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.
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.