July 2017

To many Portlanders, the Saturday summer Farmer’s Market held at Deering Oaks is sacrosanct.  That’s why I can’t understand why the market gets upstaged—at the same time and place–by the yearly Festival of Nations.  Couldn’t that event be held on a Sunday and not interrupt the coveted farmer’s market?

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A friend suggested that I go to Sonny’s because, she said, “The new menu is terrific.” My first reaction was how different could it be if the restaurant has remained a basic haunt for Latin-inspired cooking?  Was there an invigoration of Cal- España -Latin fusion fresh off the plains?

So we went there for dinner earlier this week—the first time in at least a year.  I used to go  for lunch often, but the restaurant stopped serving during the day.

Sonny’s is prominenly figured along the Old Port’s restaurant row

The room is basically the same: darkened nooks and crannies with banquettes and tables in this historic space, which 150 years ago was the ornately designed Portland Savings Bank that was built after the fire of  1866.  The rear dining room is more spacious and brighter. And the bar, as always, was packed–a popular watering hole for the after-5 office crowd. Millennial Central?  To a degree.

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If there’s one dessert to make with strawberries, it’s this silken strawberry-rich pie with its distinctive addition of cream that lines the bottom of the pastry case before putting in the cooked jam-like strawberry filling.

I found the recipe in the excellent cookbook “The Farm” by Ian Knauer.  The recipes are a mix of the author’s old-family recipes and Knauer’s many years as food editor of Gourmet Magazine.

There are many versions of no-bake strawberry pie.  It generally employs the technique of crushing a portion of the berries and mixing in fresh strawberries enriched with sugar and cornstarch that cook until the mixture is clear and thick.

Cream Cheese Strawberry Pie

For the cream cheese filling (the cream cheese must be at room temperature) I used Casco Bay Butter company’s cream cheese, which is wonderfully rich and creamy.  I haven’t seen it at stores but found it at the Brunswick Farmer’s Market at Crystal Springs.


Strrawberries from Fairwinds Farm

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Rarely does a new restaurant get it so right at the gate.  But then when you have two pros—a highly acclaimed chef and pastry chef, in this case husband and wife who are the owners of the new establishment, Chaval, then the level of success is nearly assured. With Chaval’s opening this week after a renovation of the former Caiola’s in which it’s housed, this duo has brought to Portland one of the most exciting restaurants in the city set to pamper those who cross its threshold.

Devotees of Caiola’s were mostly West Enders who called this place their own like a private dining club when it opened  in 2005. It fit into the fabric of the West End like a a brick townhouse wrapped up in an  old comfy sweater.  The interiors were plain and woody; the food from chef Abby Harmon was deliciously inventive—always something unusually devised with ingredients that you’d never dream of pairing.  Who could not love her savory puddings filled with lobster or crab meat swathed in an elegant cream sauce, for instance, or grilled pork chops with caramelized onions; Johnny cakes with fried chicken and maple syrup or crab cakes under a dome of beet puree–homespun but inventive fare highly tasteful and bathed with flavor.

The space at Chaval is open,, larger and very comfortable

So, when Damian Sansonetti and Ilma Lopez bought Caiola’s—both the real estate and the restaurant–we all kind of rolled our eyes that seemed to say, Wow this will be a hard act to follow to please die-hard Harmon fans stumbling out of their brick manses to revel in her cooking.

When they took over the restaurant they kept the Caiola’s menu.  Though many of us thought, it’s not the same.  Good but not remarkable.  Hmmm.  Where is that famous Sansonetti touch who installed himself fresh from New York of Daniel Boulud fame where he was executive chef at Bar Boulud into his divine Piccolo, their heavenly dining aerie in the footsteps of Bresca and its former owner, Kristen Dejarlais, another star chef?

Bar dining is already in high demand

Fast forward: After a few months Sansonetti and Lopez closed the Caiola space and the undertaking of a total rehab ensued:  not just the space but the kitchen, menu and staff.

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