Thursday, May 24, 2018

First Look at Eaux Portland

Ed. note: Eaux is temporarily closed while it moves to a bigger location. Chef/owner Evan Richardson is also opening Cafe Louie in South Portland. Check out my post on New Restaurants in South Portland, Maine for more information about that project.

Former food cart Eaux opened its brick and mortar last night, and I was particularly excited about this move. I'd always wanted to try the Cajun-themed cart, but never managed to catch it (I guess my days of hanging for hours at breweries have waned). 

So I walked down to the Old Port last night, a particularly nice night, to have dinner at Eaux, now operating in the former home of Crooners and Cocktails on upper Exchange Street. 

Eaux's decor is pretty minimalist, something I figure they'll embellish as they go, but the space is nice with big windows and a pressed tin ceiling. The tables in the back get a little dark, but it could be seen as cozy. 

There's no host stand, but we were greeted immediately by a waitress, one of two, who ended up being our server. We sat ourselves at a two top and she dropped menus quickly. I ordered a daiquiri from the cocktail list—filled with New Orleans classics like Sazerac and Hurricane. 

A. ordered a Goodfire draft beer from a list exclusively filled with local beers, representing the breweries that hosted the food cart, from Industrial Way to the East Bayside breweries. 

The food menu offers 6 starters and 6 entrees, and I knew from social media posts that I was having the chicken and waffles. So I ordered a few plates of vegetable snacks to round out the meal. 

I didn't know what to expect with the chilled Brussels sprouts ($8), a salad of halved Brussels, mustard greens, cider vinegar, and sassafras. At first I thought it was strange, but then found it oddly compelling. It was tangy, creamy, and crunchy... but you've got to like Brussel sprouts to enjoy them in this preparation versus the oh-so-popular fried version.

The crispy yams ($6) also impressed, indeed crispy and chewy, served with a sweet roasted onion puree and a horseradish cream sauce. Boiled peanuts, a farro salad with shrimp and rhubarb, and fried butter beans are other snacks well representing the Southern genre. 

After a pleasant break—not too short, just long enough for me to wonder if there was starting to be an issue—our entrees arrived (I don't think there was an issue, I think we've all just become accustomed to having all our food arriving all at once.) A. enjoyed his gumbo with shrimp and hake, spicy and served over rice. 

I loved my chicken and waffles ($14), with spicy pickled peppers, apple slices, and fried sage leaves. The most striking part was how much flavor the fried chicken had—the breading was pleasantly salty and the chicken was very tender. 

Eaux is a welcome addition to Old Port dining options, and I'm impressed how easily the chef and staff transitioned from a one-man outdoor show to running a full restaurant. Stop into Eaux for a taste of the South, bringing something different to Portland.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Food Round-Up: Mami, Local 188, The Treehouse

It's been quiet around these parts—I haven't been eating out much and haven't even had a recent restaurant opening to bring you! But there's still a few tidbits to share, so here's what I've been up to lately in food.

Weekday Lunch at Mami

okonomiyake with pickled ginger

I always think of Mami on Fore Street as a lunch spot. Maybe it's due to its origins as a food truck, but since I don't work in Portland, I don't go out to for lunch often. But when I was passing through town after a program, I stopped in and grabbed A. from East End Cupcakes and we checked Mami out. 

steamed pork buns and okonomiyake with chopsticks
She had a salmon poké bowl ($13) (but Big Fin Poké still has our hearts) and I had pork buns ($5) and okonomiyake ($12). Both dishes were rich and contained mayonnaise—I should have skipped the savory pancake and ordered some shishito peppers. But I loved Mami's counter service, making it a quick option for lunch or a great happy hour where you won't have to wait for a beer refill. 

salmon poke bowl with fish roe, avocado, seaweed and cucumbers

Brunch at Local 188

Original Roomie A. and I went to the farmers' market bright and early on a Saturday for some plants, then found ourselves considering "brunch" (meaning we wanted a sit-down experience) options at the decidedly non-brunch hour of 9am. We thought of Local 188 and it was a stroke of genius. 

scrambled eggs with herbs and mushrooms, home fries, and english muffins

We had the place to ourselves, our bartender was so friendly and attentive, and the food came out quickly and was perfect. I've experienced some lackluster brunches at Local, probably due to the fact that they were slammed, and so going early was a fantastic experience. A. and I both had the scramble ($11), which that day was with mushrooms, herbs, and goat cheese. We shared a fruit plate ($6), and I really felt like I'd reached peak adulting. 

