Friday, March 30

The Porthole

Because of its proximity to tour busses and whale watching boats, its briny interior and peeling facade, The Porthole, at 20 Custom House Wharf, has established itself as the city's most photographed restaurant. It's Portland's version of the white "American Gothic" house in Eldon, Iowa (the backdrop for Grant Wood's painting and the backdrop for hundreds of snapshots annually). Only the Porthole is far more accessible and open to the public - with a lunchcounter, rosemary potatoes and plastic cups of beer.

Best served in late summer, like Escauriaza's painting at right. Just add the booze-fueled crowds.

Thursday, March 29

Bresca

"I don't know why she doesn't have a man friend. She's a very attractive woman."

Overhearing conversations at Bresca, 111 Middle Street, is inevitable.

"I don't know why she doesn't have a mammogram. She's a very attractive woman."

Overhearing them accurately may be another matter altogether. The point: It's a small and intimate space - a neighborhood restaurant across Franklin Art from the more neighborly side of Middle Street. It has dim lights, candles, birch logs, smooth jazz and smooth masculine wood tables. Ascot-wearing symphonygoers sit back-to-back with a drone checking the location of Catalonia on his glowing Blackberry. So, go on the business account. Go for the expensive European food (not that you couldn't find that at Fore Street, Cinque Terra, Cafe Uffa! or [fill in the blank]).

But with a slawlike brussel sprout salad with pecorino and walnut, Bresca may have some firsts. Delicate house-made chestnut and pumpkin agnolotti with chicken liver sauce. A beet salad with fried ricotta, hazelnut, and small diced cubes of beet, arranged perfectly. Only they don't brandish the intense balance of flavors that Rob Evans, her closest neighbor, has crafted at Hugo's. Other pasta course "firsts" - strozzapreti and kerchiefs - were fresh and filling ($8 to $18, sized from app to entree to family).

The $18+ seconds, ranging from pork chop and steak to whole fish, pale in comparison. Not to mention desserts, like dry, cakey deconstructed tiramisu, which try a too hard to be at once edgy and authentic.

Krista Kern, an intense ponytailed woman, who occasionally appears behind a row of wine bottles - bottles that hang over your dinner when seated, er smushed, at the "bar" - seems to run this place solo. Her waitstaff tripped. Over chairs, over questions and over the use of a cheese grater.

While the place may bumble at times, Kern manages to fill the 20-seat restaurant - even on winter weekdays - with consistently-cooked, well-executed meals. If only the intimate conversations in this petite place revolved solely around her vision, which is at once personal and precise.

Also, Bresca now serves lunch.

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Week in Review Mar. 29

A dog and a cat reportedly died from tainted pet food, national pet food sales topped $12 billion, and marine biologists attributed clam flat closures to dog shit.

Burger King, which has derided “chick food,” announced plans to prohibit its pigs from being raised in crates. Los Angeles chef Wolfgang Puck discontinued offering foie gras but continued to kill lobsters by cutting them in half.

Fishing in New England was out of whack. One environmentalist said, "Millions of people will die if we don't get this right."

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Tuesday, March 27

Fore Street

Fore Street's seafood may come from Massachusetts (via Sea Fresh, part of the Fore Street/ Street & Co./ Standard/ Two Fat Cats "family"). But that's another story.

This just in: Chef Sam Hayward cooked with the Oprah of interior design Ms. Martha Stewart (sorry, couldn't find Martha's TV show; if you do, post the link under comments). He also gave a recent local seasonal parsnip tip to Newsweek.

Sam Hayward, a Buckeye state native, formerly of 22 Lincoln and the Side Door Cafe, Brunswick, and now chef at the Fore Street, 288 Fore Street, has been heralded as the center of Portland's food revival, by some elitist foodie publicists, ahem, journalists: Corby Kummer (repeatedly), Christine Mulke and Nancy Harmon Jenkins (over and over).

Hayward decends from a long line of hippie entrepenuers. He is known for cooking without shoes, and his wood-roasted mussels have been called a single-dish public relations campaign for the mussel. He serves a mean venison, chicken liver and seared hunks of hangar steak; he serves micro-greens and baby halibut. Anyone can, and does, go to Fore Street.

As Wal-Mart tends to its local PR, the local hero Hayward heads up a nation-wide PR effort.

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Friday, March 23

Katahdin

"Let's go to Katahdin!"

"No."

"Cheapest pitchers in town."

-Two kids with dreadlocks in Longfellow Square.

Thursday, March 22

Week in Review Mar. 22

The hybrid King Harry potato, awarded a Mailorder Gardening Association's Green Thumb Award, sold from Wood Prairie Farm. Portland Press Herald readers liked Fore Street better than Hugo's. Hugo's Chef Rob Evans received a James Beard nomination for Best Chef New England, one of two Maine restaurants. No nominations went to chefs in upstate NY, VT, NH or RI. Rosie's was about to become one of Esquire's best bars.

