It’s about time that Eve’s, the dining room at the Portland Harbor Hotel, has joined the ranks of hotel and independent restaurants to contribute substantively to our dining scene.  Earlier this week I joined a small group put together by the hotel’s marketing team, Gillian and Jim Britt, for a tasting of the new menu that has debuted with some very fine dishes from chef Tim Labonte.

The dining room at Eve’s at the Garden

In the past, I’ve been critical of Eve’s, the dining room and the hotel itself.  But to stay competitive all lodging and dining operations must be top drawer in how they project themselves.  And Eve’s is stepping into the 21st century meaningfully.

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When the New York Times food pages ran an article (4/08/15) on the family recipes from poet Tracy K. Smith, it included one for pound cake and another for Alabama Lemon Cheese Cake. I was drawn to the pound cake recipe immediately because it sounded so good and I love pound cake.  The recipe was written with the Times‘ relatively new practice of giving both metric and traditional cup measures. I  made the cake  using the gram measurements.

The cake turned out to be one of the best versions of pound cake.  It was extremely buttery, dense and rich, improving in flavor the more it stayed in a covered cake dome on the counter. I published my version here last year, giving the ingredients in weight  as well as the cup measures.

My original pound cake adaptation using gram measurements

I made the cake many times since. Then I finally noticed a disparity in the Times’ calculation of equivalent measures of cups and grams.  Both the flour and sugar gram/cup equivalents were way wrong.

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In the dim old days of plain old pizza, the typical slice or pie was made with standard-issue canned tomato sauce topped with melted shreds of equally ordinary mozzarella, a few sprinklings of dried oregano and a touch of olive oil. And it was delicious comfort food that was doggedly good. We didn’t veer off that standard much. Perhaps we added sliced pepperoni, some mushrooms or even sausage or a meatball or two. And that was it.  The only other choice was to have it Neapolitan or Sicilian style.  In my dim old days, this slice cost about 95 cents (or less).  If we went to an Italian restaurant where veal parm or chicken cacciatore were standard fare, another choice was a freshly made pie.  Some restaurants did these very well, using their special sauce and cheese and baked in high-heat brick ovens. Nowadays all slices are special especially if you walk into the ubiquitous folds of Otto Pizza, the local chain that populates Greater Portland’s landscape with more stores than Wal-Mart.

The bar and booths at Otto

The bar and booths at Otto

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We have no shortage of pizza in Portland.  From the plethora of pies from Otto ovens all over Greater Portland to the appeal of the big blocks of luscious pies at Slab and lots of others in between, choices abound.  One, though, is in a class by itself—and I don’t mean it stands above the rest but rather is one of those places where it’s all about the specialty pie.  That’s what you get—or hope to—at Bonobo, the rather ramshackle house of pizza that’s graced the corner of Pine and Brackett streets for years.

The no-frills dining room at Bonobo

The no-frills dining room at Bonobo

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The Thanksgiving turkey rush is in high gear as that fateful day looms like some lubricious turkey trot led by a film-struck typist clucking like a celluloid Julia Child.

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The stores are packed.  Hannaford looked like a mass convening on Tuesday afternoon.  Trader Joe’s parking lot was more maddening than ever.  And as for the inimitable Portland Whole Foods, they were the epitome of organization as people waited on line to pick up their turkeys listed on a computer roster.  The Portland Whole Foods will probably surpass their legendary $1 million-plus proceeds in a day.

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Today’s breakfast special at Marcy’s Diner was the ultimate plate of hash: hash browns, turkey hash, two eggs up and  grilled toast with a schmear of Smucker’s Jam. Add some strong coffee and Darla Neugebauer’s brand of snark and you’re at one helluva of a breakfast scene.

Darla at her flat top

Darla at her flat top: hash browns in the making; grilled bread; bacon, eggs and omelets

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Don’t’ fret.  It’s not just a Garden of Eden of meatballs at The Portland Meatball Company that opened on the Upper Exchange Street restaurant row.  Rather, there’s more than meets the balls of these eyes. High-brow pizzas, composed salads, inventive sandwiches and house-made pastas round out a menu of eminently casual fare.  In fact, the room looks more like a bar that serves food rather than a restaurant with a bar license.

A small bowl of meatballs over the day's pasta, house-made spaghetti

A small bowl of meatballs over the day’s pasta, house-made spaghetti with tomato sauce

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Perhaps the enjoyment of comfort food—seeking out solace with knife, fork and spoon—is more warranted than ever.  We have the growing morass of Washington politics within The New Disarray as pathological as urinary incontinence as some Americans grapple with the likes of  the threats to put an end to climate control policies, the EPA agency and the standards it protects, cannulating immigrants to what amounts to exile  and even the department of Education is under the gun as the new leader-to-be of the free world takes an ax to all that we’ve been used to for decades in the name of shaking up the establishment like a deadly virus. Or was it all a fatal scam to get elected?

That’s why I may turn to my favorite palliatives–butter, cream, sugar, flour, beef, poultry, anything sweet, pastry–loading up on carbs and the like, at least for a while as classic comfort food fills my fantasies.  I’m even renewing my penchant for Dunkin Donuts.

The basic beef pot roast

The basic beef pot roast

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One dairy product that hasn’t reached the artisanal crowd at farmers’ markets is local organic cottage cheese.  That you can rarely find it might be reason enough.  For a while Lauren Pignatello of Swallowtail Farm and Creamery used to offer her farm-made cottage cheese.  I loved it for its marvelously creamy texture and its inimitable tang and sweetness from cultured raw milk.  I would buy it at the farmer’s market each week along with Swallowtail’s prized Greek Yogurt. I didn’t use the curds for anything fancy as in baking or other dishes but rather found it a great snack, swiping a spoonful or two when the mood struck to relish the purity of flavor that this simple curd cheese displayed. It’s also not very fattening and has loads of protein and calcium making it the ideal food for healthy eating.

Hood Dairy's Original Cottage Cheese

Hood Dairy’s Original Cottage Cheese

Alas she stopped making it.  “Too much trouble, not enough time (or money in it).”

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It sits between two worlds: at the tip of the Foreside where Cumberland and Falmouth residents reside in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Maine; then it’s flanked on the cusp of Yarmouth , a village of Peyton Place likeness with its leafy Main Street and surrounding period homes.

That it’s also perched on the banks of the Royal River gives this namesake restaurant, Royal River Grill House, its ultimate fillip of distinction.  But there’s more.  It’s gone through a complete metamorphosis, which happened about two years ago, of which I was unaware because it happened with little fanfare.

At the water's edge, the Royal River Grill House

At the water’s edge, the Royal River Grill House

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