Put it in a larger city—say New York, Chicago, LA or even along the cobblestones of haute dining in Boston—Portland’s Cheevitdee  (which means “good life”) could easily qualify as a trophy-food restaurant. But in Portland, where such matters are (relatively speaking) more down to earth, ingrained as farm-to-table panache–seven of us descended upon this Old Port newbie unprepared for a lunch that was ineradicably memorable. This is Thai cooking that’s sensual and elegant.

Cheevitdee’s cool interiors overlooking Boothby Square in the Old Port

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Two stars of the spring growing season—asparagus and rhubarb–are in high supply at farmers’ markets. Rhubarb especially is so versatile in sauces and desserts, and  at this time  of year I always start the flow of pies, crisps, cakes and breads where rhubarb is the main ingredient.

Rhubarb cream pie

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To chronicle—not to review—how a restaurant can maintain its favorable standing in Portland’s restaurant community, one has only to look at Empire Chinese as a paradigm of consistency.  Since opening in the fall of 2013, they have maintained a standard rarely achieved by restaurants in Greater Portland over so long a period.  Most places have their ups and downs; even our best Eurocentric restaurants can  have a bad night.  But in my countless visits to Empire since Day One, I’ve yet to have a meal that wasn’t superb.

Scene stealers at Empire 

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What’s often referred to as Old-Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes is a reference that I’ve seen many times in my collection of southern cookbooks.  They never interested me since they seemed like such old-lady cookies, the kind perched on the edge of a cup and saucer of tea. I’m not a tea drinker, though I realize that pairing the cookie with it is more a state of mind than a definitive combination.

Tea cakes

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Not surprisingly I’ve gained a few pounds after attending the Maine Beer Company  dinner held Wednesday evening at Union at the Press Hotel, that bastion for Portland cosmopolites.  But the pairing of beer and wonderful dishes prepared by the restaurant’s chef, Josh Berry, made it all worthwhile.  It was a masterful menu, each dish beautifully conceived.

The table is set Union for Maine Beer Bottling dinner

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A sure sign of spring, with summer to come, is the opening of Portland’s Deering Oaks outdoor farmers market.  It’s a sigh of relief that the glories of Maine summer weather are in the wings.  Still,  at this time of year the park is barely greening up, with the trees struggling to leaf out and the grass panting to become a rich green.

The sign “No” refers to more parking restrictions at the park;  the remains of a big oak; the lineup of vendors on one side of the road and cut flowers like daffs trickle in for now

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As soon as you enter Mami—formerly the mobile Japanese-food eatery that has turned from truck chassis to brick and mortar opened recently on Fore Street at Boothby Square—it looks like you’ve entered a college-dorm lounge, leaving you to look for the dining room.

The front lounge

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Becky’s for dinner?  Surely I jest.  But why not?  Is the menu much different from the Maine Diner in Wells, Dysart’s in Bangor or Moody’s in Waldoboro, all of whom serve solid down-home New England dinner fare like New England boiled dinner, American chop suey, turkey croquettes, ham steak with a pineapple slice.  Oh what bliss to enjoy the simple gastronomy of home cooking.

Classic corned beef hash and the best ham and eggs

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LB Kitchen is one of most uniquely simple—though far from dull–restaurants to have opened this year in Portland. It fills a niche that many contemporary chefs are filling—limited hours, in this case only breakfast and lunch are served, much like Krista Dejarlais’ Purple House for bagel breakfast and lunch.  It’s an ideal that some women chefs who want to maintain a normal home life with partners and children instead of toiling away into the wee hours of rigorous dinner service.

The bright white dining room and kitchen at LB

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“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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