Friday, May 30, 2014

First Look at Lolita

Update: Lolita is now open 11AM-11PM, every day except Tuesday 

My Paloma with Marcona almonds and mussels snack plates

When Bar Lola closed last November, but the owners, Guy and Stella Hernandez, said they were still committed to running a restaurant on Munjoy Hill, the rumors started flying. Eventually, it came out that the coffee shop a block away, that the Hernandez's also own, would move into the Bar Lola space, and they would open a new restaurant in the coffee shop's space. I was a little confused by the move, but now that I've had a sneak peek into Lolita, opening next week (tentatively Wednesday), I understand. 

Lolita is Bar Lola-esque - it'd be silly to say it's completely different - but bears no resemblance to the former Hilltop Coffee. We were all amazed at the space's transformation; who knew it could look so spacious and modern in there? 

Lights by friends at Inspired Wire

I loved to sit at the bar at Bar Lola and have a drink and dessert. Lolita embraces that casual air and spreads it throughout the entire restaurant. Most of the space is bar seating, with banquettes and two-top tables along the wall. A low-slung table and bench create more casual seating in the front window. 

The menu has a variety of snacky, small plates and a few entrees, plus of course, the $90 porterhouse for 3 that commenters flipped their shit over in the Bangor Daily News. On the night of the press preview, I sampled the burrata with lemon zest and aleppo oil, on wood-grilled sourdough bread. It was delicious (I mean, obviously). 

Other toasts ($4 each, or 3 for $10) include local mushrooms with thyme and garlic confit, and steak tartare with capers and shallots. Little glass pots of spreads include chicken liver mousse; salted cod and chorizo (pictured above, upper left); and whipped ricotta. 

This pork tonnato ($14) seen above accompanies other medium plates such as bucatini with ramp pesto, squid ink spaghetti, and heirloom beans with pork belly and duck confit. As a twitter friend pointed out, the menu does not encompass too many strictly vegetarian options, but if you're a pescatarian you'll be alright. I assume the menu will change frequently. 

Below is the asado with fingerlings and salsa verde (a large plate, $24) with which any carnivore would be thrilled. The steaks are grilled on the asador, or a wood-fired grill, in the corner of the bar. It has a manual crank operation to raise and lower the grill grate. This mechanism is also echoed in the meat slicer that sits next to the asador - I watched Guy crank the slicer to shave off thin, salty pieces of jamon Serrano. 

Lolita will be open from 11am to 11pm; hopefully they'll have happy hour specials, as their wine list is extensive (it's printed on a page as large as the menu you see below). Look for Lolita to open next week; they're aiming for Wednesday, but maybe before that a "walk by and maybe they'll be open" kind of way. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"Portland Food" Launch Party Week

Tonight! Get thee to The Thirsty Pig on Exchange St. in Portland for a limited release from Bissell Brothers Brewing. Swish, a hopped ale, will be available tonight as a thank you to the pub where the Bissell Brothers got their start. Get there at 7pm to get a taste of what's sure to be a delicious brew. Even if you are late to the party and miss the Swish, the Thirsty Pig has a great lineup of local beer to console yourself, including (as of yesterday anyways) Maine Beer Company's Dinner. 

The launch party for my book, Portland Food: the Culinary Capital of Maine, is this Saturday, May 31st! It will be at Sherman's Books, 49 Exchange Street, in Portland, where another History Press author, Josh Christie, works. I will be there from 1-3pm, signing books and offering some local treats that are featured in the book. Please stop by! 

Photo via Sherman's Books

Anestes of Portland Food Map is teaming up with the Maine Brew Bus to offer a tour about a different kind of brewed beverage - coffee. The specialty "Portland Loves Coffee" tour is this Sunday, June 1 from 1-5pm. You'll tour several different Portland coffee houses and learn about the roasting and brewing of Portlander's second favorite drink. Anestes knows and loves his coffee, so it will be an entertaining and educational tour. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Farmers' Market Partnership and New Ball Products Review

This summer, UMaine Extension is partnering with the Portland Farmers' Market to offer canning and freezing demonstrations monthly at the Saturday market in Deering Oaks Park. We're participating in the "Discover You Can" partnership sponsored by Ball, in order to help increase people's use of local foods year round. At each demo, we'll have tons of preserving supplies and coupons to give away. The boxes (and boxes) of food preservation goodies are rolling into our office.

Lately, Ball has been creating all sorts of accessories for preserving and using local foods. New toys are fun and all, but I was a bit skeptical about some of these items. So I decided to test drive them all to better inform my recommendations to interested preservers.

