El Rayo’s New Cantina is a Hot Little Watering Hole

9 May

I had been dying to try out El Rayo’s newest addition, El Rayo Cantina, for weeks when my friend Brandi suggested we go there for a girl’s night dinner. I arrived a little early since they don’t take reservations to (quite happily) find that she had called ahead to get our name on the list. SCORE! So, that gave me some time to sit down and order a specialty cocktail and chow down on some of their house chicharones before she arrived.

I ordered the Slow Burn to start. I’d like to start of by saying I am not a tequila kind of girl, but I decided to expand my horizons since I was in a Mexican restaurant that serves so many amazing tequilas. The Slow Burn consists of habanero, black pepper, and chipotle infused tequila, lime juice, a hint of dry vermouth, olive brine and triple sec and then rimmed with what they call a “spicy Oaxaca mystery powder.” It was spicy and intense. I really liked it, but didn’t see how someone could stomach more than one, literally, I almost have heartburn just thinking about it, but if you like spicy liquor this was an interesting and inventive drink. I have never had anything like it.

The Slow Burn

Brandi ordered her usual—La Ciudad. It’s made with tequila and lime juice. Brandi described it as an “elegant margarita.” It’s shaken and served straight up in a martini glass. She had two (they are that good, my friends, that good).

We decided to start with the Tortilla Chips and Three Dips to start. It come with a homemade bean dip, homemade guac, and homemade salsa verde. The guacamole was the clear winner, and being the guac snob I am I can honestly say it was some of the best I have ever had. I loved it. Highly recommended.

Tortilla Chips with Guac, Bean Dip, and Salsa Verde

For dinner Brandi went for the Tostada with shredded beef and I ordered the Fish Relleno.

Brandi loved her Tostada. She said it, “Was delicious! It’s been years since I’ve had a tostada and it was the perfect blend of cabbage, cilantro, meat and sour cream. Creatively done and very tasty.”


I also thought my Fish Relleno was creatively done. It was essentially fish stuffed with crab and shrimp and rolled into an almost burrito like shape. The lime vinaigrette that was on top was killer. I could drink that stuff with a straw. It really complemented the dish. My one complaint is that some of the rice wasn’t fully cooked, it was either that or the veggies…I couldn’t tell, but there was a weird crunch to the rice. Nothing that killed the entire meal, but I would prefer a fully cooked side on my next visit.

Fish Relleno

I’m really looking forward to going back and trying even more things on their menu. And with as many specialty cocktails as they have this could become the regular girl’s night spot.

Cantina at El Rayo on Urbanspoon

Soup-O-Rama: Aroma Serves up More than Mulligatawny

16 Apr

Sunday’s were made for two things: Sunday drives and Sunday dinners. We were lucky enough enjoy both of these Sunday Funday events today with our super cute friends Jay and Suzanne. So, we went on a little tour of coastal Maine before hitting up Aroma in South Portland for some Mulligatawny Soup along with a handful of other delicious Indian dishes.

I’m usually wary of food establishments in strip malls (read: I never go to them), but Aroma has been getting such amazing reviews from other food bloggers and people I trust in the area that I felt it was high time to give it a fair shot. Jay and Suzanne were happy to be part of this experiment too. These two rad kids just moved here from San Francisco less than a year ago, so they know Indian food. In fact, they are very in the know when it comes to Asian cuisine.

Upon first arrival, the place certainly doesn’t look like much. There isn’t even the typical Indian décor that you usually find in restaurants. It’s very simple, just a few tables, the set-up for the buffet area (they do a lunch and dinner buffet most nights) and a television set up in the corner that played some music along with photos of different Indian dishes. The television idea amused us.

We decided not to order the buffet because a) it didn’t look like it was set up and b) I’m not really a buffet person. I have come to find that buffets are usually an invitation to eat more than one should and I can’t help but question the sanitation of buffet operations. Some patrons are gross and I know they don’t wash their hands properly before touch the utensils, but I digress…

We all decided to start out with the vegetable samosas and an order of the Mulligatawny soup.

Vegetable Samosa's

The samosas were some of the best I’ve had, though I thought they were a little heavy on the potato and a little bit light on carrots and peas and other such veggies I have had in ones at other restaurants. It also came with two sauces on the side, one I would liken to mint chutney and another with a hint of plum or some other dark, but sweet fruit.

