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Maine Autumn and Food Glory 10/2012: From Portland to Mid Coast to Bar Harbor to Blue Hill(Long)

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We celebrated our 30th Anniversary this month with a food filled 3 weeks in our favorite spots in Maine and Vt. This is the Maine report. Hope it will be of use!

TAO, Brunswick-

A newly opened treasure box of Pan Asian , chef/managed by a very talented daughter/mother team. See full report:

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/871747

DUCK FAT, Portland- This wildly popular spot seems to be in every visitor's day book. We used to love it more than we did this visit.

(Maybe the 25% duck fat frying oil- has shrunk in %?) But even if they don't really taste of duck fat, the fries are still crispy and delicious

and the garlic aioli and smoked tomato aioli dipping choices are divine. Thankfully, one of my life's favorite soups, Tomato Fennel, remains on the menu after all these years. Sandwiches(yummm, duck confit) can be good to excellent.

 

EAST ENDER, Portland- a new contender in the recently burgeoning Portland scene of 'artisanal/ farm and sea to table 'small plates and craft drinks' spots. We ate here twice on our trip- at the beginning and at the end, and we really enjoyed the smoked trout fritters, the salads, the unusual coleslaw and the smoked Cornish game hen. Be forewarned, however, that the grits are very odd, and not grits in my book. They cure the corn themselves and what you really get is pozole, and a not very flavorful pozole at that. The breads, all made in-house (as is everything) can be amazing. My basil lime cucumber vodka drink (with a delicious Maine produced potato vodka) was the best I have had of its kind. on both visits we ate in the comfy-sofas bar/café room on the first floor (the dinner dining room is above.) Servers were friendly and welcoming. We look forward to exploring more of the menu on our next visit.

MICUCCI'S, Portland - This brick building kitty-corner to Duck Fat- has an unfortunate way of looking closed (maybe tinted glass?) but it is very much open and busy. We came specifically for their sfogliattel, a very unusual triangular Italian pastry clam shell w/ crisp overlapping layers of pastry and a solid but custardy filling of ricotta and candied fruit. In Boston, our Modern Pastry makes an excellent sfogliattel, and we were thrilled to find Micucci's to be equally delicious.(While this pastry is still tasty on its second day, the crispiness of the freshly baked product is part of its delight.) This store is filled to the brim with Italian products, including every shape of pasta you could want, a large wine selection, and a bakery tucked " waaaaay in the back and up the stairs and around the bend." We hope to get much more familiar with the store on our next visit. Btw, the Leroux Kitchen store down on Commercial, is really impressive:

http://www.lerouxkitchen.com/store/pc...

GORGEOUS GELATO- I must admit, from the hype about the Milanese owners, my expectations were high, but of their many varieties, i was only really pleased with two (pistachio and lemon ) and I found many of them 'meh' (particularly the Chocolate Orange with its unappealing old orange oil flavor and their signature flavor with way too many ingredients.)
Next time, we'll try Gelato Fiasco.
http://www.gelatofiasco.com/locations...

BRESCA, Portland- Still teeny, still artisinal. Lovely aesthetic about everything here. This go-round, menu choices, flavors and portions were a little too muted and minimal for us, and there was a huuuge wait for our entrees, but we are still fans. Some of the best desserts you will see.

As a baker, I usually never order desserts because they're boring and usually too sweet, but here, I had to order THREE, they were that special (and My Love did help out a bit w/ them!

)

EMILITSA, Portland-

How unusual to find an expensive high end Greek restnt in a small city like Portland (Boston has no equivalent.) A lovely comfortable space but tables very close together. Excellent service. Very interesting red wines. On the one hand, we felt that food prices were mostly unjustifiably high ($18 for a single 5" piece of octopus??!; $9 for 1/4 cup of rice pudding dessert?); and a very small entree portion of swordfish. On the other hand, the honey glazed duck was possibly the most delicious duck I've ever been served (and a very large breast portion.), perfectly cooked rare, succulent and silky.

BACK BAY GRILL, Portland-

Quite the anomaly; an attractive elegant place in a rough looking historic building in a mini run-down section of Portland.

(at least it looked run-down to us.) TipTop service; food v good but not really memorable for us.

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DAMARISCOTTA RIVER GRILL,Damariscotta-

While it's not "A" quality, in this disappointing culinary hinterland of Damariscotta, you feel very lucky that the River Grill is here, with its large menu that includes trad and international influences. (Thai Coconut Seafood Stew; Duck Confit Risotto...) They tend to go overboard on flavoring ( way too much cranberries and cheese in this too-loose risotto) but are happy to tweak dishes per your request. Abundant portions, very reasonable pricing, very casual room, good table spacing, not loud downstairs. A real locals' spot.

ROUND TOP ICE CREAM,Damariscotta-

Beware!(seriously)$3 will get you a 'medium' and at Round Top, that is almost a full PINT of ice cream. I kid you not. IMO, their Rum Raisin beats out even that at Toscanini in Cambridge (genuflect, genuflect). Maple Walnut , Grape Nut, Pumpkin, Mocha Chip, yummmm. The back deck seating is wonderful, with its peaceful view of the big sky and green rolling fields. Open long hours.

