Take a Holiday in Maine (Portland, Specifically)

Whoah, it’s been a hot minute, hasn’t it? Blame August, it’s rubbish for second dates (according to the Washington Post) and also for blogging. With weekends at the shore, helping put together a small, understated pop-up party for 5,000 in this city I love, and trying not to fall completely off the health wagon after finishing Whole30, there’s been less time to write it all down.

LUCKILY, I did manage to find time for a quick vacation to Portland, ME with my Main(e) squeeze. It was picturesque as can be, but I spent more time snapping shots of our eats than light houses or sunsets (sorry, not sorry.) We did a LOT of recon before our jaunt to make sure that we enjoyed the tastiest treats and most delicious drinks. I’m pretty proud to say we succeeded; demonstrated especially by the fact that we were inadvertently tailing the New York Times, in town to update their “36 Hours in Portland” piece.

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Ok, fine, I took one picture of a sunset. You’re welcome.

The drive from the Philly area to Maine isn’t TOO bad, a comfortable 7ish hours. Luckily, en route, you pass almost DIRECTLY through New Haven, CT. Cue a fully necessary stop at Frank Pepe Pizza Napoletana. I’m no expert, but as a pizza lover, you’d be remiss to skip any opportunity to stop by for some of that New Haven-style Pizza GOODNESS!

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Not from Portland, but I had to mention it.

This “apizza” isn’t a perfect circle, just an oblong oval of crunchy, cheesy perfection. We also got pepperoni, because YOLO. But… I digress. Onto the Maine attraction (hehehe).

Portland: I love you. You’re breezy and chill when the rest of my world is muggy and hot, you’re lobster rolls when everyone else is grilling burgers, and you’re full of weird and wonderful shops and eateries. Here’s the tip of one of the most scrumptious icebergs ever….

We were in town for three mornings. Two of them featured breakfast from Portland’s “The Holy Donut”. By breakfast, I just mean a buncha Maine Potato Donuts.

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My favorite: Blueberry!

Don’t get me wrong, my heart is always in Philly with Federal Donuts. Whether it was the crisp air, the morning rush, or the delicious glaze, this donut tasted ethereal. Apparently, the addition of Maine potatoes makes the dough especially moist. And if you’re one of those people that hates the word moist, get over it, because these donuts are insane.

The next image may LOOK like it’s still breakfast, but don’t like your eyes fool you.

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One skillet. Seven slots. Infinite joy.

Boda is a hip little joint inspired by Thai street food and tapas, serving up gems like these Kanom-Krok Quail Eggs seasoned with soy sauce and scallions. I know we ate other stuff, I promise you. I have vague memories of killer brussels sprouts that are all but washed away by the distinctly crispy edges of these huevos, the salty soy, the vibrant bite of the scallions. If I could eat only these for all meals, I’d be happy. Minus the high cholesterol, or something, but definitely happy. And hey, while we’re on the topic of eggs…

Duckfat was our singular “breakfast” that wasn’t donuts. And also, we kinda ate lunch. BUT the egg on our poutine basically makes it brunch, right?

Right.

Belgian fries cooked in (what else?) duck fat, cheese curds, duck gravy AND chives. Served with (let’s call it a side of?) a house-smoked brisket panini. You know, gotta keep that girlish figure… The “vegetable chow chow” in the brisket panini is practically a salad.

And while I could talk about Portland eats for hours, but the thing is, when you go to Eventide Oyster Co., you basically hear an imaginary mic drop on your tastebuds. So here goes nothing.

Y’all.

This place.

It screams MAINE in the way that a true Maine-iac might. Which is to say it’s cool as a cucumber, hip AF, and probably tosses around the word “wicked” for good measure. We had lobster chowder (lobstah chowdah? top right), salmon poke, and (of course) our only lobster roll of the trip. But, despite the trendy take on the roll (instead of a “roll”, EOC used a steamed bun and brown butter for the lobsters. Enough of that brown butter that Paula Deen would’ve been proud.