First up, accessories for turning your mason jar into a drinking glass (er, rather a more effective one?). I think Ball must have realized they'd been scooped for a great product idea by Cuppow. Ball caught on and produced these sippy lids with accompanying plastic straws. They come in both regular and wide mouth sizes, 4 to a pack, for $6.95. I really enjoy the Cuppow lids and find the Ball version to be comparable. They're great for my iced coffee and don't leak. The straw is long enough to use with pint and half or quart jars.
Verdict: take

The mason jar infuser is a similar idea, only there's a separate screw-in insert that can be filled with ingredients with which to flavor your water. I was skeptical, but when I filled mine with raspberries, I ended up drinking my water much quicker. Combine this with my SodaStream water and I'd be in heaven. So maybe just add some raspberries to my water next time? For $7.95, I think I'll stick with the low-tech version.
Verdict: toss

I definitely had my eye on these little herb jars when they were released last year. They're priced reasonably at $6.95 for a set of four, including the jars. The top pops open to shake out herbs and easily screws off for measuring more amounts. As someone who buys herbs and spices in bulk, I appreciate these jars as a huge improvement over the plastic zip-top bags that clutter up my spice shelf. 

They're also great for storing your home grown and dried herbs (see my dried oregano pictured above). The lids are also sold separately for $2.95 for two, perfect for someone who already has plenty of 4 oz. jars. 
Verdict: take

This alien-like contraption is Ball's fresh herb keeper. The white cradle swings open to allow easy access to the fresh herbs. When it's closed, the stems of the herbs sit in an inch of water, helping to extend their lifespan. 

This product might be helpful to someone who is always losing herbs in their crisper drawer, only to rediscover them as a black pile of goo, since the clear container reminds you what herbs you have. But at $15.95, I'll stick with the wrap-in-a-paper-towel method. As a coworker said, you could buy so many herbs with $15.95!
Verdict: toss

The idea behind this potholder helped win me over instantly. The hot jar handler ($10.95) allows you to hold onto hot jars while you're filling them. This would be useful while you're ladling food into the jar or while you're screwing on the screw bands. It grips nicely around a pint jar, but a smaller jar would get lost in it. The price is a bit steep for a pot holder, so I'll recommend it with reservations.
Verdict: take(ish)

I can tell you right away that I was predisposed to dislike this Sure Tight band tool ($9.99). I think I've been disparaging it while teaching classes without have ever even tried it. This tool's purpose it to help you perfectly tension your screw bands (the metal ring that holds the lid onto the jar during the canning process). To use it, you open up the tool, place the inner rubber-lined plastic ring on your canning jar, close the tool and twist. The spring-loaded hinge in the handle provides the torque to properly tighten your screw band. There's also a jar opener in the end of the handle.

But I was taught, and have been subsequently teaching, that you tighten your screw bands until they're fingertip tight. They need to be on the jars firmly, but not so tight that the air can't escape from the jars during the canning process. Recommending someone use a tool to tighten their screw bands seems counter-intuitive to me. 
Verdict: toss

OK, reading reviews online shows that this tool is useful to people who have arthritis in their hands and wrists. If that's you, give it a whirl! 

The home canning discovery kit ($11.99) is a sort of all-in-one kit for people curious about canning. It contains three pint jars and a green plastic basket that takes the place of a canning rack and a jar lifter. The basket fits into a small stockpot that you likely already have. 

This kit would be perfect for someone who is interested in canning, but doesn't want to buy the whole kit and caboodle or someone who is looking to can small batches at a time. If you're an experienced canner, you have no need for this, but it would make a good gift for people you're looking to convert.
Verdict: you decide

In what seems like a "wait, people are buying things for canning that aren't Ball branded; we can't have that," move, Ball made pickle and salsa spice mixes. These 12oz. containers are $5.99 each and are enough spices to make 13 to 14 quarts of pickles and 8 pints of tomato salsa. 

The salsa ingredients are relatively straight forward: dried green peppers, onions, garlic; salt; spices; sugar; sunflower oil; and jalapeno pepper powder. You only need fresh tomatoes and white vinegar to prepare your recipe. But as someone who is looking to make salsa made from fresh, homegrown ingredients, I'm turned off by the dehydrated, non-local ingredients. 

The dill pickle spice mix goes off the rails a bit, containing salt, sugar, spices, dried garlic, calcium chloride (for crispness - also sold separately as Pickle Crisp), dextrose, maltodextrin, natural flavor and color, and silicone dioxide. Compare that to a dill pickles recipe that calls for salt, sugar, dill seed, pickling spice mix, and mustard seed. If you're coming to canning to know what's in your food, adding maltodextrin, a food additive frequently used in soda and candy, isn't in line with those goals. 
Verdict: toss

Let's end on a fun note! Ball released blue heritage jars last year, for the 100th anniversary of the Ball jar. This year, they released green jars, as well as blue and green lids and screw bands. All of the items are safe for canning, but might make your food look a little strange with its blue or greenish tint.