Free coffee went out at the New England Products Trade show, 3 large Italians continued to sell for $8.99 at Anania's, and The Masons and Gov. John Baldacci ate $7 worth of spaghetti and salad to help a 5-year old with leukemia. Saddam Hussein reportedly prefers Raisin Bran over Froot Loops.

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Monday, March 19

Produce

Chef Erik Desjarlais, of Ladle, 58 Exchange, plans a butcher shop, bakery, soup shop and restaurant. He also plans a greengrocer – a la Boston’s #9 Park – “if someone else didn’t do it first.”

A reopened Hilltop Coffee, in the cement bunker at 90 Congress (formerly Stu d.o.), includes plans for becoming more like the Rosemont bakery with fresh produce, as well as a rooftop deck.

The Munjoy Hill food coop, which meets at 5 p.m. the first and third Sundays at A Company of Girls, would like to make the Adams schools a community center, yoga studio and a store selling "natural, healthy, organic, locally produced, cruelty-free, fair-trade, sustainably-produced" food.

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Friday, March 16

Wal-Mart

It may be easier to find a Maine potato in a Wal-Mart than either of Portland's supernaturals, Wild Oats and Whole Foods. And "Get Real, Get Maine!" banners may soon be hanging inside the megaretailer. That's right, folks, Wal-Mart is the new local. Brought to you by the Maine potato farmer.

By now, you know "Big Organic" means Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, Safeway and Costco. Buy it under the Kellogg, General Mills and Philip Morris labels. Let's face it, Julie Guthman writes in Agrarian Dreams (2004), organic has replicated what it set out to oppose.

But what about local? Local groups advocating "local" range in scale.

City-sized: Portland Buy Local brought you a snazzy outline of city skyline for shop windows (remarkably similar to Coffee By Design) and Keep Portland Real brought you a temporary ban on Hooters, er, national chains.

Regional: the Boston-based Phoenix touts "mom & pop" shops alongside Boston's hottest phone sex.

National: Texas-based Whole Foods Market markets the Local and Organic Experience.

Two hundred years ago, pioneer health food nut Sylvester Graham promoted the whole wheat (Graham) cracker as a remedy for lewdness (caused, of course, by chicken pot pie), and later the corn flake John Harvey Kellogg urged yogurt enemas to cure dyspepsia. Sixties cookbook author Ita Jones argued that eating rice pilaf was revolutionary (the Vietnamanese ate it, you see).

Today, we've got "all-natural" Velveeta and "naturally-flavored" 7-Up, "local" rutabegas from Vermont (because they're "organic") and Portland lobsters trucked in from Stonington (because they're "humane"). But if the "local" PR - even from Wal-Mart and State Dept. of Ag. - actually adds up to meaning Maine-made, then, eat up.

Remember, the supermarkets are only fit for looting: Take what is needed and leave.

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Bonobo

The old Supreme Pizza at 46 Pine Street gets a brick-oven, said the building's tenant/ contractor/ pizza dude. Maybe more than supreme.

The place will be "Bonobo," and reportedly his "wet dough method" (30 seconds on parchment paper) makes for thin, crispy crust. Slated for a May opening.

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Switch

SWITCH arrived on the scene. It reviews those Irish pubs suitable for tourists and international food markets suitable for the faint of heart. This lifestyle rag's owned by the Press Herald and if one trying columnist's reference to "Jello shooters" is any indication, it may already be time to turn off, tune out and Switch off.

Besides, most of the content is coming from a vegan "Whole Foods fanatic" (her words). Add Avery Yale Kamila to the list of uncritical "critics."

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Thursday, March 15

Week in Review Mar. 15

Free lunches for Subway workers cost store owners 5 percent of the sandwiches cost. Plastic surgery caused restaurant managers to card patrons under 4o. A man who left the Big Apple with a 6-pack and chips, and pulled a knife on a Somali cab driver, in 2005 was convicted of reckless conduct.

"I think this would cause people to rethink any consumption of alcohol at all," a restaurant spokesman said about lowing OUI limits to .06.

Shipyard Brewing reportedly smelled of roasted barley three times a day, Coffee by Design burnt its beans, and sawdust permeated the North Star Cafe.

"When you're under 21," a 19-year old said, "it's an awkward time in your life."

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Tuesday, March 13

Wild Burritos

Wild Burritos opened last Saturday. Don't chalk it up as another Granny’s, Herb’s Gully, Mesa Verde and Federal Spice (somewhat inexpensive taco slop within walking distance of the dorms). It's cheap. Centered on Congress. Though at 10 minutes a fixin', it's not exactly fast. And there's not a whole lot to look at while you wait.

Bright lime walls, mirrors and the two tough-looking bald proprieters, all of which may be slightly deceiving. The service: not gruff. Tortillas: lightly filled with spicy beef, beans and/or chicken. No lime. A delicate sprig of meclun. Not overwhelmed by a hodgepodge of ill-advised flavors. Salsa. And at $1.5o a soft taco and about $3 for a burrito, this shouldn't be relegated to student fodder.

