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Maine hounds SF trip report [long]

Many thanks to all the great suggestions in response to my request [991528, originally 10/7]. I promised a report, which follows here.
LaMar: simply amazing, our first taste of contemporary Peruvian. We shared the halibut cebiche, which fully lived up to expectations, followed by a sampler of causa (tuna, crab). SO then loved the empanada with flambéed crimini mushrooms; she commented on how unexpectedly light the crust was. My anticuchos polpo was probably the best octopus dish I’ve ever eaten: firm and beautifully grilled. We left with a whole new range of tastes on our palates.

Dosa on Filmore. This was the one restaurant that showed up in every list and recommendation we consulted, and we weren’t disappointed. Service was great: the day before, we changed our party from 3 to 5: no problem. South Indian food is less easy to find in Portland, so that alone made the evening a treat. Highlights were mostly on the appetizer list: outstanding kale pakora, seafood vada, and shredded duck Vindaloo. Only criticism: the duck wasn’t hot enough! We shared a range of entrees, all delicious. Wine list was well balanced with the food, and our server was very helpful on both food and wine choices. Excellent value.

Nopalito: we got this rec from you folks, but hadn’t planned to seek it out Then, wandering out of GG Park and needing lunch, there it was! Glad we got there: service was friendly, food was very good. SO thought the tacos de pescado were the best she had our whole trip (and she’s very particular about this favorite food), and I really loved the flavors in the torta de chilorio: totally fine take on “pulled pork,” which I usually find boring.

Yank Sing: completely lived up to the many mentions on this and other sites. Our favorite dumpling was probably the crab & shrimp.

Bar Tartine: this was our major disappointment. We saw lots of advance hype, and the menu was fascinating. But for the most part, this was a “meh” experience. Three of us shared a number of small plates, including cukes in preserved veggie sauce, smoked potatoes (probably our favorite dish), Brussels sprouts with tonnato sauce and bottarga, and the black cod in green chili broth. The latter was an overpriced piece of fish, exactly one medium forkful for each of us for $27. The green chili flavor was barely discernable. While the vibe is nice, the wines fairly well-selected and priced, and the service good, this doesn’t meet the standard we expected. Fortunately, we ended our trip the next night at ...

Slanted Door. In this case, all the advance recs from you and others completely lived up to expectations. We couldn’t get a reservation, but showed up early and ate at the bar in the company of a very personable and knowledgeable server who attended to our every want. Among other services, he let us know that half portions were available for a number of dishes, and recommended those he thought we would enjoy while still getting enough to eat. That began with the daikon rice cakes with shiitakes, shallots, and sweet chili soy. What an amazing and unexpected dish! We gobbled it up, and went on to half portions of two salads: green papaya, and grapefruit/jicama. Excellent acidity and palate-cleansing in both. For entrees, SO chose the crab cellophane noodles while I thoroughly enjoyed your Pacific squid, a nice preparation with thai basil and sweet red pepper. I particularly applaud the wine list: mostly European, clearly intended to complement the intense flavors of the food with acidity, tannins, and great balance. I tasted three reds, the favorite being a Rouge Frais from Corsica. Again, our server selected wines by the glass that would work with the food and his extremely accurate perceptions of our tastes. All in all, a wonderful place that you’re very fortunate to have.

Again, we were very appreciative of your suggestions, and will be happy to reciprocate when you visit the fabulous food scene here in lovely Portland-by-the-Gulf-of-Maine.

East coast hounds visit Healdsburg

A short trip report: we drove up for two nights in H’burg from SFO, arriving well after dark. Decided to eat late rather than going hungry into the vineyards to our B&B: good choice, as we found Bravas Tapas! We ate in the back courtyard, a nice vibe with excellent attention from servers. We shared 3 plates: the crimini mushroom escabeche, the patatas bravas, and then the crab fiduea. All were delicious: full of flavor, and nicely filling, even for small plates. The fiduea was substantial enough for a take-home portion to enjoy the next morning with eggs! Wines were fairly priced, and not too fruity for our taste. Wish we had been able to return to taste the larger plates, but were very pleased with our choice.