Mulligatawny Soup

The Mulligatawny Soup was what I came for though. I am humiliated to say that I have never had this soup before, but I always think of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine puts the soup Nazi out of business when she finds his recipes in the armoire that he gives Kramer who then sells it to Elaine who was banished from his restaurant for joking around in line. I’d venture to say that his Mulligatawny Soup wasn’t as good as Aroma’s.

Mulligatawny is a curry-flavored lentil soup. The soup at Aroma has a rich green color and is a really nice blend of spicy and salty. Everyone tasted it and agreed—it was a clear winner. I would definitely order this again. It was well-balanced and the kick after you swallow only added to the depth of its flavors.

After these appetizers we moved on to entrées. Suzanne ordered the Saag Aloo with is potatoes simmered in spices with spinach. Jay ordered the Chicken Kurma, a creamy Indian dish with a special cashew and almond sauce. We also asked for two orders of naan, one regular and one garlic, for the table.

Chicken Kurma (front) & Saag Aloo (back)

Mark ordered the Chicken Tikka Masala (his signature Indian dish). And I decided to order the Chicken Vindalo, because my friend Erhan always raves about how great it is and I was in the mood to keep the spiciness rolling after the amazing soup starter. I ordered a side of raita (yogurt sauce) in case I needed to cut the heat.

Chicken Vindalo

Jay and Suzanne have a little more experience with authentic Indian food than Mark and I do, and they thought their dishes were rather “boring.” Jay said he was longing for more spices to enhance his dish, and the sauce on his Kurma wasn’t as light as he’s had at other places. All in all, it was a bit of a bust for him. Suzanne said much of the same, she longed for something more magical and she felt that it could have used more spices and depth.

Mark on the other hand loves their Tikka Masala, he thinks it’s the best he’s had. My Vindalo wasn’t spicy in the least, and I was worried to order it because it’s supposed to be a “flavorful hot sauce.” I’m not the wimpiest person when it comes to heat, but I’m no rock star either and this was mild in my opinion. Mark tasted it too and felt it was weak. I probably wouldn’t order the Vindalo here again…

I think this is a great addition to the Indian food scene in the greater Portland area. They have some staples of South Indian food that you can’t get other places in town such as Dosa’s, Vada’s and Uthapam’s. It’s worth a try, you never know, you might find a new Indian dish that you really, really like (like their Mulligatawny Soup!!).

Aroma - Authentic Indian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Porthole Brunch—On Budget (and on the water!)

21 Mar

Saturday was just too beautiful to spend lying around the house, and I woke up with a wild craving for a bloody mary and pancakes. Mark was lazing around the house when I bopped down the steps to see if he wanted to hit up the Porthole. Who was I kidding though? This man is always down for breakfast on the town.

So, we headed down to Commercial Street where it was bring your own parking space day (in addition to being St. Patty’s Day). Lucky us though, because thanks to Mark’s willingness to break every traffic law in the city, we scored spot right in front of Ri Ra’s Irish Pub thanks to an impromptu (and highly illegal) u-turn. SWEET!

The calm before the St. Patty's Day storm...

The Porthole was absolutely PACKED when we arrived. We were told it would be a 20-minute wait for breakfast so we stood at the bar and ordered a couple of drinks before we headed out to the deck for some people watching. We had only been outside for about five minutes when the waitress came to let us know there was a spot for two at the bar.

Porthole's Bloody Mary

We settled in right up front and it didn’t take us long to see how insanely busy this place actually was. It pretty much erupted with people from 10:30-11:30 a.m. and the bartenders were fetching (on average) 10 drinks at once. I don’t know how they kept up with it all and I was really sympathetic to the fact that they couldn’t even hand us menus for 15 minutes.

When we finally did get menus we decided rather quickly what wanted. Mark ordered the Graham Cracker Coconut French Toast that was on special.

Graham Cracker Coconut French Toast

I ordered the Lobsterman’s Breakfast, which comes with eggs, home fries, sausage, one pancake (I got blueberry), and whole wheat toast. I ordered all this in hopes that Mark was going to share it all with me.

Lobsterman's Breakfast

Blueberry Pancake at the Porthole in Portland, Maine.

Blueberry Pancake

The portions at Porthole are absolutely gigantic. My breakfast was less than $10 and it was enough to feed at least three people. The eggs were excellent, potatoes were awesome too, sausage was homemade and had just the right amount of spice…but that pancake was sweet deliciousness. My friend Laura has been talking about these for about a year now, and I know what she means. They are amazing.

