This installation of O-Rama to be about dining outside of Portland. I believe the geographical boundaries set by Professor A. were to end at the Maine border. But, let’s be honest here, The Missus and I don’t travel much for a meal. We lack any semblance of coordinated schedules to make getting out of town for a weekday meal very feasible. In fact this summer brought very little trips outside of the peninsula–once in the beginning of July for the Lithuanian Dance Festival in Boston (and, no..we did not participate) and the other fell at the end of July for the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival.
While I did try for this O-Rama, my last minute planned adventure across the bridge to South Portland and a bowl of Pho at Pho Hanoi was nixed by the fact that they’re apparently closed. Who knew? So, still having an obligation to fill, The Missus suggested we hit up Thai Taste while we were over the bridge. Bad, bad idea. The highlight was the Crab Rangoon and even those elicited no more than a ‘Meh’ from either one of us. Actually it was unpleasant enough to make me not want to speak of it again, which is why I’m pushing the boundaries given for this review and taking us to the Green Mount State and happier times away from Portland. I’m also a month overdue in writing this piece, so it’s a twofer.
Our weekend in Vermont was part for work (mine) and part to just eat a lot of damn food. We accomplished all tasks easily. The glutton tour started at a stop in North Conway, NH, where we stumbled upon The Stairway Cafe.
It’s tucked in high off the main strip in North Conway and would have been completely bypassed had we not pulled off the road just to get out of the summer traffic for a little bit. We were sold on the place when we spied the game meat sausages offered (The Missus had elk in her omelet with smoked gouda and spinach) and funky interior. The waitresses were great, the coffee was strong and the biscuits were fluffy. Oh, and the food was pretty great, too. Outside of having to fight off a food nap half way into the trip, it was more than enough to sustain us as we ventured the scenic route west across New Hampshire and Vermont to Burlington.
After arriving in Burlington and relaxing for a bit in our hotel, we met up with some friends at The Farmhouse Tap and Grill. I loved the food the first time I was there and was excited to share it with my hop lovin’ friends and my Missus. The food and the company were just as good as the first time and I basically recreated the meal that I had back in October. I did have my first sip of Collaboration Time #1, which is a Black IPA, from Maine Beer Company/Lawson’s Finest Liquids of Vermont. It was alright for a beer and even better for a dark one (my arch nemesis of beers). It tasted like flat root beer and, for any beer for me, that’s a compliment. Our friends were happy, the city was buzzing with Vermont Brewers Fest goers and all was right in Burlington. If we could only have one vacation, I’m glad it was this one.
While our first day seemed like a blur, as it happens to be with our lovely friends, the second seemed to go on forever. We arrived at the Cheesemakers fest early (YAY for one of the perks of my job!) and got to mill about and enjoy the offerings before the gates opened and the buildings at Shelburne Farms became overcrowded.
until we couldn’t sample any more and nearly passed out on the lawn. So, we called it a day and decided to seek refuge in the air conditioned hotel room for a bit before we went back into town.
Then we ate some more.
Apparently 3 1/2 hours of eating nothing but cheese just wasn’t enough for me because I felt compelled to order a ham and cheese crepe from The Skinny Pancake, a hip little creperie near the water. It was named ‘The Lumberjack’ and really should have tipped me off to how massive this was going to be. It was good, but it was so heavy that I got physically tired just trying to mow through it.
The Missus ordered up a ‘Localvore’s Dream,’ filled with chicken, blue cheese, cranberries and arugula. She enjoyed hers greatly, but the sheer size of both crepes made them hard to finish.
Then we spent a couple of hours touring through the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, marveling at inbred sturgeon, looking at human dissections, mouth breathing turtles and hunting for Champ. We never did see that damn lake monster.
We spent our last few hours on Church Street, picking up some Grapefruit White Balsamic Vinegar from the Saratoga Olive Oil Company and sipping some of our last coffee at Uncommon Grounds–both little reminders back home in NY. Then, after the last of the Chai was gone, it was off to our final meal at A Single Pebble.
This was the gem in our fat kid crown.
I don’t understand people who go on vacation only to eat the same food they could get back at home. Like people that travel to Europe and seek out the local McDonalds. If you’re that person, you cause me rage. For me, I want to eat as much food as I can that’s vastly different from what I can have here. With the glaring void of good Chinese restaurants in the area, it was a bit of an obvious choice to visit A Single Pebble for our last meal in town.
I had done a bit of reading up on it before we made reservations and already had my mind up on having the Chef’s Tasting Menu, regardless of cost. But, that wasn’t a factor because our waitress, Misa, told it was a mere $36 and the chef would choose the dishes and send them out until you confessed to being full. We made it through 8 dishes before tapping out and, while some were less than stellar (the dumplings were, surprisingly, the only disappointing dish for me) the flavors were above and beyond anything here in town.
Ribs with black bean sauce
Sichuan cucumbers (Showered with a garlic, chili & rice vinegar dressing).
These followed a braised short rib dish with an earthy black bean sauce. The acidity and sweetness were a nice contrast to the previous dish.
Miso soup and watercress salad (Fresh watercress tossed with soy sauce and sesame oil)
The watercress seemed a bit pointless. We would have liked a larger portion of the salty miso and tofu soup instead.
Trio of dumplings
“Three Cup” chicken (A traditional Taiwanese dish. Crispy pieces of chicken, flash-braised in a wine and soy sauce with ginger, garlic, basil and sesame oil.)
I’m not going to say that it was a few chili peppers short of being General Tso’s, but it was pretty damn close. The most familiar of all of the dishes, I have to say I was a sucker for the garlicky chicken.
Cherry and apple wood smoked Beef Chow Fun
My favorite dish. The smoke was rich and sweet and penetrated every bite. This particular dish was a special to the menu and I’m glad it was one of the dishes the chef chose to send out.
‘Buddahkan’ Beef Chow Fun
Barbeque hanging pork (Marinated pork thinly sliced with vegetables, bean cake & traditional Cantonese five spice sauce)
Vanilla cheesecake with caramel and blueberries
We probably should have stopped at the 6th plate, but we couldn’t. We were just so happy to be eating really good Chinese food. The Missus says that we were food drunk during the meal and I don’t disagree. We even brought leftovers back to Portland with us, just to prolong our happiness.
We then rolled ourselves down to the waterfront, sat down on a few left over chairs from the Brewers Fest and watched the sunset over Lake Champlain. And so ended our extended meal outside of Portland.