2012 look back, a single pebble restaurant, Eventide Oyster Co., food bliss, Pocket Brunch, restaurant grace, seoul sausage kitchen, year end review

2012–A Very Tasty Year

2012, as stated in the Obscure Holiday Cocktails post, was a very good year, personally, for the Missus and I. It proved to also be a fantastic year for food.

Some of the highlights this year were:

Eventide Oyster Co..   For a ocean side town, the lack of a good oyster bar in Portland has always been puzzling to me. Sure, you can pick up a dozen at J’s, Street and Company and Old Port Sea Grill, but they all fall short of the mark. Then, this past summer, Eventide was opened by the new owners of Hugo’s and it was like the heavens opened up and the food Gods smiled down upon us. Finally.  From the cured arctic char with bagel crisps to the luxurious house mayo based lobster roll, The Missus and I couldn’t stop ourselves from doing happy little food dances in our chairs every time we visited. We’ve gone a handful of times since it opened and not one dish, or oyster, disappointed.  And, when you go, save room (I know, it’s a lot to ask) for an order of their deep fried french toast. You’ll thank me later.

In June, The Food Network, came back to Portland and brought along the second to last stretch of their Great American Food Truck Race. It was a timely appearance as the discussion of food trucks in the city had been a hot topic since last fall. They landed smack in the middle of the Old Port and drew a huge crowd during their brief evening stay (and even more the next when both trucks hit the waterfront).  Seoul Sausage Company, a Korean BBQ truck from L.A., killed it with kimchi. The above pictured ‘TaTa’s’ were a personal favorite, along with the spicy kimchi balls.

In late July, The Missus and I took a work/vacation field trip to Vermont for the 2012 Vermont Cheesemakers Festival and indulged in treats unavailable in Portland. While we were there for endless nibbles of Vermont cheese and spirits, the city treated us to a plethora of hearty, tasty fare. For us, A Single Pebble was above and beyond the highlight. Good, inexpensive and un-Americanized Chinese food seems to be one of the few gaps in town and we were left pining for their ‘Three Cup Chicken” and “Cherry and apple wood smoked Beef Chow Fun.”

It cannot be said that chefs in Portland don’t support, appreciate and love their local farmers. It’s evolved into a relationship where one seemingly cannot exist without the other. Restaurant Grace took this adoration one step further by beginning to offer a menu utilizing a full lamb from North Star Farm. While many restaurants will use a cut or two from a local farm, Chef Sueltenfuss creates an entire 4 course menu for diners. The Missus and I were there for the premier of the menu–along with other area food writers–and had the unique pleasure of sitting across from Phil and Lisa Webster, owners of North Star Farm. You could see the pride on their faces as they watched us enjoy every last morsel served. And they have every right to be proud, their lamb is some of the best I have ever tasted.

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The year was nearly over when The Missus snatched us up a seat at the most sought after table in town–Pocket Brunch. I’ve had a bit of a struggle writing up a review of this because the experience was extremely surreal. We, and about fifty others, gathered at Geno’s on a snowy Sunday for a 4 1/2 hour ‘Game of Thrones’ styled brunch.

I’ve never read a word of the books or have watched a moment of the series. Truthfully, we were there with hopes that there would be suckling pig. It was a truly reasonable thought, I mean, Joe Ricchio and Nolan Stewart were the guest chefs for the afternoon.

We were greeted at the door by the extremely funny and endearing hostess, Erin “McNallica” McNally–who would later lead a very heated session of ‘Game of Thrones’ trivia. She was dressed in full costume and armed with a very real dagger. As we entered the foyer, she handed us all our scrolled up menus and our goblets–mason jars–for the day. She entertained the gathering crowd until she was given the Ok to let us pass through the heavy red curtain that was keeping us from the excitement inside. The people of Pocket Brunch nailed it when they hooked up with her as hostess. She lead the trivia portion of the day and you could tell that she would have aced it. She also stressed to us that if we wished to have our glasses filled, all we had to do was yell “WENCH!!!!” into the air and our needs would be met by one of the servers scurrying around.  We loved her so much that we’re actually thinking of asking her to officiate our wedding this summer. Stay tuned for that one.

After the curtains were raised, we were allowed into the bar area which was deemed ‘beyond the wall’–which really only makes sense if you’ve seen the show/read the books/or immersed yourself in the Wiki for GOT. There we were greeted by Tandem Coffee’s cauldron of brewing Harewa Gatira, their Ethiopian roast. The Missus opted for a “Blood of My Bloody Mary” as it was way too early for her to be around so many people. Thank God for social lubricant.

First course was a table set with ‘Pocket Bacon’–which was crisp Guanciale and Fortified Fruit Crispels with a lavender honey coating. Sadly, we were so taken in by the sights and endless looping of the GOT soundtrack that we didn’t realize that the table we had walked past was part of the first course. Then we spotted people walking with small plates and realized that the massive loaves of bread, piles of bacon and crisps were fair game.While I do love me some crispy pork jowl, the crispels and rustic bread were my favorites of the first course. The lavender honey was gently done, not leaving a trace of the soapiness behind that can befall anything containing lavender. They were dainty and enjoyable, especially with the Tandem coffee. The bread, dense and hearty, was ripped off in chunks–as you would expect it to be–and showcased the deft hand that Josh Schier-Potocki (one of the great minds behind Pocket Brunch, along with his wife, Katie, Joel Beuchamp and Nan’l Meiklejohn) is known for with any flour based good.