Mark loved his French Toast too, and is kind of depressed that it’s not a regular menu item, but hey, maybe they’ll have it again sometime?

While the service was slow (it took 45 minutes to get our breakfast after we ordered), I have decided to give them a free pass since it was a holiday (and that place was being overrun by early morning drunk people). The Porthole is a great staple for a cheap brunch in the Old Port, and I have yet to be disappointed with their food. After we ate, we walked around, full bellied, and basked in the early spring sunshine. Who could ask for more?

Porthole Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Taco Trio—Some Flavors Delight, While Some Still Aren’t Right

13 Mar

Friday night found Mark and I debating on where to eat since we were unable to secure a reservation at essentially any restaurant in town due to the overwhelming popularity of Restaurant Week. I would first like to say that I think Restaurant Week is both a saint and a devil. I think it lures people who wouldn’t normally eat at higher priced establishments (and they probably won’t be back without a gift card or until next year for Restaurant Week), and I think it kind of limits those of us who, umm, just don’t want to eat stuff we don’t really want from your prix-fixed menu that you try to force down our throats. So, that’s my diatribe for the week. Other than that I think it’s great that people get out and about to enjoy the food scene in Portland that I love so damn much.

Mark and I have been traveling fools lately and have actually only been home one weekend out of the past four. We are on total lock-down now though since we are puppy sitting a one, Mr. Marlowe, for our dear friends, Jay and Suzanne, who are in Brazil for three weeks visiting her family (you might remember them from this post).

Mr. Marlowe.

So, we decided it would be a tacos and ice cream kind of Friday, which I, of course, LOVE. Mark is somewhat limited on his choices for food on Friday’s since it’s Lent and that means it is the one time of year when he deems it important to be a good Catholic. I gave that farce up years ago when I decided that God was, well, nevermind…this is about tacos, glorious tacos. Carnivorous ones for me, and fish ones for the nice Catholic fellow I married.

I wasn’t even sure Taco Trio in South Portland was even open when we pulled the car up in front of the restaurant. I was expecting a scene of epic pandemonium—lines out the front door, people everywhere, loud music, etc. etc. etc.—since it was prime dinner time on a Friday. I was actually thankful that it wasn’t the case though since I was starving.

I guess this is the part where I should tell you that Mark and I have been to Taco Trio before, within the first week or two that it was open. The experience was so inexplicably horrible (I won’t go into the gritty details so as not to taint this review) that I never even wrote it up because I wanted to give them another chance. It’s taken me (well us) about 7 months to get up the courage to go back.

The place is very modest inside. The kitchen is exposed so you can watch them prepare all the food in front of you, which I love. Orders are taken at the counter and presented there as well when they are ready. The salsa and drink bar is off to the right and there are tables on either side of the door, with a bar that runs along the wall on the left side. Questionable R&B music played loudly over the speakers, but I digress.

Mark had already decided before we got there to order the Trio of Fish Tacos with Lime Crema and Shredded Cabbage on top. This came with one side of salsa from their homemade salsa bar and fresh homemade tortilla chips.

Fish Tacos

I went with a Carnita Sope, which I was so excited about since I have never had a Sopes, but a fellow food writer, Dan Zarin (of Bollard Breakfast Cereal Fame), said are just plain amazing and that he has been looking for them ever since leaving Los Angeles. My meal also came with tortilla chips and a side of salsa. We also got a side of sour cream, because, well, I love that stuff and could eat it with a spoon! I can’t have anything Mexican without a heaping side of cream. Sue me.

Carnita Sope

I would first like to say that I really loved my Carnita Sope. The pork was so tender it just pulled right apart with a fork and then melted in my mouth. The pinto beans were excellent and everything had very delicate flavoring that really allowed you to taste the corn “bowl” that it sat on top of. It was heavenly and I would totally go back for these. Delicious.

Mark didn’t try them since he was being a “good Catholic” so he really missed out, because his fish tacos were horrendous. The fish was not fresh and the breading was soggy, not crispy in the least. Everything about the tacos tasted old, except for the lime crema—it was the best part about his “dinner.” The breading even had this weird musty taste…I felt bad for the poor guy, he was just so hungry that he had no choice but to eat two…and I am still unsure how he managed to choke them down. Sigh.