Shoot. It’s been well over 700 words. And I’ve scratched the surface…. I guess I’ll just have to visit again.

Cheers to you, Portland. I can’t wait to come back.

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On the scene at Allagash. Doing important research.

 

 

Spring Fling with Bing Bing (Dim Sum)

If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Unfortunately, I think Philadelphia has a case of the opposite. We, as a city of foodie folks, expect the very best from our chefs. The new ones. The veterans. The young ones. The oldies (but goodies). And then, if they don’t deliver to every single expectation…. Philly people get ticked. I feel like there’s a general air of disappointment that surrounds eaters in this city when they enter a restaurant that’s been hyped up.

Like those overly aggressive dudes that go into every bar, party, or pub ready for a fight, they, too, are looking for someone (or something) with whom they can take issue. I say this because I finally had a chance to mosey down to Bing Bing Dim Sum, East Passyunk’s new contemporary dim sum spot opened by the fellows that brought you Cheu Noodle Bar. Everyone that I’ve talked to has given this place the typical “Oh yes, it was decent BUT __________.” I’m here to tell you it was delicious.

Pac Man Bun: scrapple, quail egg, and pickles

Pac Man Bun: scrapple, quail egg, and pickles

Admittedly, my last dim sum experience was what I like to call my “brush with death” at Joy Tsin Lau, a mere few days before one of Philly’s biggest food poisoning outbreaks. So maybe all there was to go was up…. but I think it’s more than that. I think it’s perfectly cooked quail eggs and savory scrapple. I think it’s an outdoor seating and happy hour that, though newly launched, brought joy to my tastebuds (and wallet).

$5 bites, $3-5 bevvies

Cumin lamb rolls ON FLEEK. Truly, these were ethereal. Crunchy and filled with a tangy, stringy lamb. Oh, yes.

Sure, it’s not “bargain dim sum”. But I don’t think you’d want it to be. You pay a bit of a premium for something new, something different. And with dumplings like these, you get what you pay for:

Jade dumplings full of shrimp and leeks

Jade dumplings full of shrimp and leeks

My pal from grad school was in town and, though I love her, it’s hard to admit…. she’s gluten free. Yup, one of my best friends…. she can’t enjoy a normal beer, pizza, or bagel with me.

The struggle’s never been more real.

Luckily, Bing Bing gets it. Beyond our Pac-man Buns, scallion pancakes, and the lamb rolls, we enjoyed a variety of gluten free options that tasted anything but.

Green beans with fermented garlic and crunchy fried quinoa

Green beans with fermented garlic and crunchy fried quinoa

Fried cauliflower with shrimp salt, lemon, and scallion

Fried cauliflower with shrimp salt, lemon, and scallion

The vegetables, our first two dishes of the night, were filling and delicious enough to make an affordable, tasty meal for one. But dim sum is all about MORE.

Scallion pancakes with black bean hummus

Scallion pancakes with black bean hummus

Un-pictured: a delightful set of (gluten free) ruby red beet dumplings full of tofu and crispy garlic, and a bowl of (also gluten free) ginger scallion rice, chicken, furikake, long hots, and a pickled egg that had me playing the fun game where you see if you can pluck single grains of rice using your chopsticks.

If your food tastes that good, you’ll find a whole new set of skills.

Rice noodle rolls with garlic sausage, peanuts, and herbs

Rice noodle rolls with garlic sausage, peanuts, and herbs

These rice noodle rolls came out last, after I thought I couldn’t fit any more food in my belly. I was (luckily) mistaken. This nutty sauce, complimented by the hot chili oil Bing Bing has on each table, were full of garlicky sausage that both sated any leftover appetite, and guaranteed I wouldn’t be smooching any vampires that night. Not that I’m into that kinda thing #teamJacob.

Sure, we went during Happy Hour so the prices on some of the items were a little cheaper. But between the four of us, each getting at least one (DELICIOUS) alcoholic beverage, we came out paying $100 before tip. I’m more than cool with that. Throw in a wacky, dumpling themed decor (they’re everywhere. Even in the bathrooms) and you’re in for a unique night, to say the least. And while I rarely encourage anyone to follow the advice of Sylvia Plath (for assorted reasons), I think she’d make a hell of a food critic.

