“Build it and they will come” is the loose credo of real estate development, which panned out to be so with Portland developer Jonathan Culley’s opening several months ago of the new multi-family high rise (a whopping 4 stories), at the far-flung residences at 89 Anderson St.  in East Bayside. At the base of the building, now nearly fully rented, is another part of the formula, Baharat, an axiomatically hip, cool, trendy restaurant serving Middle Eastern food, which the city’s millennials are already lapping up after only 5 days in operation.

The Baharat main event at the bar

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As a child at the family table, rice was anathema to my foodpreferences.  Yet my mother served it often as the side dish to a main course.  That box of Uncle Ben’s held a prominent place in the cupboard.  But the best I could do was grit my teeth and roll it around my fork soaking up its starchy blandness.  In fact, the only way I would eat it was with a good pour of maple syrup over it, presaging my sweet-tooth proclivities.

Rice grits (photos courtesy of Anson Mills)

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Not exactly a hop-skip-and-a jump from Portland, we were Lewiston bound in search of the comfort zone of the Forage Market bagel, as highlighted in the October 2016 issue of Saveur Magazine with the headline: “Is one of  America’s best bagels in. . . Lewiston, Maine?”

A convivial morning crowd at Forage market there to scoop up the bakeries fine bagels and other delights

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Good food has no boundaries in Maine,  and it seems that wherever you go, a good meal can be had even in the most out of the way places.  Now the charming little strip of Route 9 that is Cumberland Center has a new dining option at the corner of Tuttle Road and Main Street where down-home fare is served with such plain goodness.

Cumberland Food Company’s open kitchen and service area; Bryan Dame in background

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At the  fabled Bisson’s butcher shop on Meadow Road in Topsham, where the beef or dairy you  buy there comes from the cows grazing across the road, the least likely treat from their freezer case is Bisson’s  salmon pie. It’s an old family recipe that’s highly regarded by regulars and staff.   As with the other pies that the shop makes–beef and chicken–salmon seems an unlikely choice where meat otherwise reigns.

Bisson’s salmon pie

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When Woodford Food and Beverage opened last year I, along with half the city, went there in droves. And I dined there three times before even writing my first review. But it wasn’t until yesterday, Sunday, that I had brunch there for the first time.

It’s a great looking room with its wall of windows and the attractive bar for extra dining

Besides the restaurant’s high energy (translate: a noisy room but not in a bad way), the food by chef Courtney Loreg is exceedingly good–very competently prepared classic dishes.  It’s not the kind of cooking that will ever garner a James Beard award.  That’s because it’s meant to be a neighborhood eatery to serve locals great roast chicken, classic steak frites, a mounding burger, delicious deviled eggs and lots of other dishes that define the culinary nomenclature of inspired American cooking.  However, a year later and the restaurant’s menu remains virtually unchanged. That’s a slippery hole that many restaurants dig for themselves.  It basically put Roustabout, among other factors, out of business.  But I don’t think the same will happen at WFB because the menu is so likable and approachable. To wit–it was packed at brunch,  and on recent attempts to have dinner there I was met with the SRO of a successful, popular restaurant.

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If I haven’t posted lately it’s not  that the latest version of a lettuce wrap didn’t quite excite.  But, rather, the current flock of restaurants in Greater Portland has been covered so much by others lately that I truly wasn’t inspired to add my two cents.  Yet there were some highlights worth mentioning. Take, for example, my recent visit to Tipo, Chris Gould’s—of Central Provisions renown–new far-flung dining outpost–in an off-peninsula wilderness, a location that’s strictly neighborhood.

The dining bar at Tipo

But on the day that I visited Tipo I had also gone to Gould’s C-P for lunch and wondered why I haven’t been going there regularly, especially in the winter when the crowds are much thinner on a winter’s day lunch hour than at the height of the summer crush.

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No need to induce “alternative facts” to paint the real scene of the newly opened Izakaya Minato, a surefire example of a Japanese gastropub.  So, if you’re looking for the next big thing in Portland dining then take yourself to  54 Washington Ave. where this newcomer opened earlier this week.  It’s next door to the Tex-Mex grandee, Terlingua,  and across the street from the strip’s highly regarded darling, Drifter’s Wife.  It also sits opposite from the former Roustabout, which closed last month. Word has it that none other than the indefatigable Rooms honcho Harding Lee Smith will fill the space.  It’s unclear what culinary route he’ll take, but so far no names have drifted across the transom.  Do I hear The Washington Room?

Izakaya Minato’s open kitchen and dining bar

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It seemed so comforting to make this wonderfully rich, sweet cake as we got pelted by snow and ice earlier this week. It’s a messy cake to prepare: lots of  sifting of flour, powdery confectioner’s sugar, brown sugar and  tons of butter. Sometimes I use equal amounts of light-brown and dark-brown sugar (for ease of preparation weigh the two sugars to equal 430 grams or 14 ounces instead of packing them  into 2 measuring cups).

Pineapple upside-down cake

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In the holding-tank of Portland restaurants, more Asian eateries continue to fill our culinary narrative in bold, declarative ways.  Consider the arrival of Sichuan Kitchen, which opened two weeks ago, in a prime Congress Street location.  I went with a friend shortly after its debut, and we had a few dishes from the concise menu.  The Zhong dumplings, for instance, filled with pork were amazing: the dumpling dough was rich and the concentrated soy sauce with Szechuan peppercorns and chili in which to roll around the dumplings, conspired to make these some of the tastiest in town. Our second dish, the twice cooked pork, however, was bland—barely any heat, and the tender pieces of meat could have benefited by  an assertive marinade before cooking. A third dish, this time white fish with pickled greens, which our waitress raved about, was disappointing: the swai fish–an Asian farmed catfish, which can be a problematic fish if it doesn’t have exemplary farming practices—was the blandest  white fish, helped a bit from the pickled vegetables.

Zhong pork dumplings

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