Second course was a warming, “Dothraki Wedding Stew” that was thick with lamb and couscous and sweetened with prunes and honey.  It was the perfect true start to the meal on such a cold December day in Maine.  One could easily fatten themselves up for the coming winter on a stew like this. This brunch had the added dimension of wine and beer pairings, and a Montelpulciano D’Abruzzo was chosen to pair with the lamb. Sadly, I did skip any alcohol for the day (which was probably a good idea as I would have been overly schwilly at the end of the 4 1/2 hour meal).

 
Third came the Dove and Parsnip pie, served with a side of Dandelion greens and Pomegranate.This is the one time, all day, that the choice of venue may have worked against them. Because Geno’s is obviously NOT a place that serves food, the logistics of keeping several dozen mini-handpies warm without an alto shaam must have been a nightmare for the crew and the dough on the pie suffered for it. It was dry to the point of taking away from any enjoyment that may have been had from the filling. There was also not enough sauce on top to make a difference for it. It was a bit sad because I’m sure, if proper warming units were available to them, it would have been amazing. The small side of greens and pomegranate were a nice touch, though. Dandelion greens can be so bitter, but they were beautifully dressed with the pomegranate. For this one, locally produced Oxbow Brewing’s “Saison Noel” was chosen and I’m going to say that it was well enjoyed by my table mates as it didn’t linger long in their mason jars.

Now, where the pie had it’s missteps, it was immediately forgiven–and forgotten–once the next course came out. Dubbed “Quail Leggs” on the menu, we were served a lovely fried quail egg with a side of watercress and dollop of caraway creme fraiche.

Then this happened:

Joe Ricchio went around to every table and served guests the most succulent quail leg I’ve ever had. I’m not even sure how it was cooked–grilled, smoked, roasted… I have no friggin’ idea. It didn’t stay on my plate long enough to find out. I tore at it like a dog with a new bone. I may have eyed the string to see if there were any left and if seconds were out of the question. The quail egg may had been a tad too cooked, as my yolk was firm and not runny, but–again–logistics most likely played a role. The watercress and creme fraiche were simply done, but nearly as enjoyable as the quail leg. Proving that the simplest of preparations can prove to be the most enjoyable.The pairing for this course was a dry mead from R. Nicoll/Fiddlers Reach in Bath, ME.

It was around this time that little vials started appearing in peoples hands. These were the work of Nan’l Meiklejohn. There must have been at least 100 bottles in the case he carried around–it was truly a case of ‘pick your poison’ as he had no idea which bottles were which, but he knew that there nine different elixirs:

1) gentian liqueur w/green cardamom & allspice
2) cherry eau de vie w/hibiscus & coriander
3) caraway liqueur w/caraway seeds & witch hazel root
4) ginger liqueur w/dried orange & sarsaparilla
5) allspice liqueur w/vanilla bean
6) anise liqueur w/cacao nibs, cassia chips & cayenne
7) elderflower blossom liqueur w/rosehips & pink peppercorn
8) orange liqueur w/schisandra berries & cloves
9) violet flower liqueur w/juniper berries & wild cherry bark root. 

We have yet to open ours, so we may never know what we chose.


The second to last course brought the highlight of the meal, a due of boar leg and belly served atop a rustic hard tack plate with a side of sage and currant compote. For the first time in the day, the crowd grew silent, completely immersed in the dish. The dish before made us feel like royalty, but this made us feel like kings. Both presentations of the boar were juicy and perfectly cooked (in the lot in back of Geno’s on a grill).  The compote was a wonderful compliment, adding a bit of savory sweetness to each bite of the meat. Bunker Brewing’s Boondock Scotch Ale was poured by the wenches, but you could tell that they wanted to abandon their duties and dive mouth first into our meals.

The final course came around 3 o’clock and The Missus and I were stuffed beyond belief and ready to drift back home and catch an afternoon nap. Our marathon meal was finally coming to an end, but it did so on a very satisfying note.   The buckwheat crust brought a near savory element to the small slice of fig tart, which was perfectly sweetened. If I had been able to move at that point, I would have gathered myself another cup of Ethiopian roast from Tandem. But, I was too full–and too satisfied–to do so.

As we trudged back out into the snowy afternoon, I quietly reflected on what a unique dining experience we had just sat through. Not only had we just had the longest meal I could recall attending, it struck me as to what made the afternoon so enjoyable–it was fun. People were eating, imbibing and genuinely enjoying themselves without a care in the world. There were no pretentious airs…no shitty attitudes towards the staff (I think you’d have been tossed if you pulled an attitude–this WAS Geno’s, after all). There was a collective appreciation from everyone in the room. Something I feel is lacking in our “Foodie” (sorry for dropping the ‘f’ word) culture. We take so many meals for granted…we forget that the experience should be enjoyable and fun.

Thank you, Josh and Katie Schier-Potocki, Joel Beauchamp, Nan’l Meiklejohn, Erin Mcnally, Joe Ricchio and Nolan Stewart for reminding us to have so f’ing fun. Hope to see you at the next Pocket Brunch.

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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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