NYC Take Three: Cousins Club Takes Aqua Grill

So in case you missed them, here are a few recaps from this weekend’s trip to NYC:

Saturday night, though, was for family.  If you’ve been reading for a bit, you may remember my cousin’s NYC wedding last month!  Well, the happy couple just recently got back from a glamorous honeymoon in Turkey, and offered their home for a little happy hour before dinner.

Ted and Whit, the happy couple!

The title of this post actually references to the “Cousins Club” that all of my younger cousins had growing up. My mother’s one of 8 kids, so you can imagine there are quite a few cousins in that club.  Well, this past weekend, I felt like we were the grown up generation of the Cousins Club!  And what’s more grown-up than a bit of a cocktail hour for the Cousins?

Whitney and Ted were fantastic hosts, and really pulled out all the stops for their guests (namely, Claire and me).

Quite the spread.

Quite the spread.

We got to tour Whitney and Ted’s apartment, which was adorable and perfect and totally reflected them.  Whitney even picked up some tasty craft beer, knowing how much I love it!

Clearly I was a fan.

Clearly I was a fan.

It was the Smuttynose Imperial Stout, and it was rich, malty, and oh-so-drinkable (perfect to go with all the salty cheeses and meats!)

After a quick photo op, we were on our way to one of their favorite restaurants, Aqua Grill.

Tiny tiny tiny

Tiny tiny tiny

Aqua Grill, located in the Financial District, is one of the newlyweds’ favorite spots and, the moment we walked inside, I could tell why.  The atmosphere was infectious. Even though it was a late dinner (around 10pm), the joint was bustling. There was a din of chatter and laughter, the lighting was warm, and they had a gorgeous display of raw oysters as we passed the bar.  I could tell we were in for a treat.  I ordered a Jalapeno Quencher, the spicy cocktail I mentioned in this week’s Six Pack Sunday. It was delicious and, after careful deliberation, we decided to order four different kinds of oysters for the four of us (16 oysters. MATH!) I even took a picture so I wouldn’t forget which ones we ordered.

Ah, memories.

Ah, memories.

We did an impromptu “oyster tasting”, which was actually my first opportunity to taste the different types of flavors that you can get from different types of oysters. They were creamy or briny, and we also ordered my first “wild” oyster. Maybe it’s because I date a fellow raised in the Cajun tradition of loving all things oyster, but this was just an awesome experience. We let our tongues do the tasting, and it was an exploration of flavors before the main course.

I'm selfish for shellfish

I’m selfish for shellfish

Ted also ordered us a little sushi type dish but, I’ll be totally honest, while it was tasty, it almost paled in comparison to the oysters and the main course.  For moi?

Heavenly

Heavenly

Seared Diver Sea Scallops with Dungeness Crabmeat Risotto and Sugar Snap Peas in a Tomato Shellfish Emulsion

MY GOODNESS!! This was to-die-for!  I’ve only had scallops once before and these were so on point, matched perfectly with a creamy risotto and the sugar snap peas were a surprisingly crunch every time I bit into one. I think my favorite was putting a little bit of each piece on the fork before eating to merge all the flavors and textures in one divine bite.  I can’t speak highly enough about this dish.

Aqua Grill certainly did not do us wrong. Although there was a bit of a wait for some of the dishes, it was a packed Saturday night, so I kind of expected that. No worries, as the company more than made up for the wait.

My tummy was so stuffed and sated by the end of this meal, I felt like I should either float or be rolled back to the apartment. We made a quick attempt at “going out” but, after weighing our options (and pushing through the crowds at another crowded NYC bar), we thought it might just be more pleasant to fall blissfully into bed, dreaming of salty oyster shots and luscious scallops.

I’d say that if the younger generation wants to compete with this cousins club, they have some work ahead of them.