We had found here and elsewhere rave reviews of Spoonbar, and so ate there with friends Saturday evening after a day in the vineyards. Disappointing doesn’t begin to describe our experience. The house was busy but not slammed when we arrived, and so we expected reasonable attention. Our table shared the goat cheese sope, probably the best thing we ate all evening. The beet boudin was an interesting concept, but definitely underseasoned given the expectation of Asian spicing. When our first course was cleared, our server returned within a few minutes to reset and tell us that our entrees would be out shortly. 20 minutes later…no food, and no sign of the server. When our entrees finally arrived, the longbeans (which had been requested as a main, not an ap) were barely warm; same was true of the quinoa & brassica dish a la plancha. Clearly, these had been sitting on the counter for some time. We asked for the stone-faced manager, who on arrival barely acknowledged that there might be a problem, and to rectify offered only to re-submit the order for the soggy items! These eventually arrived, but by this point the other two entrees were being eaten. Of these, the duck dish was decent. My mesquite grilled cobia tasted not at all of the fire: it was just a piece of grilled fish with various root vegetables: good, but certainly not special.
The manager never returned; instead, they comped us three desserts (which we hadn’t ordered), and these were a jumble. For example, caramel sponge with peanut butter mousse frosting, apple gelee, and who knows what all else: very random, and not a complete desert at all. Same for the assemblage of chocolate stuff. For a restaurant of this reputation, it was astonishingly bad.

On the way out of town, after a hike in the redwoods, we stopped in Guerneville for a quick lunch, hankering for classic roadside CalMex. La Tapatia didn’t disappoint: no pretense, but friendly and excellent service, and good basic tastes: fish tacos were nicely cooked, not overbreaded, and fresh tasting. Chile relleno the same. We were very satisfied.

Distinctive in SF for E. Coast [Portland, ME] foodies

As a regular CH poster in Portland, I know how much I dislike seeing the, "where should I eat in Portland?" requests, so am asking your indulgence. SO and I will be in SF for 4 nights later this month, and I'm moved to ask, "in a great food city like SF, what are two or three places in the city proper that will give us a real sense of flavors that are distinctive and unique; what's seasonal and special?" Ethnic taste can be random; one of us doesn't eat meat [does eat fish]. We want the taste of the city as you who live there know it best! Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Probably can only manage one very $$$ place during our stay. Any and all suggestions welcome, and I promise to post a report. Thanks in advance.

Trip Report: Central Provisions disappointingly pretentious

I concur. We've been three times, at dinner hour. Were blown away the first time (the week they opened) but it's been downhill since then: each time more pretentious, and more expensive.

Sep 12, 2014
mainemal in Northern New England

Best sticky buns and cinnamon buns in Maine

I concur about the greatness of the Standard morning bun, with or w/o nuts. I had an excellent, more traditional cinnamon bun at Slate's in Hallowell a week or so ago.

Aug 11, 2014
mainemal in Northern New England

Best restaurants in Portland, Maine

The best not-so-trendy and still wonderful restaurant in Portland, IMHO, still has to be Back Bay Grill. White tablecloth but not the least stuffy, superb service and memorable classic food. If you haven't been there, it should be on your list.

The Lost Kitchen Re-Opening in Freedom, Maine

JB, can you say a little more about your meal, since there's not yet a menu on line? Have also heard via the grapevine (pun intended) that the wine list is good and very reasonably priced.

Jul 25, 2014
mainemal in Northern New England

Maine foodies on the UWS in June: anything wonderful?

Thanks for the suggestions; will report back.

May 29, 2014
mainemal in Manhattan

Acadia/MDI Roadtrip from Boston

It depends a little on where you'll be staying on the island, since at least for breakfast, you might not want to drive from one side to the other. In BH for dinner, we like Mache Bistro a lot for a nicer dinner, and we were pleasantly surprised by the local favorite, Side Street Cafe. You might check the archives of this board for other suggestions. Along the way, lunch at Chase's Daily in Belfast can't be beat.

May 29, 2014
mainemal in Northern New England

Maine foodies on the UWS in June: anything wonderful?

We understand this area is not a hotbed of great choices, but would welcome suggestions for b'fast, brunch, and/or dinner. Any reasonably authentic Chinese (any region), which is something Portland doesn't have? Thanks for any and all ideas.

May 27, 2014
mainemal in Manhattan

Lunch in Bangor?

Haven't lived up that way for more than a decade. Anything decent beyond Bagel Central?

May 20, 2014
mainemal in Northern New England

Wine shops in Portland

I completely concur. RSVP's selection is more mass market; Rosemont is special, and their prices are actually comparable.

