Friday, March 22, 2013

First Look at Little Tap House

Phew, all these Portland restaurant openings are wearing me out!

I again met Anestes of Portland Food Map at Little Tap House, the much anticipated new restaurant in the old Plush space (at the corner of Spring and High St).

(The photos are a little fuzzy, as it's pretty dark in there.)

Previously, the place had a Hot Topic feel (and served tapas, therefore dubbed 'Hot Tapas') and so the farmhouse bar feel is a welcome change. There are 14 taps, and they were pouring from 9 on their soft opening night. I enjoyed a Bunker New Boch and a Maine Beer Co. Spring Peeper Ale.

And we tried some sample appetizers that the owner and waitstaff were passing around. I enjoyed the truffled white bean dip served on crostini and the duck confit sliders. 

Because this place isn't fully formed yet, it's hard to say what niche it will fill. But I hope with its proximity to the State Theater, that it will be another pre-show drinking and dining spot. Either way, I'm happy to have more options in my neighborhood!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

New Taco Escobarr Menu Review

There are times when I reflect upon how I voluntarily choose to live in Maine, and it's usually around this time of year, when I say to myself, you don't HAVE to do this. It's spring in a whole bunch of southern states right now. It's flat out warm in parts of California right now. 

And then, of course, I remember that I love Maine and my friends here, so unless I can convince my entire family and friends to move to California (eh? whaddya say?), I have to carry the warm fantastic parts of Maine only in my mind to get me through the "spring" here. 

Maine seems to push everybody's buttons this time of year, and the 10-14" of predicted snow on Tuesday put a lot of people over the edge. But we got a snow day and decided to make the most of it by sledding and having a late lunch out. 

Problem is, "late lunch" is a dooming phrase in Portland. Many of your favorite bars don't open until 4 during the week, and if a spot does offer lunch, they're closed again by 3pm. This lead to an aborted attempt at Binga's and some wandering of Congress Street. 

So we thought we'd try Taco Escobarr's revamped menu. They closed a week and redesigned their menu with the help of Damian Sansonetti, a former NYC chef who plans to open his own restaurant in town. The new menu focuses on slow-cooked comfort food rather than standard Tex Mex. 

We started with the El Jefe Nachos Montana (to which my Spanish-speaking friend J. dryly observes, you mean a mountain of nachos? and blows my mind with the translation of 'montana'), which are described as chips, with chorizo, crema, radish, queso fresco, and lettuce ($12). 

OK, the picture looks good right? All of this food looks good, and the nachos were better than the fish taco I had. But I think these nachos would have been better if I was drunk. Or if they were hotter. The chips and chorizo were good, both crispy with lots of salt. And there were certainly plenty of toppings. 

But please, leave off the pale/greenish tomatoes. I then unearthed a huge pile of congealed, orange cheese in the middle which might sound good to some, but I was bewildered. I said, has this been here the whole time?? to A. who was eating off the other side. She just shrugged. 

We forged ahead and ordered two fish tacos and a carne asada to share (3 for $10). I immediately missed the side of salsa verde that used to come with the tacos. The shells have improved dramatically (that was my biggest gripe previously). 

But we struggled to find any distinct flavor in the tacos. I tasted a lot of corn - corn tortillas, cornmeal coating on my fish. Salt, lime, and their house bottled hot sauce never saved the dish. It's too bad because I thought the fish tacos were one thing that they previously had done well. 

Others reported similar tales of flavorless meat, needing salt. The bistek or shredded beef filling was reported to be good. 

But between the loud, neon environment, and the unsettling feeling that I'm looking at someone being sexually assaulted on the campy movie posters in the women's room, and the lackluster remade menu, this is one place I'll continue to pass over. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

First Look at In'finiti Fermentation & Distillery (Liquid Riot)

Update: In'finiti is now known as Liquid Riot.

In'finiti Fermentation and Distillery is now open, at 250 Commercial Street in Portland (across from Three Dollar Deweys). I stopped in to meet Anestes of Portland Food Map and had a sip and a bite. I'm excited for this new space, as it's much roomier than Novare, and the food and house bier seem very promising. 

Tempura green beens and mushrooms
Quail eggs with potato and chorizo

Monday, March 18, 2013

Restaurant Week Dinner at Walter's

Ed. note: Walter's has closed.

Walter's in Portland moved from a small, cozy storefront on Exchange Street to a more expansive space on Union Street in 2009, where its location at 2 Portland Square makes it feel more like a hotel restaurant. The bar area is nice, with big, modern armchairs, but the rest of the dining room feels a bit sterile. 

Having never been to Walter's for more than drinks and appetizers, I took advantage of their Restaurant Week menu to see if I'd been missing out by failing to frequent this Portland mainstay. Unfortunately, while the meal did have some highlights, I found the experience to be underwhelming, and Walter's did not make my list of go-to dining spots.

