Portland, Maine - looking for pre-marathon meal
I'm looking for an Italian restaurant for this Saturday night. Some of us are running the marathon, or using it as a training run, so delicious, plentiful pasta is on the agenda. There will be about 6 of us. A few years ago, I posted the same request and had a very good meal at Soffitos in Portland. Unfortunately, they have converted to something else (Calypso?) and is no longer italian. From the web, it looks like a hodge podge of cuisines.
From a chowhound and web search, I've only been able to find Espys (or is it Espositos?), Maria's Ristorante, Ribollita, Rachel's Osteria, Portland Village Cafe and Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre, is out of our price range. But how is the sister restaurant, Vignola?
I'm leaning towards Rachels or Ribollita, but I fear that my last minute planning on this busy weekend may be a problem.
Any hounds have recommendations?
I have been going to Ribollita for many years. I find the food superior and the service impeccable. We have only had one service glitch and that was when we had a party of 14. I think the waitress was having a bad day. Several of the waitresses have been there for over 10 years, and they know the menu well. I would like to recommend the mussels appetizer: it is the best I have ever had, including Fore Street. Save some of the bread to dip into the pistachio sauce. For dessert, the chocolate tart is so rich there are no words to describe it. They often have Osso Bucco on a bed of white polenta, which was our favorite winter dish. Kevin does try to keep the prices reasonable, and he succeeds! I love this place!
We had dinner at Ribollita and it was a lovely meal. Neither of us had a problem parking but I could see how it could be an issue. When we arrived, I was shocked out how small and packed the place was. It was a place that fit more people than it looked. That hidden room was hidden.
To start, I had the insalata misto - a huge salad with mixed greens including argula, fennel and shaved parmesian. This was lightly dressed, just the way I liked it.
For the meal itself, I had the spaghetti with mixed seafood. Initially, I read the menu incorrectly and thought I had to choose one kind. So, I ordered it with a spicy white clam sauce. The server, kindly pointed out to me, that I could have a variety of seafood, so that's what I ordered.
What came out was a steaming hot plate of pasta, filled with littleneck clams, mussels, squid and shrimp. Actually, there were only two shrimp, which was ok, because that is my least favorite of the bunch. The seafood was tender and flavorful and went well with the pasta. I could have had it spicier, but, I say that about everything.
DC ordered the chicken puttanesca, which looked delicious. The pasta was a wide ribbon pasta which soaked up the tomato sauce.
All in all this meal hit the spot. The service was good and the atmosphere was just what I was looking for. Slightly noisy but still quiet enough for conversation.
Thanks again everyone.
Vignola is more a light meal and appetizer kind of place - it's an interesting concept that people seem to be embracing. There are suprisingly limited pasta options for an Italian restaurant, though that being said Cinque Terre isn't really known as a "pasta" restaurant either.
I'd sum up the remarks of many by saying that there really isn't a "shouldn't be missed" Italian pasta restaurant in Portland. Everyone needs to try Maria's once to say they've been there - its atleast as good as the Village Cafe, but smaller and even darker - but kind of cool in a Greco Roman way. Irwin, you should definately try Maria's just because I insist.
Casa Novela is still open in Westbrook AND is opening a new restaurant in Windham...
Village Cafe is absolutely ordinary, mass-appeal, least-common denominator food produced in mass quantities. Kinda like Becky's, only red-sauce Italian. People like it because it's been there forever, not because it's good.
I don't know if you're from here or not, but just about every middle-range place here will have one or more pastas on the menu. Walter's usually does a nice job. Heck, even Sebago Brewing has several perfectly tasty pasta plates.
The above is from experience. I don't frequent pasta joints, so the rest of this is on the advice of others. Vignola may be somewhat cheaper than Cinque Terre, but it's still a relatively high-end place, and tends to be pretty crowded on weekends.
Anyone know if Casa Novella in Westbrook is still open? I've had pizza from there but have never actually been. People love that place. Espo's (that's what the signs say, not Esposito's) is also well-loved, and has recently expanded from the original location on outer Congress (oh, that one may actually have "Esposito's" on the sign.. hmmm) to add two new places: one on Allen at Washington Ave, another in Lewiston. Have no clue about Maria's.
Another good option for carbo-loading would be big plates of non-Italian style noodles. Any interest in that? Sengchai on Forest Ave, for example, has several variations of noodles that would fit the bill.
I'd recommend either Village Cafe or Esposito's for basic Italian, moderate prices and big portions. Ribollita has great food, but, as mentioned above, is small--prob only one table that could fit 6 people. Rachel's is similar--great food but very tough to seat 6 on short notice.
I would go to Ribollita. The food at The Village Cafe is the standard Italian American food that is served all over the country, furthermore, it is a touch on the dark side. Ribollita on the other hand has fresh, interesting and creative Italian food at prices that are actually less expensive than The Village Cafe. The waitstaff is as professional and friendly as any other place in Portand. The only complaint I have ever heard is that their portions are too large, I expect that will not be a problem for you guys.
Good Luck on Sunday