The jars are sold in 6 packs for the same price as a 12-pack ($12.99), so maybe they're better as an occasional accent than as the majority of your canning jars. I personally don't plan to use any for canning, but they'd make fun drinking glasses. I will definitely be using the blue and green lids and screw bands.
Verdict: lids, bands: take; jars: you decide

The best part is, we'll be giving away all of these items at our demonstrations this summer! So if you see something you like but wouldn't necessarily spend money on, come see the Master Food Preservers at the Portland Farmers' Market this summer. The dates of the demonstrations will be announced on UMaine Extension in Cumberland County's facebook page.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Weekly Portland Food Events of Interest

This week, I thought I'd share with you some events of interest - not of course, as an attempt to replicate the comprehensive Events Calendar on Portland Food Map. But every little bit of publicity helps for these businesses putting on great events featuring local food and drink.

Allagash Brewing Company and Rosemont Market Productions are hosting a fundraiser for Preble Street Resource Center tonight at the brewery. Tickets are $45 and include eight samples from Eventide Oyster Co., Rosemont, PB&ME, Nosh, The Thirsty Pig, Browne Trading Company, Gelato Fiasco, and Winter Hill Farm. Beer sample are offered with each plate. Read about the last Allagash dinner I attended to preview all the fun you're in for.

The Portland Phoenix Best Of party is also tonight; the winners for Best Food Blog will be announced (for which I am a contender) as well as all their other award winners. The event is free and starts at 6:30PM at Port City Music Hall. Food (also free) is provided by Black Tie Company, the bar will be open, and local music acts will be playing. 

An ongoing event is a Kickstarter campaign for the Bearded Lady's (Nan'l Meikeljohn) Jewel Box. Nan'l is a bartender, most recently seen at Pocket Brunch events and pop-up bar events at SPACE Gallery. He's launching his own bar, the Jewel Box, at 644 Congress Street and is looking to raise funds for the remodel. The video is an entertaining watch, and note that if you pledge $75 or more your reward is a ticket to a future (one last) Pocket Brunch in the fall at the bar. 


I'm not much for events on the weekend, but the Portland Museum of Art is hosting a film screening on Sunday. What with the weather report, it might be a nice thing to cozy into. As part of the MOFGA lecture series, the PMA is showing Symphony of the Soil at 2PM. There will be a discussion panel following, featuring filmmaker Deborah Koons Garcia, organic farmer Eliot Coleman, and Aurora Provision's Leslie Oster. 

Of course, the rainy weather is also a great excuse to stay inside and read! My book, Portland Food: the Culinary Capital of Maine is now available for purchase in local bookstores, Books-a-Million, and online

Friday, May 9, 2014

Salt + Sea CSF

A recent LivingSocial deal caught my eye - every now and then there's a deal for a good restaurant or a service you've actually been meaning to sign up for. Salt + Sea, a Portland-based Community Supported Fishery, offered a month of their fish shares for half-price. 

I interviewed Salt + Sea founder Justine Simon for my book back in October. You'll have to read all of Justine's story in your copy of Portland Food (ahem), but the short version is that Justine and her husband Marty moved to Maine so he could help with his family's fishing business. After tasting the fresh fish that Marty's work yielded, Justine felt she could create a business sharing fresh (never frozen), local, sustainable fish with the Greater Portland area. 

So Salt + Sea was born. Justine buys whole fish right off the boats and then holds the fish in a brine-ice solution, allowing her to cut day of delivery, which is pretty rare in the industry. Aside from the freshness, the fish she buys are local (caught in the Gulf of Maine) and of sustainable populations. My four weeks of fish species were redfish, hake, cod, and daubs. 

(And in case you're wondering about the use of the word 'sustainable' as it applies to cod, the newsletter that accompanied the cod share assured us that the area these fish were caught in (Western George's Bank) supports a healthy population.) 

The single share of fish ($96) lasts 8 weeks and is about a pound of fish per week. I somehow ended up buying a double share (about 2 pounds per week), and it's too much for my two-person household. We end up eating fish 4 nights in a row. 

At first, I got by on the baked, topped with breadcrumbs and lemon preparation, but needed to advance past that pretty quickly. I usually make fish tacos for one night, and above, you can see my pan-fried hake with capers, lemon, butter, and wine pan sauce. 

This fish cake recipe from Jamie Oliver was included in one week's newsletter, and I loved it. I felt like a real New Englander, using my Fryeburg potatoes and Gulf of Maine fish to make fish cakes. They were delicious, and I ate them with sauteed spinach, pickled beets, and sour cream. 

Fish Cakes
Adapted from Jamie Oliver

3 medium potatoes (I used a Yukon Gold-esque variety)
2 large white fish fillets*
4 green onions or handful chives, chopped
1 egg
1 lemon
olive oil
1 tablespoon plain flour, extra for dusting

*The cakes should be about a 2-1 potato to fish ratio

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Peel the potatoes, chop them into even sized chunks; add the potatoes to the boiling water and bring back to the boil. Rub the fish fillet all over with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper.

