aching teeth, foodie pen pals, speculoos cookie butter, sugar coma, sugary goodness, trader joes

Foodie Pen Pals: July

This month’s box from Foodie Pen Pals came from baker-to-be, Ariel, of Having My Cake and Sharing It 2, based in San Fransisco.The box was filled with a few things to satisfy a sweet craving. First was the pancake/waffle mix from Jack and Jason’s, which fulfilled my request for something local to her. Sadly, The Missus and I haven’t had a morning off together since I received the box on the 23rd. Hopefully, that will change soon. There were also some Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Cocoa Nibs that haven’t been opened yet.

What we have already eaten though are the Trader Joe’s ‘Way More Chocolate Chip Cookies’ (I think we went through the entire container over the course of two days). The first night we spread the other treat in the box, Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter, which you want to compare to peanut butter, right on top of the cookies.  We couldn’t get past three each before our teeth began to ache with the overwhelming sweetness of the combination. I don’t think you could eat more than a few without it happening, the cookie butter is both weird and addictive, but also insanely loaded with sugar.

However, I don’t believe I’m going to let that stop me from cutting a little cream cheese into the cookie butter and making some stuffed chocolate pancakes with the mix from Jack and Jason’s.

Don’t judge me.

So, thank you very much to Ariel for this box of sugar coma goodness. And, if you happen to be interested in seeing what I’ve sent to my pen pal for July, go visit Lorraine at Just One Cupcake.

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dining out, lamb dinners, Maine, northstar farms, restaurant grace, whole beast feast

‘Whole Beast Feast’ at Grace Restaurant

Chef Peter Sueltenfuss joined Grace nearly two years after opening, District (now closed), where he first gained popularity for his Charcuterie and brunch offerings of Chicken and Waffles. For almost a year, he’s been leading the brigade at Grace, changing the menu significantly–bringing back his Charcuterie (HOORAY!)–and turning up the restaurants already existing focus on locally sourced produce and meats.

He and his staff recently took this to a completely different level than any other restaurant in Portland by offering a ‘Whole Beast Feast’ four course menu.  The menu, designed for a group of six to eight people, utilizies an entire side of lamb from Northstar Farms in Windham. They also offer an optional beer/wine pairing for dinners.

On the night that they premiered the menu, the restaurant invited some local food writers, and their guests. We were lucky enough to have the owners of Northstar Farms, Phillip and Lisa Webster, join us for dinner as well.  Because of my job, I get to spend a good amount of time with local food producers, but I have never had the unique opportunity to sit down at a dinner with the people who were responsible for providing the main ingredient. I can tell you that they are two of the most passionate, dedicated farmers I have met. Their connection to, and love of, our local food community runs deep and they take great pride in the animals they raise.  Clearly, Chef Sueltenfuss shares that same connection and respect as he displayed it across four thoughtfully composed courses during the evening.

The amuse brought over by the Chef to start the evening was a lamb tartare, The raw lamb was blended with a smokey and spicy harissa paste, sesame seeds and cucumber. The flavor was much more assertive, both because of the harissa and inherent flavor of protein, than your average tartare and I appreciated the spice the harissa lent to the dish.  The flatbread, served to the side, added salt to the main component purposefully and the combination made for a delightful start to the evening.

The next plate showcased some of the Chef’s Charcuterie skills with a ‘bresaola‘ served on top of a brush of charred fennel and balsamic with anise hyssop and arugula. It was extremely mild for cured lamb and the brush of fennel and balsamic brought on an intensely sweet punch. Not sweet enough, though, to stop me from stealing every last bit from my plate.

After that came a course of house made rigatoni with smoked lamb shoulder, sun gold tomatoes, goat’s milk ricotta, Castelventrano olives with a bit of Ouzo. I’m mad that I couldn’t get a good picture of the plate because it was one of my favorite of the night. The lamb was so tender, and so beautifully smokey, that the meal could have ended with this dish and I would have been more than content.  But, there was also such a fantastic layer of acidity and sweetness from all of the other components that the lamb never felt or tasted heavy.

The fourth course was the showpiece, a giant lamb leg stuffed with corn and pinenuts, served family style with sides of tempura milkweed pods (!) and fresh corn polenta.  I have to tell you, those milkweed pods were absolutely fantastic, tasting like slightly bitter fried green beans. While we were all first a little unsure of their presence, there wasn’t a single one left at the end of the course.  Nor was there any lamb, either. Phil was asked if he was ever tired of lamb and he replied, “Nope,” as he scooped up his third piece of lamb leg.

We thought the leg was the last of the main courses when Mariah, our very knowledgeable and friendly waitress of the evening, brought out lamb chops.  Meredith and I looked at each other with disbelief. The table had just finished off a generous leg of lamb and now we were going to have to muster up the gumption to trek on through another course. Once Mariah told us what was on the plates before us, I knew the table would have no problem meeting the task.

