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Best $12 Dinner I've Had In Years -- in Portland

The "Fish of the Day" last night was pollock in a red curry sauce over brown rice topped with roasted vegetables. Probably the best $12 dinner plate I've had (in the US) in the past couple of years. Large, succulent pieces of (lightly pan fried?) crumb-topped fish. And there was enough leftover for today's lunch (albeit a rather small lunch because I couldn't stop eating it last night).

Atlantic pollock is one of those fish that can stand up to a fragrant, somewhat zingy sauce, and the red curry with a touch of coconut milk was delightful. The brown rice underlying the dish sauced up nicely, and the medley of veggies was perfectly al denté. Accompanied by a lovely (if nameless) and generously poured white wine, my bill was under $20 -- that's remarkable, hence the 5-star rating. (The last time you could have a fine meal with a drink for that price was in the 80s, but the food wasn't nearly as good.)

This place is a real find for the foodie on a budget. Seems to be frequented by a mostly under-30 crowd of art student types drinking chai and looking beautiful. Ambiance is a bit rough, but at these prices I didn't expect Locke Ober.

So to whoever's cooking back there, kudos, and thanks, and namaste.

Local Sprouts Cafe & Bomb Diggity Bakery
649 Congress St, Portland, ME 04101

When a review is not terribly objective.

This started out as a review of Trattoria Toscana, but I think I'm touching on a larger topic -- to what degree is our perception of a restaurant -- food, service, ambiance -- colored by how we feel about the company we're with?

A case in point is last night's dinner. It's 5pm on a Saturday night. A lovely but lunch-less afternoon at the Isabella Stuart Gardner museum is followed by a sun-setting, pink-tinged walk through the Fens. Toscana has just opened. The waiter and part owner shows us to a window seat and points out the sights along the Via Condotti (Jersey St.). Everything in the place is so damn jolly. Everyone seems to be smiling. The decor is actually pretty plain, but the warmth of the staff intercedes. The person I'm with is beautiful and smart and funny.

Look. There is no way this meal will not go well, there is such great karmic momentum. I'll rave about the fresh funghi porcini risotto -- a rare (it's almost always made with dried porcini) savory pudding with little taste explosions of the mushrooms) throughout -- comfort food on steroids, perfectly done (though the presentation is plain, it will remind you of eating at grandma's).

The mozzarella di bufala app with olives and tomatoes is the perfect start. But am I really tasting this creamy delight without prejudice when I feed her a sun dried tomato with olive oil dripping down my fingers?

The other dish we shared was the cod with pasta. It had a lovely and delicate infusion of the sea combined with just a pinch of red sauce, the hint of tomatoes brightening the dish. We toast to life, and I see my affection for the food reflected in the deep pools of her soft brown eyes.

On the other hand, what if I'd gone to dinner with a professional colleague? Would we have pushed our reviewers' hats firmly onto our heads and been smart and critical, pointing out flaws real or imagined (wasn't the risotto just a bit salty?) which I missed with my more intoxicating companion?

In the event, we were at Tratoria Toscanna for over 3 hours. Night settled in. The place filled up. Tables turned. We lost track of the time. Too many stories, too much laughter, too lovely a night. The staff never pressured us to move along, rather they indulgently filled our glasses and smiled at us.

It's sometimes hard to know when love of the moment compromises an objective review of a plate of linguine.

Trattoria Toscana
130 Jersey St, Boston, MA 02215

Nov 14, 2010
marcus509 in Greater Boston Area

getting romantic in metro west?

hello all, I'm planning a birthday dinner for the SO. metro west is much easier for us, esp on a friday night -- is there anything remotely romantic or food-sensual in those environs??

Oct 14, 2010
marcus509 in Greater Boston Area

Vacationing in VT - need suggestions for great restaurants and things to do

If you and your boyfriend are passing through Brattleboro, in southern Vermont, there is a brew-pub there making some of the most interesting beer you will find anywhere on the east coast. In the manner of a no-nonsense German brewhaus, with long community tables and a bar, it is an idiosyncratic and very local (few tourists) place that is just waiting to be discovered. The beer, I say again, is absolutely extraordinary — built with loving care by the very shy Ray McNeil (he may be sitting with you at the bar, but you'd never know) it will stand up to any beer I've had anywhere in the world. There's usually a few "real ales" on tap (hand pumped w/ no extra carbonation) which most people in this country have never experienced. Go for the beer (he likes dark? Imperial Stout is to die for), the food is peanuts (so is the wine, sorry). Cheap. Kind of a zoo, especially when there's live music.

On the other hand, Brattleboro also has one of the finest restaurants in New England -- Peter Havens. I would recommend any night except Saturday when it can get too busy. Been there for around 20 years, and consistently as good as anything you'd get outside of Boston. The venison in a red wine sauce (it's sometimes on special New Zealand red flown in) made me want to pick up my plate an lick it. Swordfish in a sweet buerre blanc is always a favorite. Expensive but worth it.