I’m really tempted to give this place another try because the first time Mark loved the Carne Asada Burrito he ordered, and this time I really liked my Sopes. I am hesitant though because we typically like to visit restaurants where we both like our meals. I would love to think this has just been a slew of bad ordering on our part, but now that we have tried something from four different sections of the menu I’m thinking they are doing a few things well (meat dishes minus the goat) and just going through the motions with the rest. The salsa bar is a fantastic though—over 12 different choices and all are very well crafted. Mark loved the Mango Salsa he had (I had the chipotle). Maybe we will go there again at some point and hope that the third time will be the charm…

So, on to Red’s Dairy we drove, a place that could never, try as it might, disappoint. Smiles ensued.

Taco Trio on Urbanspoon

Sonny’s Serves Up Sexy Tapas and Drinks with a Twist

22 Feb

In case you haven’t noticed a theme, Mark and I absolutely love Latin American inspired cuisine. The only type of food we might even come close to loving more is Italian, and these are two of the hardest types to find in, and around, Portland. I will say, the Latin American scene has come a long way in the two years since we’ve arrived. People have been telling me for months that Sonny’s on Exchange Street is excellent, but I guess I hadn’t been ready to dive in yet. Maybe it was the fear that it wouldn’t live up to the hype, or maybe it was the fear that it would and I’d never be able to drag myself away from this place—turns out the situation is closer to the latter. So, Mark and I headed out for dinner and some late night drinks there with our pals Ben and Laura.

Sonny’s and Local 188 share the same owner. That fact alone should have been enough to alert me that we would be in for a treat. We’ve also been told that Sonny’s is home to some of the best bartenders in Portland, and with one look at their menu, I saw why. One look and I was instantly excited.

There were some very obscure drinks on the menu. Mark decided on The Wilkenson, which was their version of a Manhattan made with Rye Whiskey. He loved it so much he had two more before the night was over. I ordered the Caipirinha, which I have always had with vodka before, but was made with rum here. It was delicious and refreshing.

Cocktails at Sonny's on Exchange Street

After we got all juiced up, we were ready for some tapas. We decided to order the Cuban Meatballs and the Pork Empanada to start.

Pork Empanda

Cuban Meatballs

Both were surprising and delicious. When the Cuban Meatballs arrived, they looked just like a bowl of ordinary meatballs. One bite had me standing corrected though, as they sent a burst of flavor into my mouth, the likes of which my taste buds had never experienced from a mere ball of meat. They were hot and spicy, and the tomato-based sauce was so delicious we sopped every last drop of it up with our bread. These were definitely a winner, and since it came with four it was really filling for two people.

The Pork Empanada was the next to succumb to our hungry wrath. It was perfectly fried in a substantial pastry packed with meat and other fillings. Possibly the best part (aside from the luscious pork) was the interesting chipotle sauce that was on the side along with some cabbage slaw. We ate this in about two seconds flat.

By this time I was feeling quite full and satisfied, but we still had our “entrees” to eat. When I wasn’t sure I had any room left, let alone desire to eat, the Burger and Chili Relleno arrived.

Sonny's Cheeseburger

Mark’s burger was the best we’ve had in Portland. It was so juicy and with the cheddar and roasted poblanos on top, it was a home run. The flavors and quality were unsurpassed. Mark said this tops the list of his favorite “gourmet” burger in Portland.

Chili Relleno

My Chili Relleno was also excellent. I will say this with the caveat that I do feel, while the one at Zapoteca is saltier, it is decidedly better. I will also say that this one was a very, very close second though. I would order it again and definitely recommend it to others.

After dinner our dear friends Ben and Laura popped into meet us for some more drinks and dessert.

I ordered a Pisco Sour, a drink made from a clear Peruvian bandy with foamy egg whites one top. I am really picky about my Pisco Sour’s, and this wasn’t the best I have had. The egg whites on top were more slime than foam, so I don’t think they shook them long enough before pouring the drink. It was fine other than that.

Ben ordered a Pink Stiletto and Laura ordered a Pinky Tuscadero. They both seemed happy with their choices, as I heard zero complaints. Then, as if we hadn’t ordered enough food, each couple somehow found it imperative to order a slice of German Chocolate Cake for dessert.

German Chocolate Cake

The cake was quite delicious, but a little dry for my liking. Ben pretty much single-handedly ate his and Laura’s slice. After that we were all really regretting the choice to top off our tanks with an ever-expanding piece of cake. The coconut didn’t help matters either— it left me in complete misery. I wouldn’t recommend dessert to those who are already too full to speak.