May 13, 2014
mainemal in Northern New England

Lunch in Portland in late May

For a great combination of wonderful flavor and value, I think it's hard to beat Pai Men Miyake on Longfellow Sq.

Enio's Eatery [SoPo]: glad to have the Butler's back

Bob and Laura Butler, formerly of Rachel's in Portland, and then off the local map for a few years, have returned to open this casual eatery a bit off the beaten track. It's well worth the visit, as the food [classic Italian non-red sauce] is as good as ever. I started with house-made trout "mousse": dense, flavorful, and a step up from the usual, and then had the most authentic porchetta I've eaten since Italy. My partner really enjoyed a hearty mussel ap, really enough for an entree, while a friend's scallops on a lobster risotto were rich and delicious. I'd have to say that portions are, if anything, a little large: we would have been happier not to feel overwhelmed. We all shared a piece of ricotta cheesecake, again authentic and a great finish: not too sweet. Wines are fairly priced, and work well with the cuisine, and since the owner is "front of the house" service is friendly and attentive. Prices are moderate, if a bit high for a neighborhood spot, but in any case, Laura's food is consistently delicious.

Feb 24, 2014
mainemal in Northern New England

Central Provisions, Portland: first impressions

This newly-renovated space on Wharf St. (upstairs entrance on Fore) is only a few weeks old. 3 of us stopped by last night for wine and before-dinner nibbles, and were pretty impressed. Space is gorgeous: downstairs bar, upstairs open kitchen with tables and chef's bar with stools: warm brick, golden wood, with great music tapes. The focus is smaller plates of various sizes. We had one cold ap (baby artichokes with house-made ricotta and crispy chicken skin) which needed a little more flavor. Two warm ones: really great smoked carrots with a tangy sauce; and after some delay, best dish of the three: roasted brussels sprouts with a great lemon flavor on the outside, perfectly cooked, topped with shaved peccorino & pine nuts: elegant flavor. Wine list is quite interesting, two cocktails were reported as tasty also. Pricing seems about normal for Portland. Will be interested in reading reports from others who've gotten further down the menu to heartier fare.

Feb 07, 2014
mainemal in Northern New England

Traveling in June to Freeport, ME

As you probably know, there's no way to BEGIN to talk about restaurants, since in Freeport you're 20 minutes from Portland. In Freeport, have heard good things about the recently re-opened Jameson's Tavern, and the Broad Arrow Tavern in the Harraseeket Inn is decent. You're 7 minutes from Brunswick, which has a few good places including El Camino [locally sourced Cal-style Mexican, very well prepared] and Athena, a Greek-Italian place with excellent food. But that's just the beginning, and you'll want to follow this board and look in the archives.

Feb 05, 2014
mainemal in Northern New England

Augusta, Maine

Slates is in Hallowell, about 2 m. down the road, where you'll also find The Liberal Cup, one of Maine's best brew pubs with excellent pub-style food.

Jan 31, 2014
mainemal in Northern New England

David's 388 [SoPo]: neighborhood menu and prices, sophisticated tastes

Haven't been to this part of David Turin's well-regarded restaurant group for a while, and were very pleased with our experience this week. Menu seems standard, but everything three of us ate came with an unexpected or subtle nuance that raised the dishes up. Crispy pot stickers had nice bits of dried apricot in the sauce, goat cheese fritters were light as a feather, grilled Caesar with white anchovies quite good (although the dressing needs a lift]. Entrees the kind of thing you'd expect, but again, some different dimensions. My prize was a pork chop "rib eye" [bone off] served with fingerling potatoes that had a hint of smoked paprika. Scallops were perfectly cooked, on an unusual bed of lightly spice squash and green beans for crunch. Mushroom tagliatelle was earthy and not overly sauced. Desserts included a new item, beignet with graham cracker dust and caramel (yum!) and a house standard, chocolate pecan tartlet that everyone loved. Services is warm and attentive, wines very fairly priced. All in all, well worth the five-minute detour over the bridge from the Portland food scene.

Jan 31, 2014
mainemal in Northern New England

Portland lunch - Saturday or Sunday?

As always, I second Bobbert's suggestions, particularly Pai Men. Think you should also consider Novare Res, our local multi-beer spot.

Jan 13, 2014
mainemal in Northern New England

Looking for scrumptious new aps in Portland? Read on!