When your potatoes are halfway cooked, place the fish into a colander, and place the colander over the pot of boiling potatoes. Turn the heat down and cook for 8-10 minutes, until the fish and potatoes are both cooked.

Remove the fish from the colander and put to one side. Drain the potatoes in the same colander, then return them to the pot and let them steam dry for a minute. Mash the potatoes, spreading the mash round the sides of the pan to help it cool down quickly. When the potatoes are cooled, put it into a bowl and flake the fish into it with 1 tablespoon of flour. Add the egg and chopped green onions with a really good pinch of salt and pepper. Finely grate over the lemon zest, then mash and mix it up really well.

Shape cakes into 1 cup rounds and place onto a flour-dusted sheet of parchment paper. Chill for one hour in the refrigerator. Then freeze or fry to serve.

To fry: heat a heavy-bottomed skillet (cast iron) over medium-high heat. Add two tablespoons neutral oil and heat until shimmering. Add fish cakes and do not disturb for 5 minutes (no peeking!). Flip and cook for 3-5 more minutes until nicely browned and crisp.

Food truck fleet updates

Portland food trucks are coming out of hibernation, so we thought we’d check in with the existing fleet for an update on their upcoming season. First, the good news: most truck owners were very happy with their first year of service in Portland. Only one truck ran out of gas, so to speak, after a season in Back Cove Park — Portside Picnic. Owner Rich Earle cites costly permits as well as size and location restrictions as his reasons for closure.

In fact, only a handful of trucks manage to operate successfully on city property. Gusto’s Italian’s business is booming, serving filled flatbread cones and fried snacks to late night revelers in the Old Port. But owner Jim Chamoff says parking is difficult to find late at night (city regulations allow for the operation of food trucks in any non-residential area after 10 pm). As a result, Gusto’s employees head out to find parking at 5 or 6 pm and then have to run generators for several additional hours to power the truck’s refrigerators.

The owners of El Corazon established themselves on Spring Street at Temple Street, serving Mexican fare to the business crowd on weekdays. Food trucks are allowed to operate on designated streets as long as they feed the meters. El Corazon owner April Garcia says it’s particularly important to maintain a consistent presence in one location: “We established this spot as this is where we are; people know we’re going to be there.”

Kevin Sandes of Urban Sugar Mobile CafĂ© (the mini-donut truck) only experienced a few months of service in Portland last fall before heading to Sugarloaf for the winter. He tried his luck on Commercial Street by the cruise ship dock, hoping to capture tourists’ business as they came off the boat. But he found the limited space allowed for food truck parking was taken up by the cruise ship vans taking passengers on daytrips. Kevin and his wife Valeri will be back this season, operating on city property during the week and in Portland Flea-for-All’s parking lot on Sundays.

Most trucks choose to rent space from a private business on the peninsula or motor out of Portland altogether. The Small Axe food truck’s chefs sold their carefully-crafted breakfast fare to Tandem Coffee’s customers in East Bayside and leased space in a parking lot next to City Hall for lunch service. This year, owners Bill Leavy and Karl Deuben easily renewed their food truck’s operational permit with the city and plan to serve lunch and dinner from the privately-owned lot. Deuben said, “Our process with [City Hall] was really smooth, in that they sent us a renewal form and we sent them money, and we want to keep it like that.”

Nate Underwood’s Wicked Good truck headed out to Peaks Island, where he served “wicked” items like chicken and waffles. With a second truck in Portland this year, Underwood hopes to emphasize the revamped “good” side of the menu, with vegan items from Modern Vegan’s Chris McClay.

Last August, the city changed its regulations to allow food trucks to cluster, like at the popular monthly Flea Bites event in the Portland Flea-for-All parking lot in Bayside. Flea Bites returns in May, and Jack Barber of Mainely Burgers plans to participate. Barber is looking forward to “creat[ing] a destination where everyone in the family can find something they like.”

Four new trucks are launching this year: Ana’s Mobile Gourmet was recently spotted serving Mexican food and plans to launch full-time mid-May. Good Shepherd’s food truck has just started serving at special events, with all proceeds going to the Food Bank. Fishin’ Ships, with a variety of fish ‘n chips, plans to launch this summer; and Anywhere Coffee Bar from Gorham Grind is aiming to be in operation June 1.

Scope out this year’s mobile fleet at the upcoming Street Eats & Beats event, featuring Gusto’s Italian, Wicked Good, El Corazon, Small Axe, PB&ME, Love Cupcakes, Good Shepherd, Pinky D’s (Lisbon Falls), and Sweet Tomatoes (Boston).

STREET EATS & BEATS | Saturday, May 3, 12-5 pm | Ocean Gateway Lot | $10 |

Originally published in the Portland Phoenix, April 25, 2014