RED SKY, Southwest Harbor -

handsome room, interesting menu that may read better than it tastes. This time,a perfectly cooked but oddly mealy "Colo. lamb", and very possibly my fav smoked duck ever, on a delicious salad.

FINELLI'S PIZZA, Ellsworth-

In 2006, I thought this pizza equalled the best in Boston, but either that was a fluke (or i was halucinating) or there are new owners. This time, the crust was pretty good but the tomato sauce had OREGANO in it! Horrors. Good pizza, not good sauce, meh toppings (as in any ordinary pizza place.)Very nice people. Oh well. we'll go for Cleonice's new pizza spot next time.

CLEONICE, Ellsworth-
Tiny Ellsworth has a restaurant that could easily hold its own in Cambridge. A very large menu of Mediterranean influences, very farm and sea-to-table , w/ a chef-owned farm. One of my top Paellas ever, perfectly gently cooked, loaded w/ flavor, abundant portion (an app or dessert has you taking home paella for lunch the next day.) Large and unusually interesting dessert menu, always includes daily ice cream, sorbet and flans. Friendly welcoming service and bar (and a truly top notch red sangria.) I love this unique space, a beautifully preserved art deco-ish 1930's drugstore with elegant carved wood walls and decor. (note- They may be moving to a new space.)

BURNING TREE, Otter Creek(Bar Harbor)-
After all these years, this chef/owner couple is still putting out some of the best food in Maine. And they are still reaching far and wide for new ingredients and spices. The bouillabaise was so outstanding that we returned to have it a second night. The cod with chorizo and garlic was sooo silky and tender- a true revelation. I really wish we could send these 2 around the U.S. to teach chefs out there- how to properly handle fish . And the chef skills are impressively International- Asian and Mediterranean influences are exercised with equal aplomb and join to make for some equally memorable evenings. 2 or 3 wonderful table breads change daily. Service is friendly and helpful; the decor is decidedly funky. If this rare treasure were in our 'hood, we would eat there every week.

BLUE HILL INN, Blue Hill-
Multi-course Breakfasts were part of staying at this amazingly hospitable B&B, and we partook in a wonderful Wine Dinner there as well. The accomplished young chef is showing her skills, and it will be fun to see her as she grows.

ARBORVINE, Blue Hill-
One of the prettiest restaurants I have visited, an early 19th c. house filled with candlelight and attractive furnishings and details. While the menu is a bit on the trad side, the food was very good and service was smooth and efficient.

66, Blue Hill-
The 'steak and seafood' sign outside is deceiving; the menu here is broad and stretches beyond its roadhouse appearances.The kitchen can be a bit inconsistent but we had a terrific and complex clam chowder, roasted beet salad, turkey sandwich and jambalaya, all very generously portioned. Service was friendly but varied in expertise. The interior of this historic forge building has been attractively appointed and has some lovely artwork.

FISHERMAN'S FRIEND, Stonington-
Yes, it looks right out on the harbor, but I can't say I found Stonington Harbor beautiful. This rather ugly huge dining space, w/ way too few waitresses, served us excellent cleanly fried (not greasy) calamari and onion strings, and basic meh thin base fish chowder w/ plenty of fish (all made fresh in-house, but fr fries are frozen.) The inside is way overdue for an overhaul.

HAYSTACK MTN SCHOOL OF CRAFTS- a long drive to a remote and stunning spot.

BAH'S, Castine-
A hidden treat with everything brkfst and lunch from beautiful silky quiche to lasagne and duck confit quesadillas. Sunny porch w/ sliver view of the harbor. Castine is a stunning and beautifully preserved historic town.

LONG GRAIN, Camden-
Wow, is Camden lucky or what? A tiny Thai spot, open year round,with a charming couple as chef/owners and food to equal or top that in large cities! And what a warm attractive homey space (no factory furniture here!). The community has embraced it as a meeting place/ work and relax space, with kids and all ages present. Particularly delicious Chicken Kar Soi with abundant moist chicken, house made noodles,veggies and complex yellow curry coconut broth; pork with wide house-made noodles; and delectable coconut 'flan' over sweet black sticky rice.

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9/2009 midcoast maine report:

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/650244

another helpful maine 2011 thread:

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/791825

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  1. No Primo on any of your trips?

    1 Reply
    1. re: MidCoastMaineiac

      mcm, it's so strange; i have always wanted to love Primo, partocularly as the owner/chef is a woman, but as i said to my friend who asked the same thing, "we've been to Primo 2 or 3 times and the only memorable thing about it was that the chef's husband/GM is the Hollywood handsomest GM I have ever seen.As in-Tom Cruise, move over!" Go figure. I think that Rockland's Rustica- is really excellent. We would have driven the 45 minutes to get there instead of River Grill- but it is closed on Sunday. phooey.