We get to Caiola's 2-3 times a year, and as the local hounds know, there's almost always something new and flavorful. Last night was no exception: first and craziest is the best deep fried onion ring you've ever tasted (light, crunchy outside, smooth inside)…with Gorgonzola and "bacon jam". The latter is chunky bits of crisp bacon welded together with a fruit of some sort. Just bring me a full plate and I'll skip the entree! The second was a nice bit of innovation: "crab pudding." Think bread pudding rich with crab, a very healthy piece with a lovely light cream sauce.
Everything else was delicious as usual.

Nov 26, 2013
mainemal in Northern New England

Bar Harbor after Christmas: what's open and good?

I know Havana is open, but would welcome other suggestions.

Nov 19, 2013
mainemal in Northern New England

Best Hunan Chelsea - north?

Portland (ME) hounds comin' to Manhattan, staying west side 29th. No good (?? how come??) Chinese of any kind in our foodie city, so our annual NYC trip is a chance to re-acquaint ourselves with the good stuff we ate in China. Suggestions?

Oct 07, 2013
mainemal in Manhattan

Piccolo, Portland: go now before everyone discovers how good it is

Big shoes to fill: the Bresca site. Piccolo is really good already, and I expect it to get better. The space has been modified, so that there's a nice 6 seat bar where food can be served, and 12-14 table spaces: feels more airy, less closed in and noisy, than when Bresca was there. Menu is a intentionally limited, more "traditional" Italian: Abruzzo/Calabria focus. Here's the news: a) very vege-piscaterian friendly (4 of 4 :"sputino" (tastes, but nicely sized); 4 of 5 aps; 2 of 5 entrees; b) almost everything locally sourced and house-made; 3) most important, superb flavor profiles. A few examples: house "pickled" bluefish ap, with fennel, as a de-constructed bruschetta; a winter squash sputino with radish and Italian red pepper: full-flavored and savory; the best lamb ragu I've had outsider of Italy, with a lovely orange nose and house-made cavatelli; squid w/ odd-shaped squid-ink pasta, and a wealth of supporting flavors. If I named everything, this review would get too long. Staff are friendly, welcoming, and very wine-knowledgeable. Desserts are fine: deconstructed tiramisu in a layered glass; excellent and interesting cheese selection (2 local; one unusual version of peccorino). Bottom line: there's everything to love here, at reasonable pricing. Piccolo is going to be BIG, so don't wait.

Oct 07, 2013
mainemal in Northern New England

Maine Lobster Lunch in Portland

Try Old Port Sea Grill on Exchange for an actual restaurant (as compared with a pier shack).

Oct 05, 2013
mainemal in Northern New England

Recent visit to Maine - Jameson Tavern Rave

Thanks for the note. Jameson's was terrible for so long that it's great to hear that a new owner/chef has made the place so much better. Will make a note to try it soon.

Sep 29, 2013
mainemal in Northern New England

Midcoast Maine Food

Wow, sorry to hear about Miranda: we ate lunch there last Saturday, and everything we ordered was tasty and delicious: well-spiced lamb burger and roasted haddock taco.

Sep 05, 2013
mainemal in Northern New England

2 dinners and 3 lunches in Portland in September

None of your possible "one fancier" places rise to that level. For the birthday, I'd think Back Bay Grill, or Bar Lola, if you don't want to try Fore St or 555 or Hugo's. For the
"good but moderately priced" I'd go for Petite Jacqueline, Boda, or Pai Men Miyake, all on Longfellow Square. Lunch at Duckfat should be a must.

Portland- Special dinner with kids

What about Caiola's? Particularly in the summer, you and the family can eat outdoors in their "arbor," and I'm sure you'd find the staff very welcoming of children. While not quite in the 555 / Fore St range, the food is always excellent and interesting. And the kids will adore the polenta fries!

Aug 25, 2013
mainemal in Northern New England

Great shrimp in a lobster pound south of Freeport?

This time of year all Maine shrimp are frozen. That being said most seafood shacks will offer fried shrimp. Haraseeket lunch 'lobster in south Freeport definitely does as does lobster shack @ Two Lights.

Aug 17, 2013
mainemal in Northern New England

Peach season in Maine + peach-based desserts

Actually, local peaches are becoming increasingly more common Maine as climate changes. It's early yet, however: start looking for them in farmer's markets in another 10 days - two weeks. But there's not enough of a crop for a commercial harvest, so local peaches in shortcake or similar dessert will be hard to find: perhaps the occasional pie at a stand, but not likely in a restaurant.

Aug 09, 2013
mainemal in Northern New England