pjnew bar 3

Briefly noted is the opening of Petite Jacqueline in their new location at Market and Milk streets where owners Michelle and Steve Corry reconfigured their Portland Patisserie into two spaces.  The café is ramped down significantly, but the great pastries from pastry chef Catherine Cote-Eliot are served at both the café and the restaurant.  The rest of the space is devoted fully to dining, and the look is chic and divine.

PJ's new look at the bar and at table

PJ’s new look at the bar and at table

You wouldn’t recognize it from the original café space since the long room is now chock-a-block with white-clothed banquettes and tables with the fabulous floor to ceiling windows overlooking the picturesque cobblestone portal of the Portland Regency across the street.

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strawberry pie on a plate2

According to local farmer’s it looks like a great season for strawberries. And Maine is fortunate to have a long growing season with the additional crop of the ever-bearing variety that yield berries well into the fall.

Glorious Maine strawberries

Glorious Maine strawberries

It’s surprising that more Maine farmers who cultivate strawberries don’t choose to grow the ever-bearing variety. One explanation is that the farmers need the time and wherewithal for other crops because strawberries need a lot of care. The season for this variety is after the initial crop of June-July berries.  Beth’s Farm Market in Warren  is one of the biggest growers; this is the place where you’re assured strawberries as late as the first frost.

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Back Bay's signature mural

In the great world of Portland dining few of the New Wave have achieved the stature of Back Bay Grill. For nearly 30 years running it has maintained the highest level of cuisine, service, ambiance and style, an astounding feat given the vagaries of Portland’s—or any city’s–dining culture.

Starched white table cloths top the tables in the main dining room; table number 7 is still the favorite spot for an intimate dinner for two

Starched white  cloths top the tables in the main dining room; table number 7 (lower left) is still the favorite spot for an intimate dinner for two

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caiola's front

This just in: Damian Sansonetti and wife and partner, Illma Lopez, of Piccolo, have according to unconfirmed reports, purchased Caiola’s, the West End restaurant darling that has charmed locals with its fine home-style cooking.

Caiola's the iconic West End restaurant

Caiola’s, the iconic West End restaurant

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loafpan-1024x768

Loafpan chicken is one of those barbecue oddities that delivers a uniquely flavored chicken dish. As the name implies a chicken is put into a standard loaf pan; it’s then covered in apple sauce and massaged with a spice rub.  Use smoking woods like hickory and applewood as you cook it all low and slow. It emerges very juicy with a wonderful crisp, burnished skin.

Loafpan chicken

Loafpan chicken

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Hainanese chicken at Chomp Chomp

During the frenetic few days that I spent in New York last week I splurged, as always, on enjoying the city’s dining diversity.  Compared to home, it’s a gastronome’s playground far from Maine’s more preciously focused seas and fields. It’s like stepping out of an exiguous puddle into the vast ocean, from food trucks to haute fare.

On West 46th Street the food trucks are an international lineup

On West 46th Street the food trucks are an international lineup

This led me to enjoy Chomp Chomp, Obica and Marta, which respectively took in Singaporean hawker fare in Greenwich Village; a midtown mozzarella bar on Madison Avenue and in NoMad the thinnest crust wood-oven pizza imaginable—that in addition to a divinely urbane menu of Roman style cooking in the pop-culture panache of restaurant guru Danny Meyer and chef Nick Anderer.

What’s immediately apparent is how New York restaurants fixate less on local fare than we obsessively (and gladly)  feed on eating local.  That’s not to say that their greenmarkets aren’t cherished both by residents and restaurant chefs.

The dining room at Chomp Chomp on Cornelia Street

The dining room at Chomp Chomp on Cornelia Street

I read about Chomp Chomp in a New York Times review from 2015 and filed it away. I made a beeline for it on my first night in New York joined by a trendy downtown friend who frequents these places.  Hawker fare, he said, is popping up in a lot of places. And fancy chefs are recreating street food in various guises.  (Hairy crab en papillote?)

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Chef/owner Jason Williams is all smiles in his glorious kitchen preparing the first dinner of the season

All’s well at The Well in the fields at Jordans Farm in Cape Elizabeth.  Opening day was June 1 and it signals the start of summer as chef and owner Jason Williams works his culinary magic.  It’s still one of the smallest kitchens in our dining world.  But it easily feeds up to 75 diners who disperse among tables in the meadows and gazebos.

As summer progresses the fields of flowers will surround the gazebos in a canvas of summer color

As the growing season progresses the fields of flowers will surround the gazebos in a canvas of summer color

New this year is the smoke house set off from the kitchen and it’s where dishes such as smoked pork set over beans makes for a hearty dish on a cool night.

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Buttermilk "Miracle " Biscuits

The pleasures of farm-to-table shopping continue to increase for us in Maine.  From local produce, meats and dairy, it’s a veritable cornucopia of selection as we shop farmers’ markets and local stores that stock farm food.  My latest quest is “real” buttermilk.

Buttermilk biscuits

Buttermilk biscuits

We have very good cultured buttermilk mostly made from skimmed milk to which cultures are added.  It becomes tangy, sour and thick.  But this is not the buttermilk made by 19th century farmers.  And I became increasingly curious about this real stuff as I came across recipes—mostly in the books of southern cookbook authors—who refer to the ingredient as “full-fat” buttermilk.

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The semi-circular bar has great style and a perfect setting for drinks and/or dinner

In the recent surge of new restaurant openings in Portland, Italian cuisine has not been a strong contender.  One exception is the highly regarded Piccolo, with its powerhouse menu of regional Italian cuisine inspired by the cooking of central and southern Italy that chefs and co-owners Damian Sansonetti and Ilma Lopez do so well.  Otherwise, our city has glided past  the great reign of red-sauce houses and trendy trattorias.  That is until now, with the debut of Solo Italiano, in the cavernous space formerly occupied by Ebb and Flow. Here the menu presents Northern Italian cuisine, a broad label that can mean a lot of things.

The entry leads to the great central bar

The entry leads to the great central bar

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eggs

Many years ago I lived in Bogotá, Colombia.  And it was there that I learned the secret of how to make these delicious Colombian style scrambled eggs.  My inspiration came from a woman named Ascensión, who was the home chef for my friends in Bogotá.  She was a terrific cook. Even listening to her high, lilting voice was a lyrical sing-song of her well enunciated Spanish. Of course I wish I had watched more of her magic ways in the kitchen, especially her memorable ceviche.  It was made with robalo, whose fillets are similar to paper-white cod. It was cured in Colombian lemons, which have a  flavor profile of lemon and lime.

eggs in bowl

The eggs are simply made by sautéing chopped onions in oil instead of butter and they are generously seasoned with salt.  Once the onions soften in a few minutes, chopped tomatoes are added with a few more generous grindings of salt.

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