The plate consisted of a sumac and spruce spiced lamb chop served with a squash puree, pea greens, marinated summer squash and a lamb neck stuffed squash blossom.  Lisa, who sat across from me for the evening, taught The Missus and I how to easily remove the eye of the chop from the bone.  Well, it was easy for her as she had done it so many times before, but we needed a little more practice and reassuring words before ours rolled out of its fat cap and off of the bone. And, while the rib chops were cooked to a perfect medium rare, it was the singular stuffed squash blossom that stole it all for our end of the table. Delicate things like squash blossoms are usually stuffed with equally delicate things like ricotta or fresh chevre. While they’re always nice, this was like a richly developed lamb demi glace contained in a fried blossom. It was unexpected and immensely enjoyed.

Sadly, I had stopped writing down the courses by the end of the meal and didn’t get all of the ingredients on the dessert. I know there was ginger and blueberries, but could tell you nothing more. The Missus said it was one of her favorite dishes of the night because it was so light and refreshing compared to the rest of the meal. I completely agree that it was the perfect note to end on, but I more inclined to say the leg and shoulder were my favorite plates of the evening. 

It was a truly enjoyable evening, from the company to the food, and we cannot thank those at Grace enough for inviting us along for this adventurous dining experience. I enjoyed more lamb in one evening than I have over the course of a year. And, while you may not be as lucky as I was to sit across the table from the owners of Northstar Farms, you can still book–with 72 hours notice–your groups own feast by contacting Grace directly at (207) 828-4422.

Grace on Urbanspoon

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grilled lobster, grilling, lobster, lobstermen, maine lobster, ridiculously cheap lobsters

Grilled Soft Shell Lobster

 So, how does one make a lobster go from this:

 To this: 
Well, all you really need is about $18 (2–1 1/2# soft shell lobsters from Free Range Fish at market cost of $3.99/#)  and 25 minutes. I used a Food Republic recipe for some tips, as I had never grilled lobster before, and found the par boiling and halving was a bit messy but made for perfectly cooked lobster.  I served them with some grilled corn brushed with the same lovely compound butter.

Grilled Lobster with Lemon Herb Butter

2 whole lobster
6 tablespoons softened butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 small shallot, minced
Handful of herbs (I used cilantro, lemon thyme, marjoram and chives)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Directions: 
  • Mince herbs, shallot and garlic and add to softened butter. Add lemon zest and mix. Refrigerate overnight.
  • Parboil the lobster so you don’t end up with a nicely grilled outside and raw inside. Drop the lobster in a pot of boiling water, remove after five minutes and shock in an ice bath to stop it from cooking any further.
  • While lobster is cooking, melt compound butter in a small saucepan on stove. When melted, divide in half so you’re not brushing your corn with the same butter you brushed on the raw lobster (that is, of course, if you even make corn. You may choose not to. Obviously ignore this if that’s the case).
  • Slice the lobster lengthwise all the way through into two halves. Clean the tomalley from the body.

  • With the same knife, cut small slits in the claws to vent while cooking. Brush the exposed meat with a mixture of compound butter, lemon juice, a little salt and freshly ground pepper.
  • Clean and lightly oil the grill and get your coals (or set your gas grill) at medium heat. Lay the lobster flesh side down and cook for about five minutes. Then turn it over, brush on more compound, and cook shell side down for another five minutes. When finished the meat should be firm and opaque all the way through.
  • Serve with more lemon butter on the side.

I’ve cooked more lobster in the past month than I have in the past eight years that I’ve been here. I spent more money on a bone-in rib eye steak (weighing 1.75# @ 16.99/#) than I did on a full meal of two beautiful lobsters, corn, butter and herbs.  I know this lobster glut at the market won’t last for long, so I’m taking advantage of it now while I can.

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Eventide Oyster Co., hot weather dining, hugo's, Maine seafood, new restaurant, Oysters, Raw oysters

Magnificent Shuckers

 

It’s a personal rule to not review a place that hasn’t been open long. In fact, it’s a pet peeve of mine. Any restaurant, regardless of who is in the kitchen or running the front of the house, always goes through some growing pains. So, I’ll tend to back off reviewing them until they’ve had time to the expected bumps worked out.

But..

Then there are those times when the first experience is fantastic and blows away any expectations. Doesn’t it then benefit the establishment to get positive reviews and word of mouth so early on?

And so, with Eventide Oyster Co., I’m going to break a personal rule and I do so because Eventide’s opening is, for me, the most anticipated one since Pai Men Miyake. Not only was I excited at the prospect of there being a new oystercentric restaurant in town (I’ll go on the record as not being a fan of J’s. Sorry.), but I was also curious as to how it would be executed.  Would it be more subdued and ‘rustic’ or would it be in the image of Hugo’s, who shares the same owners, and perhaps a bit hard to approach for the average Joe (I will also go on record to say that The Missus and I had one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ meals at Hugo’s on our birthday. So, we’re definitely smitten)?