I started with the Buttercup bisque topped with peekytoe crab and shishito pepper pesto. After having a standout squash bisque at Bresca for lunch that day, this version fell flat and made me miss the salt dish that the server removed with the bread service. 

A. ordered the fish entree, served over dried tomatoes, fennel, Yukon fingerlings, olives, and lobster butter broth. This entree landed in front of me first, and I sampled a few bites before swapping for my steak frites. 

Again, the dish was under-salted and made me wish for the Proscuitto-wrapped Hake that Adam of the Appetite Portland couple makes. Even the briny olives couldn't give this dish enough flavor. 

My steak frites swung the other way on the salt spectrum, although at that point I was happy for a strong flavor. The scallion mayo was surprising and a welcome addition.  

Desserts were good - although both suffered from temperature issues. This chocolate olive oil cake with caramel was very moist and was better the next day when it was allowed to warm up before we enjoyed the leftovers. 

My orange lavender creme brulee was cold throughout, which I enjoy, when it's in contrast with the layer of warmed sugar on top. But this dish was too cold, and the lavender flavor wasn't present. 

While we enjoyed our three courses for $32 per person, if we had ordered these items off the regular menu, it would have been closer to $50 per person. And so while it was a fine meal, nothing made me want to return or recommend it for dinner.  

Eat Maine and John Golden both favorably reviewed Walter's recently. Am I missing something? (And please don't say it's one of those "you have to know what to order" places, I can't stand that.)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Allgash Tap Takeover at Eventide Oyster Co.

You all know I love Eventide Oyster Co. so when I heard that Chefs Taylor and Wiley are nominated for Food & Wine magazine's People's Best New Chefs of New England (go vote!), I got a craving. 

They were celebrating last night with an Allagash tap takeover, featuring new Allagash releases and a special $3 oyster bun with a beer. I hurried down there early to grab a table and tried the Allagash B.A.T. or Beer Advocate Tequila.

The B.A.T. is a Belgian Strong Pale Ale aged in tequila barrels, which gave it a smoky quality, but not as strong as the Curieux, which is aged in bourbon barrels. I loved it. The oyster bun was great as usual, all steamed bun and crispy coating mixing with mayonnaise and pickled crunch.

I then scheduled a date with S. of Edible Obsessions for dinner. If you haven't already, treat yourself to Eventide.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lunch at Bresca

I joined Vrylena for lunch on Friday afternoon at Bresca. Chef Krista Kern Desjarlais has recently scaled back her restaurant's offerings to dinner on Friday and Saturday and lunch Wednesday through Saturday.

Bresca might fly a bit under the radar in the popular mind when it comes to fine dining spots in Portland, but you should not miss dinner there. It is a bit of a splurge, but the food is some of the best and most consistent I've had in Portland.

Lunch at Bresca then gives you the perfect opportunity to try Chef Krista's cooking without breaking the bank.

V. and I sat at the bar, which has been revamped since my last visit. A banquette set against a large, imposing half-wall has been removed and replaced by a wide, light-colored wooden bar.

The lunch menu encompasses a few salads, a soup, two sandwiches, a few meat and seafood dishes, some with an enticing 6-minute egg, and "elevenses," a hearty oatmeal dish. I was torn between the soup and salad and the 'Madame,' an open faced sandwich with greens, cheese, and an egg. Soup and salad won, so I could sample a few dishes.

The salad is a mound of shaved Brussels sprouts, with walnuts, Pecorino cheese, and an olive oil dressing ($9). But as V. said after sampling, "mm... that dressing... there's something more," and that describes Krista's cooking well. There's always something more than the list of ingredients indicates. 

V. ordered the burger, which came loaded with smoked Cheddar, bacon, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, and greens ($12). She offered me a bite, but it was one of those sandwiches that once picked up, must be finished, as putting it down would result in a mess. 

My soup was a butternut squash bisque with maple popcorn ($9). A good butternut squash soup is hard to find, as it can be overly sweet or fall flat. But this soup was well rounded, a thick puree full of well-balanced flavor. The popcorn was beyond me, as it quickly grew soggy, and then compressed into my molars as I ate it, but oh well. 

Lunch at Bresca is more than a mid-day obligation to refuel oneself for the rest of the day. Rather, it made me a lady who lunches, one who orders white wine and a salad, who doesn't have to go back to the office, and can then stroll about the Old Port, window shopping. It made me feel like I was on vacation.

If you find yourself with an opportunity to linger over lunch or need to be whisked away from this Portland in early-Spring business, then treat yourself to lunch at Bresca, because it's a chance for some of the city's best food without the fine dining bill.