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

clove ban, FDA, Maine, unnecessary laws, wine tasting ban

What About the Children?!?!

There are two upcoming laws that will save the children from a life of depravity and stinky clothing. The first to hit, exclusive to the state of Maine is this one, prohibiting wine tastings from occurring in venues where children will lay their eyes upon adults, of age…. drinking. That’s right, this law is meant to shield the eyes of impressionable children from drinking the Blood of Christ…
fuck, wait….
I meant ‘Mama’s medicine’….
fuck, no, this isn’t therapy..
I need to remember that…
wait, I have it.. The Devils Milk.

There, that’s right. Sinful and awful. As of this Saturday(9/12), no more free booze in retail settings, even at some quaint little wine shop where nary a child would be seen. Sure, they’re working to get the language right, so those quaint shops can resume their tastings, but that won’t happen until January.

But, aside from that, the law-as it stands or in it’s upcoming edit-is not worth the paper it’s printed on. It’s one of those unnecessary bullshit laws that a rep uses to pad their accolades. “Look what I’ve done to save the youth of Maine” they’ll tout, when in reality they know that no one will be saved as nothing will be accomplished from it. Sure, this is the state where Prohibition started, so it shouldn’t be a shock that there are still some deep rooted attachment to a puritanical system.. But, c’mon, this is also a state where you can pick up a gallon sized bottle of Beef Eater just aisles away from the Gummy Snacks and BooBerry Cereal. Who are you penalizing but retailers and legal aged adults looking to get a free buzz on?

And where there are drinkers there are smokers. And that, my friends leads me to the next bullshit law, with a bit more sinister backer and questionable statistics. On September 22nd, Goths, Lesbians and Hippies will mourn the loss of ‘Candy Flavored’ Cigarettes as this law goes into effect. Again, this bill is passed in the name of the children. One thing of note is that the ever popular flavor of mint, or the cool crystaline smoothness of Menthol cigarettes, is exempt from this list.
‘Why the exception,’ you ask? Because the major backer of this bill is Phillip Morris, the largest producer of Menthol cigs in the US.

I’ve chatted with many fellow smokers about this law, mostly because I’m pissed that I’ll have to order from over seas–until the PACT law is passed next year, as predicted, banning all cigarette sales online in the US. Many of them have joked about sneaking of one Grams Vanilla flavored Nat Shermans when she wasn’t looking. When in reality, it was Camels, Marlboros and Salems. This is where kids start smoking. Only the fringe kids–for me, it was the theater geeks in college–reach for the flavored smokes and most, except for me it seems, grows out of it and either quits or moves on the the PM/RJR produced cigarettes.

Not only does this bill scoop up the last hold outs for Phillip Morris, but it sends a message that it’s ok for young blacks to smoke(one of the largest groups who consume Methol’s), but not ok for suburban white youth(largest consumers of flavored cigs) to. Maybe that last part is reading into a bit too far, but I’m to the point of rationing and counting butts in order to make it through the next few months until I’m either ready to quit or Indonesia wins it’s dispute with the US through the WTO.

So, let’s put the two together and see how long until a bill is up to ban all flavored alcohol in the US. No Twisted Teas, Mikes Hard Lemonade, Vanilla Stoli or Brooklyn Brewery Chocolate Stout. Surely it’s come across the brain of someone else that feels the need to save the children from the vice in the world and what’s more appealing than booze that doesn’t taste like booze? Zima, anyone? So, start getting use to the taste of pure grain alcohol cause your vice days are numbered too.

And before I hear moans about ‘What does banning nasty smoking have to do with food?’ I am reminded of a question a cousin posed to me once:
“Do you ever eat just so you can have that cigarette after?”

I am not ashamed to say I have.


blight, gay marriage, Maine, michael heath is a douche

Gay Marriage to Blame for Blight–According to Maine Anti-Gay Activist

My apologies to all of the farmers whose crops have been destroyed because of my relationship. I’m truly sorry.

But, honestly, Michael Heath is a twat.

“Our crops are faring like our moods. The potato crop is blighted, and corn and fruit fields wither. In one historic building in Augusta, rain flooded the basement, as water from another source poured down through the ceiling and extinguished a century-old chandelier.

Few people would be bold enough to suggest the cause of the endless rain and gloom, that the moral climate in Maine has caused the sun to hide its face in shame.

Worse than the rain is the fact, that Maine voted in homosexual “marriage.”

In May, our elected officials overturned a law of nature, and in its place paid honor to evil and unnatural practices.

Our leaders allowed a cloud of error to hide the light of reason, and then the rain began. How fitting that this eclipse of human reason is mirrored by the disappearance of the sun!

What darkness equals the error of saying a family should be headed by two mothers or two fathers? What error equals saying that two women can be married, or two men?

I am not saying that homosexuals or the gay rights movement are to blame for the weather. Far from it!

The fault lies with a refractory governor and Legislature who imposed an immoral law on our people.”

blight, Maine, potato, tomato

Irish Blight hitting Northeast

Ok, I can’t blame my people for it, but according to Cornell University, the Late Blight fungus, which destroyed Irish potato crops in the 1840’s, has been seen in many areas of the Northeast, including nearby in Rhode Island.

Symptoms, from Science Daily include:

Large (at least nickel-sized) olive-green to brown spots on leaves with slightly fuzzy white fungal growth on the underside when conditions have been humid (early morning or after rain). Sometimes the border of the spot is yellow or has a water-soaked appearance. Spots begin tiny, irregularly shaped and brown. Firm, brown spots develop on tomato fruit.

So far, there are no reported widespread cases in Maine, though Maine is mentioned in the article. Hopefully it stays that way.

Local foods, Maine, Maps, Portland Food

Mapping Maine Foods

Portland Food Map reported the unveiling of the Eat Maine Foods Map.

The Eat Local Foods Coalition of Maine (ELFC) has launched a beta version of a resource to help people more easily connect with local foods organizations in the state. It’s called the Maine Food Map (the map is quite large and the page will take a while to load) and it’s a Google map/directory of local food resources such as farm stands, CSA, CSF, Buying Clubs, etc. While not yet a complete listing, it already provides information for more than 1300 organizations statewide.

ELFC describes the map as an “evolving project”. They hope to raise $6,000 to continue development and work on the “suggestions about functionality that people would like to see added”.