While the real comida may be elsewhere - La Bodega Latina, Tu Casa, La Bodega “El Caribe” (which may be expanding its food options at 656 Congress Street come summer), and “Loco Pollo” (a “Yucatan eatery” opening at the old Wicked Pulp, 56 Washington, in April) - Wild Burritos is worth at least a quick lunch.

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Monday, March 12

Bill's Pizza

Dale Peck famously characterized Rick Moody as "the worst writer of his generation.” Some called Peck's review a “hack job.” If pizza were contemporary literature, then Bill’s Pizza, by far, would be the worst story in Portland.

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Thursday, March 8

Week in Review Mar. 8

“Perhaps we like to spend our hard-earned dollars on healthy food, rather than Budweiser and nitrate-infused hot dogs,” one shopper said about the urban shopping experience on Somerset.

One fifth of city residents reportedly experienced hunger. The city has 4 major supermarkets, and alcohol can be purchased at close to 300 locations. Police announced a sting on 20 bars and restaurants for serving underage drinkers; none of the offender’s lowest-priced drink totaled more than $3.50.

“If they’re gonna have a keg party,” one Maine vintner said, “they’re not going to want to send away to some boutique winery.”

Police presence at Venue reportedly closed the Forest Avenue bar and restaurant. High school groups worried about the closing of The Pavilion, and City Councilor Kevin Donoghue compared the Old Port seat tax, a fee charged to bar owners for added police protection, to funding public schools with a knapsack tax.

A murder of crows flocked to Back Cove Park, California winemaker Earnest Gallo died, and Herbie, a rescued harbor seal that is essentially blind, reportedly cannot hunt for food.

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Wednesday, March 7

Is PWM SFO?

"It is rumored Ptld has more restaurants per capita than any other city other than San Francisco- 1,100."
-City of Portland

"In a city that claims to be second only to San Francisco in restaurants per capita...."
-Gourmet

“486 restaurants within city limits feed the oft repeated rumor that only San Francisco can claim more per capita.”

"For its citizens who wish it to be San Francisco, the city succeeds; the arts scene, cuisine, history, and waterfront are exhilarating."
-National Geographic

"... Portland has more restaurants per capita than any other U.S. city except San Francisco, and many serve a lot more than just lobster rolls and a good bowl of 'chowdah.'"

"In the past few years, the city's dining scene has been compared to that of San Francisco, and both the city's chefs and its restaurants are regularly featured in magazines like Gourmet, Saveur and Food & Wine."
-Washington Post

“Some believe that where there are hippies, there is (eventually) good food. It's certainly true of Portland, Me.... It’s a city with a high resident-to-restaurant ratio, in a state where the most-visited restaurant is the Olive Garden.”
-New York Times

The chef and owner of Fore Street, Sam Hayward, had much to do with Portland's, and Maine's, current status as the happening New England place to open a restaurant or start an artisan food business—a veritable Bay Area of the East.
-The Atlantic

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Saturday, March 3

Chowder

A large pot of victuals was prepared. They called it Chouder. Chouder may be made of any good fish, but the ingredients of our mess were as follows:
1, fat pork; 2, flounders; 3, onions; 4, codfish; 5, biscuit. (OED)
1, Times writer, Molly O'Neill, got nailed for her one-note lobster chowder: Old fisherman retire, she wrote, and sell days-at-sea quotas to large corporate fishing concerns that operate monster boats that can pull up to a million pounds in a single six-hour tow, denuding a swath of ocean. The quotas aren't transferable to larger boats and groundfisherman can only catch thousands in one tow.

2, This just in. Local is the new organic, Time magazine says. But not all local is local. Salon critiqued Big Local in January. Locals desk jockeys rehashed the same old big bad Big Organic (again and again and again) without keeping pace with recent conversations in the Michael Pollan/John Mackey debate. In short, locals flounder.

3, Sorry folks. This is a crying shame.

4, Mims Brasserie began offering lighter fare, including "bouilliabaise," after a one-week hiatus. Parlez-vous fusion cooking?

5, Saveur ran with a recipe from Sam Hayward of Fore Street for chowder, including Maine shrimp (also here) but no biscuits. Larder up, kids!

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Friday, March 2

Norm's

"It's not all love and burlap."

-A patron at Norm's describes the new Whole Foods.

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Thursday, March 1

Week in Review Mar 1.

Plans for a renovated Maine State Pier showed new restaurants on the waterfront, and local officials overturned a prohibition on chain restaurants, opening the city again to a possible Hooters Restaurant. KFC franchises introduced a Fish Snacker sandwich, which the company asked Pope Benedict to bless as an appropriate meal for lent. Two churches hosted haddock suppers.

Longnose suckers, White suckers and Creek chubsuckers are still among the permitted live bait fish, and parking at Somerset Market, the city's designation for Texas-based Whole Foods, reportedly "sucks."

Goat and sheep owners may need state IDs for their animals. During a state hearing on animal IDs last year, farmers pelted inspectors with manure. A recent television spot for Hood's low-fat milk, produced by Portland's Via, urges viewers not to cry over spilt milk.

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