Now that the doors are open, I can say that I think they’ve struck a wonderful balance. Eventide has the finesse and culinary playfulness of Hugo’s, but establishes itself as a unique entity with its distinct, but familiar, menu and casual atmosphere. The bright sea blue walls and open space eases the pain at the loss of Rabelais to Biddeford within moments of opening the door.

When my co-worker and I sat down for lunch, their doors had been open for a little over a week, but you wouldn’t be able to tell. Our server at the bar, Jess, was relaxed and informative (we had many questions) and when we couldn’t decide on all of our oysters, she quickly suggested filling in the rest with a selection from Maine. Fine enough with us and, with seven varieties from in state, we knew we’d get a great representation of their raw bar.

Speaking of bars.  Can I tell you that I was mesmerized by their draft beer taps, particularly the Dogfish Head one?

We opted to start our meal splitting a dozen oysters. My companion ordered the Wellfleets (MA) and Winterpoint Selects (ME), which are exclusive to Eventide and ones that I had sampled at Taste of the Nation. Having remembered getting some super briny Pacific Northwest oysters at Miyake, I chose the Shigoku (WA). 

The remaining oysters on our tray were Johns River, from South Bristol, Dodge Cove, in Damariscotta, and Wiley Points, also from Damariscotta. For the accoutrements we chose the mignonette and fennel orange, which had the consistency of an Italian ice. The above photo and menu shows them in order, and we ate from the bottom of the plate, up.
 

The briniest oysters were definitely our preferred ones and were the Shigoku, Johns River and Winterpoint Selects, which my friend said, “It’s like when you’re a kid and you go into the water off Maine and get a mouth full of ocean. This is Maine.”

We were only half way through our oysters when the other dishes started to arrive.  My friend ordered their ‘Lightly Grilled Local Squid Salad’, which came served with potato, egg yolk and paprika.  

It was absolutely stunning and the plate held the most tender squid I believe I’ve ever tasted. There was no chew, no objectionable texture. Had I closed my eyes and taken a bite of the dish I never would have guessed that it was squid. It was buttery, from the egg yolk, and tender, like soft noodles. The flavor was light and delicate, the cubes of potatoes adding the slightest bit of texture, was topped with a simple smattering of olive oil and smokey paprika. By this time, I believe we were both close to swooning off of our bar stools.

Then my plate of ‘Lightly Cured Artic Char’ was set in front of us and I was completely blown away by its composition. Pickled red onion, creme fraiche, fried bagel pieces, grated hard boil egg and caviar (Artic Char?) all set together on the plate so that each bite would contain all of the components. I wish I could have captured this dish into my memory better because I’m having the hardest time describing just how good it was. I can, however, easily say that it was unlike any lox plate I’ve had before it. More subtle than traditional lox, it was definitely enhanced by the bite of the pickled red onions and the pop and salt of the caviar.

But, those unsuspecting fried bagel bits. When the plate was set in front of us, my co-worker and I were talking about traditional New York style bagels. I quickly popped one of the fried bagel nuggets into my mouth and instantly put my hand on her arm and said, “And there it is.”  Perfectly chewy center, nice crunchy, seedy crust. The catch, though, is that it’s not even a bagel. It’s a flat bread that they make in house and prepare to look like little bagel pieces. You deceptive, magnificent bastards!

We weren’t done there, however. There were two last glorious dishes to dig in to.

My friend ordered the “Fried Oyster Bun,” which was served in a bun very similar to those used in the pork belly buns at Pai Men. While she offered me a bite, I left it all to her as she went on about how perfectly fried and fresh the oysters were. She also really enjoyed the uber thinly sliced pickled tomatoes and onions that were served underneath. I believe her exact words were, “These are the perfect undergarments for the oysters.” 
My “Eventide Lobster Roll” was served with ample amounts of freshly cooked, still slightly warm, sweet lobster tossed in a house mayonnaise and the tiniest bits of dill. While I’m a fan of the more traditional style, toasted bun and all, this easily rises to the top of the best rolls I’ve had in the area. The soft, steamed bun  made me wonder if toasted buns are used more often as a way to counter a heavily (over)dressed lobster salad.  This roll didn’t need the textural contrast, in fact this roll was enhanced with a softer bun. It complimented the tenderness of the lobster and it all seemed to melt together with every bite. While they play with tradition a wee bit on the roll, I don’t think there’s a Mainer out there that wouldn’t put this towards the top of their list of local favorites. 
For most of our lunch, we saw a lot of this:

People gathering outside of the windows, peering in like we were on the inside of a fishbowl. It happened so many times that it made me laugh. I don’t know if it was the blue walls, the huge carved boulder that houses the oysters or the fact that they weren’t from the area, but they gathered in groups and every once in a while one would venture in to take a picture.  If my mouth wasn’t full most of the time, I would have yelled to them to stay, pull up a chair and start with a dozen.

But, I didn’t.

So, instead, I’m telling you: Go. Sit at the bar, be dazzled with envy with how effortlessly they make shucking look and enjoy some of the best seafood this area now has to offer.

Eventide Oyster Co.  on Urbanspoon

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