    2. Been waiting for your Maine report. Pretty impressive list of eateries. As a Portland local I liked all your selections.
      Even though I still think Duckfat has the best fries around my theory as to why they're not as raved about as they were in years past is that many other places have stepped up their game when it comes to fries. Duckfat is still special, just not quite as special as in the past..
      I enjoy the East Ender although I don't know that I would have hit it twice on one trip especially with Eventide right across the street . Upstairs at East Ender actually has a larger bar area as well as a pretty informal dining room. Try upstairs next trip.
      You must try a slab of pizza at Micucci's or at least split one and finish off lunch at Duckfat or Eventide.
      Gelato Fiasco is very good though I boycott the store they opened right across the street from Gorgeous Gelato. Hit their Brunswick flagship or you can purchase their product at many locations including in Mass.
      Bresca has great food and even better desserts but.... THREE? That sums it up quite well.
      I last ate at Emilitsa a few months ago and had a very tender octopus app though I can't fathom that I paid $18 for it. Maybe the ouzo clouded my mind but I never thought of their prices as being out of line with any of the upper tier restaurants in town. Ill pay closer attention next time.
      Yeah, Back Bay Grill is in a fairly run down part of town though we're still talking Portland so it's relative. Funny in that it's in a pseudo sketchy area but it's one of the few places in town where I take some time to consider my wardrobe prior to heading over.
      Really nice choices. Thanks for the great report.

      1. p.s. I always do a LOT of restnt research before we travel, so there were many places that we did not have time for on this trip. In the future, if they're still good, I would really like to try :

        Eventide, Portland
        Zapoteca,P
        Bar Lola,P
        Blue Spoon, P
        Street, P
        Walter's, P
        Boda, P
        Cinque Terra, P
        I would add Otto's Pizza, but we have 2 in Boston now, lucky us!
        (While Hugo's innovativeness makes its menu the most interesting, for me, in all of Portland, my one experience there horrified me with their combo of miniscule portions and v high pricing, and I swore I'd never return. And Fore St. never impressed me, even long ago.)

        Clementine , Brunswick
        Mexican Food Truck, Brunswick
        Schutty's Seafood food truck, West Bath

        Mache, Bar Harbor
        Havana, BH (We really enjoyed it in '06)
        Two Cats, BH """""
        XYZ, SWHarbor """"
        Francine, Camden """""
        Rustica, Rockland """"

        Chase's Daily, Belfast
        new Food trucks, Belfast

        The Grind , Ellsworth (Cleonice owners; wood-fired pizza planned)

        4 Replies
        1. re: opinionatedchef

          I want to travel with you. Great choices in Portland. I've had Otto in Harvard Sq and it's exactly the same as Portland though it's always nice to hit the original of someplace. Unlike Regina for example the Otto folksgo to great lengths to keep it consistent between shops.
          I did notice Miyake missing from your list. I'd be interested in how you would think it compares to Boston sushi places. If you didn't want to spend the money just to give me your opinion, you should at least add Pai Men Miyake, his noodle/yakitori place. It's way more than a noodle joint and very reasonable on the wallet. It's become a staple for me. Both his restaurants offer a very good lunch deal as well.

          1. re: bobbert

            oh boy, bob! i hadn't read of this place in all my piles of research! Is the owner Japanese? (99.9% Koreans down here; just like 99.9% of our pizza places being owned by Greeks; all smart entrepreneurs that they are.) Will def try Pai Men next trip.I admit to being a big noodle fan. Ramen is the new 'It girl' food in Boston right now (see threads on Sapporo Ramen and the brand new phenom, Yumewokatare from Japan )It will be interesting to see how long it takes to get a quality ramen place up there.

            Meanwhile, you must be just thrilled to be in majestic Pland when the restnt scene is exploding with commitment and talent! It's a tough economy out there and we all gotta do our best to reward their bravery, eh?p.s.we'd love to join w/you and other Pland CHs for Pland food forays; just see my member pg. email. Now that we have good friends to stay with in Brunswick, we hope to be up more often.

            1. re: opinionatedchef

              I had assumed sushi/ramen wasn't your thing as there has been quite a bit written about Miyake and from reading your posts I know you do your homework.
              Yes, Masa Miyake is from northern Japan and comes to Portland by way of France and New York. He is not your stereotype sushi chef as he has also worked in fine French and Italian restaurants. Besides the two restaurants he also has Miyake farms which is the source of most of the proteins especially for the yakitori at Pai Men. It's not just a noodle bar. Some sushi offerings, the best pork buns (I can't not eat these), excellent beer choices and a variety of sake in a pretty laidback atmosphere. Open all day and late night. As it's on my way when walking to most places in town I find it difficult to pass up on my way to many other spots.
              His flagship Miyake is most affordably done for lunch which is one of the few ways I can get my daughter to hang with me. I just text "Miyake" and I have a date. There was a bit of a downturn in reviews about the time they moved to their current location but the last few have been very good on CH. Yelp is always up there. I've had friends compare it quite favorably with new York restaurants.

              1. re: bobbert

                man did i miss the boat on miyake! hope to remedy that before long, thx to your help.

        2. Great report and great call on the "shfoyadells" at Micucci's. Next time try their cannoli too! Great accompaniment for the sicilian slab pizza.