fruit plate of apples, grapes, berries, oranges, and mango
Dinner at The Treehouse

For a dinner out with friends to celebrate their engagement, we went to The Treehouse, formerly Pat's Café, on Stevens Ave. I'd never been before, so I don't know the history of the place... but they certainly ran with the treehouse motif! It's on the second floor of Pat's Meat Market and is decorated with fairy lights, flowers, and I guess tree branches. It's partitioned off into cozy little spaces and I loved it. I look forward to going back to sit on the outdoor deck in the treetops. 

restaurant interior with twinkle lights and flower, leaf decorations
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The menu featured a lot of repeating elements, like phyllo dough and dishes served "over fettuccine." I had the gulf shrimp saffron sauté ($30) with mussels, bacon, red peppers, tomatoes, shallots, and a saffron cream sauce. There was also half a zucchini—surprise! It was a good meal at a cozy spot, but its prices mean I'll probably stick to drinks and apps when I visit again. 

pasta with zucchini, cheese, mussels, and peppers

Charity Dinner at Oxbow

Finally, I attended a Full Plates, Full Potential benefit dinner at Oxbow, where Rob Evans of Duckfat and his crew cooked. The Duckfat/Oxbow beergarden is nearly ready which allows Evans to cater special events at Oxbow like this one. 

table set with plates, menus, candles, and plant decorations

We enjoyed a three course spring-themed dinner, from scrambled duck eggs eaten out of the shell to a spring-dug parsnip soup topped with burnt marshmallow. The entree was a collection of poultry, from duck meatballs to turkey boudin, prepared on the grill, served with farrow and roasted carrots, and dessert was a sabayon with poached rhubarb and citrus olive oil. 

bowl of parsnip soup with toast on the side
Your next chance to enjoy a Rob Evans prepared feast is June 21st with a VIP night at Oxbow before the Lettuce benefit concert.

And we are due for a flurry of summer openings, so stay tuned for some previews!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Next Big Thing

Today’s diners looking for a restaurant recommendation in a new city often want—and even expect—a novel experience, a quirky environment, or something that makes them feel clued in to the next big thing—and sometimes all three at once. Many of Lark’s destinations deliver just that.

Things that pop-up in the night

Salem, Massachusetts, is known for its pop-ups and their offshoots. On the savory side, for example, we just can’t resist the open secret that is Back Alley Bacon with its pork-centric street food (look on Facebook for its Wednesday night menu).

Feel the need for sweets instead? On weekend nights, get directions to Goodnight Fatty and snack on what some consider the best type of cookies around—ones with crispy edges and gooey centers fresh from the oven—aka “fatties.” Owners Erik and Jennifer Sayce say the idea for their business was born out of their own craving for warm cookies on their walk home from dinner one night. Flavors change each week and range from fruity to decadent, with the signature flavor Midnight Fatty, a chocolate cookie with chocolate chips, pecans, and toffee bits, always a bestseller. And naturally, a bottomless glass of milk is available. Goodnight Fatty began popping up in coffee shops and breweries in 2016, while Erik and Jennifer got a feel for consumer demand and searched for retail space. In 2017, they found their own space. The unexpected and somewhat hard-to-find location—an unassuming conference room rented from a media company in a building down an alley behind Rockafellas and Ledge restaurants— maintains the in-the-know pop-up vibe.

Customers love pop-ups partly because of that feeling of being in on a secret, according to Jennifer. “They also know that they are supporting a fledgling business and getting a unique experience,” she adds.

Another popular pop-up, Rover Bagel outgrew borrowed spaces in Salem as well and found a permanent home in Biddeford, Maine. The bakery is known for its crackly Montreal-style bagels, which are baked in wood-fired ovens. Before moving, the owners had used Bambolina’s ovens in the mornings when the restaurant wasn’t open.

What will the next pop-up sensation be? Check in at Notch Brewery, the Far From The Tree Cider tasting room, and Deacon Giles Distillery, which often host new pop-ups, and you might be one of the first to discover it.

Back Alley Bacon
Goodnight Fatty: 18 Higginson Square, Salem, MA
Rover Bagel: 111 Elm Street, Biddeford, ME

The world at your fingertips

You might think it’s hard to execute food from all over the world well, but Street does just that. This casual eatery’s menu of global street fare reflects influences ranging from Thai and Korean, to Italian and Mexican, served up as what Chef Joshua Lanahan describes as “simple food of the people.”
To find this hidden gem, don’t worry when your GPS guides you to the back of a nondescript strip mall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Inside, owners Joshua and his wife, Michelle Lozuaway, who handles the front of the house, have transformed the space into a cozy bar and restaurant with spray-painted graffiti and colorful murals.