Sonny’s turned out to be a great double-date night spot. The striking red brick walls are loaded with big, bold art, while the bold and colorful flavors were served up on bright white plates. The ambiance is superb, and the service is fantastic. This is an upscale establishment, but it doesn’t feel stuffy in the least. The wait staff is alternatively clad lending even more depth to the vibrant and eclectic atmosphere of the space. If you haven’t gone yet, GO! If you don’t like the food order another cocktail. If you don’t like the cocktails, you should probably just move out of the state.

Sonny's on Urbanspoon

Micucci’s Sicilian Slab, the Cure for the Common Slice

4 Feb

Micucci's Sicilian Slab

Well, I finally made it into Micucci’s on India Street to get a taste of the famous Sicilian slab. As many amazing things as I have read and heard about it, I still think it was completely underrated! This pizza is a vision of perfection with minimal cheese, a sweet homemade red sauce that was beautifully glossy with chunks of tomato on deliciously chewy homemade dough. A word of advice for those dying to try it: Go during the week or at a non-peak time on the weekend to avoid a large crowd. Mark and I went at noon on a Saturday and it was wall-to-wall people, so it was not good for people who hate crowds (i.e. Mark). We finally reached the front of the line, grabbed two slices off the rack, made our boxes and took it home so we could enjoy it with a side of basketball and beer. After all, what is pizza without beer? This stuff has a shelf-life designed to outlast the hype. It’s definitely my favorite slice in Portland.

Note to self: Must go again soon. Very, very soon. 

Micucci's Italian Grocery on Urbanspoon

I Didn’t Find Love at 158 Pickett Street

29 Jan

158 Pickett Street in South Portland

I’m actually embarrassed to admit this, but Mark and I had never been to 158 Pickett Street until last weekend. We decided to take a little drive in the snow with the puppies and initially we thought about going to Scratch, and then I suggested that we try 158. I had heard tons of good things, and many people have said they think their bagels are better than Scratch, so I was intrigued. I’m a hard bagel customer though, because in my mind there is nothing, absolutely nothing, better than a New York bagel. Truth be told, that level of bagel snobbery is what has kept me from eating here for so long.

We rolled in around 10:30 on Sunday morning and there was, surprisingly, no line. I have heard the lines in the summer can be epic, but not today. We felt lucky for a moment in time.

View from the counter

I ordered a cappuccino to go. They made it in a flash and it was delicious. It had a slightly unconventional amount of foam (as in hardly any), but was really good nonetheless. I also ordered a double chocolate hazelnut cookie to hopefully bring happiness to my life later.

Next came the bagel breakfast sandwich orders. I decided to go with The Canuck, which comes with Canadian bacon, cheese and egg. I decided to get this on an onion bagel.

The Canuck

It was fine in my opinion. Nothing out of the ordinary, and I couldn’t help but think I could have made one better at home. The onion bagel was chewy in a way that I have never experienced before. It was getting suck in all the wrong places and making my mouth raw from chewing. Trust me I love the chew and hate bagels toasted so I thought I would be thrilled with this place, but alas it was no Ess-A-Bagel or Murray’s. No kids, it just wasn’t even close. Sigh.

Mark went for a Sausage, Egg, and Cheddar Bagel on Onion.

Sausage, Egg and Cheddar on Onion sans Sausage. Not cool.

You will notice in this photo that there was absolutely no sausage on this. Another strike! I swear we couldn’t win for losing, and since we were parked out at Fort Williams Park trying to enjoy a quiet ride and breakfast there was no way to remedy this situation. He was crestfallen to say the least. I gave him half of mine to try to alleviate his heartache and contribute to his extreme need for protein.

Now, I am certainly not saying I would never eat here again, but this first impression wasn’t stellar. I have heard that their bagels and lox are awesome, as well as their omelets, so maybe I would go back and try one of those sometime? It’s going to be hard to convince my number one dining partner to go back there anytime soon though, he’s still upset (days after the fact) that he paid $6 for a sandwich that wasn’t even what he ordered. He also said he preferred frozen Lenders brand bagels, but I am sure that was just the anger talking. Sorry Pickett Street. We wanted to love you, but you just wouldn’t let us. Hopefully there will be an opportunity to redeem yourself at some point. Oh, and the cookie was a little dry—to add insult to injury.

