty seats in the place- I'm not the only local or tourist who loves it here. I ordered a cauliflower and mushroom slice (white) and a Genoa salami and tomato slice (red). M. had one cheese and one pepperoni. He's a straight-forward guy.

The pizzas were delicious, as usual- chewy crust, great combinations of toppings, sauce that M. thinks is a little sweet and I love, and flavorful cheese. We each had a glass of their house red (only $5!).

The only odd thing going on in the window seats of Enzo is the super tall barstools combined with a low bar. M. said you only notice something's functional design when it's bad, and that's what's going on here. My food was down by my knees, so it was awkward to eat and not good for posture.

But I love that Otto expanded to allow for us to linger in their beautifully decorated space. The eatery is dark and cozy, humming with fellow pizza lovers. They have vintage themed black and white framed photos displayed next to a wall where painted tiles spell out the pizza menu. And while I love standing out on the street, discarding paper plates, and folding up a slice with friends, it's also nice to be able to stay awhile.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Whaddapita! Lunch Review

Ed. Note: Whaddapita closed in late 2012 and was replaced by Supreme Pita. Whaddapita is reportedly moving to South Portland.

Because I heard Whaddapita! was getting good reviews, my mind wandered to the possibility of lunch there when the leftovers I'd brought with me to the office weren't enticing me. The place was full of other business people- not too many college students- so I joined the group of office escapees and ordered up a pork Gyro ($3.95).

While I waited, I spied on other people's food (a lot of Greek salad eaters!), wandered out the big open doors to snap a photo of their outdoor deck, and checked out the meat on a stick calling to me from behind a large sneeze shield. They're not serving up those mystery meat loaf patties (a la Steak 'Ums) here at Whaddapita! (exclamation not mine).

In addition to the authentic grilled meat, there's also French fries inside your wrap, and no lettuce. These ladies and dudes must know what they're talking about. But also like in Greece, the Gyro is a little street snack, and so I found myself wanting more (like two for $7.45).

Maybe the next time I want a big lunch at work, I'll order the Gyro platter ($7.95), a side of eggplant dip ($4.95), a Fresh Greens & Feta Pie ($4.95), or of course, that ubiquitous Greek salad ($6.95). There's tons of options at Whaddapita! and judging from the delicious little Gyro snack I had there, I'll be back to sample more of their menu when I need another break from the office.

Whaddapita! on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Tale of Two Jams (and a Butter)

I spend all of Sunday canning with my friends, making up some holiday gifts for my friends and family. (If I can bear to part with any of it, that is.) You must make this first recipe. Gift or not, this jam is SO good. My inspiration came from Stonewall Kitchen's Bellini jam. I thought 'I can make that!' So I simply substituted a cup and a half of Prosecco for some fruit in the low-sugar Sure Jell peach jam recipe.

The jam is sweet like peaches, but then has a tart finish, like Prosecco. It makes me want to go to Italy and drink Bellinis.

And a repeat from last year's jamming session, we made hot pepper jam. Oh, and be sure to use the online recipe, not the one in the package- the one in the package leaves out the sugar! So add 3 cups of sugar or else your jam will be gross.

This jam turned out prettier than last year's batch, since we made sure to use red bell peppers. The nice red flecks really make a beautiful difference. Cream cheese and Wheat Thins here I come!

And last, but certainly not least, the apple butter! Apple butter takes forever to cook down, so be sure to start it first thing. It also made a mess all over dear Kelly's stove and burned Hope once or twice with it's blurping. So be careful!

But it's worth the wait- it's so sweet and spicy. I can't think of what I'm going to use it on (other than the obvious toast), but maybe just eating it out of the jar will suffice.