With crispy, sticky sweet Korean fried chicken, lacquered Thai ribs, spicy pork dumplings, and a cast-iron skillet of crispy rice bibimbap, Street nails these popular Asian street food dishes. Empanadas, tacos, and yucca fries represent the Southern hemisphere, with the cemita—an overstuffed Mexican sandwich with a slab of fried cheese and your choice of a fried chicken thigh or a veggie burger—frequently stealing the show.

On the inventive cocktails menu, the Unbeetable is a customer favorite: beet infused vodka with muddled cucumber and mint, chili simple syrup, and lemon, topped with ginger beer. In short, the perfect combination of earthy and spicy.

And don’t skip dessert—the Italian zeppole are expertly fried, dusted with powdered sugar, and served in a brown paper bag.

Street: 801 Islington Street, Portsmouth, NH

Keep on truckin'

Metzy’s Taqueria—the first food truck in Newburyport, Massachusetts—was an instant hit when the truck parked near the beach on Plum Island in 2014. (The route is expanding to include the nearby beaches of Salisbury and Amesbury.) Owner Erik Metzdorf quickly realized he needed to expand his commissary kitchen space to handle the demand for Chef Brad DeLibero’s take on Mexican street food.

Metzdorf found space at the town’s train station and launched Metzy’s Cantina, which allowed for year-round dining. This is not some quaint historical train station turned hipster hangout—this is an active, commuter rail station. Metzdorf has worked hard to transform the industrial space into a bright and warm cantina. “We took a blighted piece of public property and turned it into something the community can be proud of,” says Metzdorf. “We created an engaging gateway to the city.”

The cantina’s ample kitchen space allows the restaurant to augment tacos and burritos with soups, salads, and daily specials. Start with sweet potato and black bean hush puppies served with chipotle sour cream or the slow-cooked pork belly ribs finished with maple bourbon sauce and served with sweet potato fries. Wash down a pork belly taco, lined with shredded cabbage and piled high with crispy cubes of fried meat and a mango habanero salsa, with Melt Away Session IPA from Newburyport Brewing Co.

Metzy’s Cantina: 4067, 5 Boston Way, Newburyport, MA

This will float your boat

Everyone who visits Kennebunk, Maine, expects two things: lobster and a good view of the ocean. While many restaurants serve up both, one in particular takes waterfront dining to the next level—The Spirit of Massachusetts Restaurant, a historical schooner turned floating restaurant. Once an educational nonprofit’s training vessel, The Spirit of Massachusetts languished in Portland, Maine for a few years until it was discovered by Dwight Raymond, the owner of The Pilot House, a local favorite in Kennebunk’s Lower Village. Dwight acquired the dilapidated schooner and worked with his son, Nick, to retrofit into a restaurant, which took about a year and a half. Docked behind The Pilot House and next to First Chance Whale Watch, The Spirit opened in the summer of 2016. Its tall masts rise above all others, a beacon for thirsty sailors and hungry travelers alike.

You enter the restaurant via the metal gangway, sometimes a steep descent when the tide is low. The boat’s masts, booms, and rigging are all still in place but now support a tent that provides shade. Sloped to follow the curve of the boat’s deck, a polished wood bar runs the length of the deck. Descend a wooden staircase to the main cabin, which serves as the dining room. Choose from cushioned banquette or wooden bench seating around tables that are bolted to the floor. The aft cabin is a fully functional kitchen, with steamed lobsters passed up through the hatch when an order’s up.

The Spirit’s menu is primarily seafood, with a raw bar selection of local oysters and clams on the half shell, shrimp cocktail, and chilled lobster tails. Some diners go casual with a pound of peel and eat shrimp, liberally dusted with Old Bay, and slices of Andouille sausage. Others channel Kennebunk chic with ahi tuna poke and seaweed salad.

Maine craft beers, like Sebago Simmer Down Session Ale, are on tap, and the cocktail menu sports beachy options like Painkillers and Dark and Stormys. Owner Kylie Raymond says, “There’s really nothing like sitting on the deck of a boat in the summer—the sea breeze, having a cocktail. It’s the number-one reason people visit us.”

The Spirit of Massachusetts Restaurant: 4 Western Avenue, Kennebunk, ME

This article was originally published in Lark Hotels' magazine in May 2018.