Few restaurants in Portland have achieved the level of luxury and style shown by Tempo Dulu, a dazzlingly beautiful dining establishment housed in the equally glamorous Danforth Inn. That and the level of cuisine offered is unparalleled in its unique presentation of Southeast Asian cuisine.
Oh Là Là: Portland’s Divine Tempo Dulu Pulls off an Extraordinary Evening of Food and Drink to Introduce its New Chef, Michael MacDonnell
If you’re thinking of the Big Roast, consider a rib end of pork on the bone. Most butchers offer these as boneless roasts, but on the bone renders more flavorful meat. When I was at Bisson’s Meat Market in Topsham recently, I asked the butcher for a pork roast on the bone. He then suggested that I get the rib end. The reason being that it’s a fattier cut that’s very juicy and tender. The loin cut tends to be dry.
What’s increasingly making Portland a worldly source of provocative dining and a contender to maintain its foodie-nation status is the diversity of what there is to eat and where to find it whether dining in or dining out. It comes up in the most ordinary places from vendors at a farmers market to a soup swap in a barn in Yarmouth to a fine meal on Munjoy Hill to a French-bistro inspired dinner in the Old Port. It makes the food lore of the daily meal so delicious.
While Portland has one of the biggest farmers markets in terms of number of vendors, Brunswick beats the odds with its contribution of buying local because it has market days 3 times a week: On the Green in downtown Brunswick on Tuesdays and Fridays and on Saturday down the road at Crystal Springs on Pleasant Hill Road.
From the road, Stone’s Café and Bakery looks like one of those tumble-down joints where you’d least expect to get a good meal much less a sweet slice of pie or cake. Yet on my first visit there nearly 15 years ago, its charms were immediate. Then again I’m an easy mark for family-style diner fare that’s well prepared as heartily old-fashioned as Mother Goose and pretty cheap too. I would go there regularly for breakfast or lunch, even though it’s a 20-minute drive from Portland. At breakfast, the sausage gravy over biscuits, the corned beef hash, blueberry pancakes, great home fries and wonderful biscuits made it worth the trek. And when they had their special Saturday night dinners we’d all pile in and stuff ourselves silly with prime rib, pot roast, lasagna, fried fish or whatever the cook’s fancy was that night. That was pre-2006 when it was known as Stone’s Grove Café and owned by the Mason family for many years. Before that it was owned by the Sweetsirs (“Fran’s”), another local family. It’s been around like forever! But beyond its ownership succession this was the quintessential neighborhood constant where families grew up on those wonderfully wholesome meals.
Recently the New York Times ran what was deemed a ground-breaking food story on the modernization of chicken pot pie (link). Theirs was a so-called contemporary version “ditching the gummy white filling and frozen vegetables.”
If I encountered such a chicken pot pie it would have been served at an old Howard Johnson’s or out of a box of Banquet brand of frozen chicken pot pie. But the denigration of the old-school formula seemed a bit of a stretch. If all the elements are made well, without the use of processed ingredients or gummy sauces, the classic chicken pot pie is eminently delicious
And if you ever had it at my house, you’d encounter a wonderful pie under a dome of a very special cream pastry dough similar to puff pastry and a filling that’s in a light cream sauce made from chicken stock whisked into the standard roux and further enriched with heavy cream. Gummy? Not a chance.
As for the frozen vegetables I admit to frozen peas. But these are one of the few vegetables that survive flash freezing. They taste nearly as fresh as right out of the shell. As for the typical pile of frozen pearl onions, forget it. If I want those in my chicken pot pie I buy them fresh and take the few minutes to prepare them.
The fall and early winter markets are every bit as satisfying as the summer markets with different, deeper colored vegetables taking center stage. An example of this was at the Fairwinds Farm stand at Saturday’s Crystal Springs market in Brunswick. When I remarked to one of the farmers how beautiful the huge, leafy cabbages were that they had on display, she said, “Wait till those winter cabbages start coming to market– they’re wonderful.” I chose the cabbage because of the huge outside leaves. Perfect, I thought, to make stuffed cabbage later in the week. But those winter cabbages are truly delicious, with the colder weather intensifying their peppery taste.
Initially, the discreet charms of the Drifters Wife—so highly touted in media reports –eluded me on my first visit for dinner last week. Still, I sensed that the food could be very good, enticed by such starters as potatoes in mackerel aioli or mustard greens in lemon and clothbound cheddar. That and chef Ben Jackson is nothing less than a miracle worker to be able to produce such sophisticated dishes â la minute in a miniscule kitchen: To wit–two induction burners barely bigger than a YMCA-room hot plate and a mini convection oven, which chef Jackson admitted to me is not all that satisfying to use. And that’s the rub. I’d love to experience what this chef could do in a proper kitchen. Still, what’s there is a tapestry of exotic small plates (a few brilliantly devised) unlike the more complex, broader dishes created by small-plate citadels Sur-Lie, Lolita or Central Provisions.
The menu is not large, but I’m thrilled that I chose the radicchio salad as a starter. Jackson dresses these bitter leaves with an earthy, sweet bacon vinaigrette that was wholly satisfying (more on this later).
In the traditional world of American pie making, changes are subtle if at all. But certain trends have occurred as various chefs introduce new ideas. Consider the waning use of shortening (Crisco) in pie dough; it’s being replaced by naturally rendered leaf lard. This is hardly new, but rather most home cooks are re-discovering this age-old type of pastry dough.
Sooner than later the two most revered crops of summer—corn and tomatoes—will disappear from our farmers’ markets. Replacement vegetables such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, squash and roots will be bright and colorful on their farm-table displays until we have a few hard frosts that make the growing fields strain under the chill of seasonal change. But corn and tomatoes will be sorely missed.
Still these two stellar crops have been showing up as great specimens from the growing fields. Ears of corn started out small and slim earlier in the season because of the drought but eventually became sweet and delectable. My favorite growers included Harris Farm’s ultra-sweet corn available in southern markets such as Saco Farmers Market and at their farm store in Dayton. The various varieties that are grown at Beth’s Farm Market in Warren are some of the best and sweetest. And more locally Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth put on a good show with their large, sweet stalks stacked on the table at their farm store in Cape Elizabeth.