158 Pickett Street Cafe on Urbanspoon

Blue Spoon – This Neighborhood Bistro is the Perfect Lunch Spot

20 Jan

Mark and I had a great long weekend socializing with friends cheering the San Francisco 49’ers on to their playoff victory with Alex and Laura, a splendid couple that we don’t get to spend nearly enough time with. Since I work with Laura we see each other every day, but the boys haven’t been had time to spend together and bond like they need to. After the big win Laura and I sprung into social mode, setting up a brunch date for Monday since we all had the day off.

We had grand plans to have a southern style breakfast at the Bayou Kitchen, but they are currently closed for renovations (and be forewarned there is no note on the website). So, we started driving around aimlessly trying to think of places. Every place that was serving breakfast on a Monday was somewhere we had been before, and I was being selfish because I wanted to write a new review, and I also wasn’t in the mood for diner food (was I being too picky? Naa.) We decided on the Blue Spoon and arrived for lunch promptly at 11:30 a.m., just in time to be the first patrons through the door.

Since we were the only ones there, we had our pick of seats. We opted for the small booth in the back corner by the sunny window and promptly ordered coffee, water and a Golden Pheasant (Slovakian beer) for Laura. Mark and I had been on a day-and-a-half television watching bender since we recently became addicted to The Walking Dead. I hadn’t seen the sun in 36 hours, so getting coffee pumping through my bloodstream was imperative before I turned into a zombie.

Slovakian Beer, Golden Pheasant

The coffee was great, but after passing the bottle of beer around the table we all felt it tasted a little skunky (as most beer in green bottles does). If that’s your thing you might want to order it next time you are there. Laura probably won’t though.

Their lunch menu is incredible and we all had a tough time deciding what to get. They have an excellent selection of sandwiches, salads and some heavier “main course” type options. I selfishly coaxed Mark into getting their Gourmet Burger with cheddar cheese, because I wanted to try it.

Bistro Burger with Cheddar Cheese

It came with warm potato salad on the side and was cooked as exactly as he ordered it—medium. The burger was great, though Mark pointed out it was not the best he has had (he still prefers the Grill Room’s burger), but was pleased and said he would order it again.

Alex also ordered the burger, but went for the blue cheese.

Bistro Burger with Blue Cheese

He also really enjoyed it.

Laura decided to go with the fish stew, which I had previously had for dinner one night there and didn’t particularly care for.

Fish Stew

She started raving about it after the first bite. It was overflowing with mussels, haddock, calamari, shrimp and scallops. The sauce was also very rich and flavorful (the component that was missing when I had it) and came with bread on top for dipping. She was definitely happy with her choice, and it made me question if I had even had the same dish when I was there before because her dish was decidedly better.

I ordered the Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese because it was cold outside and I wanted warm comfort food. I also ordered a side of beets because I’m a freak for beets, and I think the ones Blue Spoon pickles are tops.

Side of Beets

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

It was made from delicious bow-tie pasta in a creamy cheese sauce accompanied by large chunks of freshly steamed butternut squash. The sauce was chalked full of heavy cream, but it wasn’t too rich. It was a solid choice, but I couldn’t help but wish there was a little sprinkle of fresh nutmeg on top to add some complexity and extra flavor to the dish.

Overall, this is a great little lunch spot. It’s a little more expensive than your usual sandwich joint, but the quality is far superior, so higher prices are to be expected. So, pop in sometime you are up on Munjoy Hill for a nice sit down lunch. After all, you’re probably getting sick of getting Colucci’s sandwiches all the time anyway.

If eating Duckfat is wrong, I don’t want to be right

13 Jan

Duckfat on Middle Street

Happy New Year everyone! I am sorry I haven’t posted in a few weeks, but I took a little time off over the holidays. To get back into the swing of things Mark and I popped into a place we hadn’t been in over a year—Duckfat. There is simply no reason that we haven’t been there in so long, aside from the fact that we always just seem to lose sight of it…that is, until now.

The place was packed when we rolled in at 5:45 p.m. so we had to wait about five minutes for a table, but it was worth it because we ended up in the front window. It was also perfect timing because every day from 4-6 they have half-priced pounders and wine. I wasn’t planning on drinking, but this was such a good deal it lured me in. So, Mark ordered his standard Brooklyn Lager and I ordered a Narragansett Porter.

Half-priced pounders for Happy Hour

We also ordered the large fries ($5 during Happy Hour, another good deal!) with Thai Chili Mayo and Curry Mayo.

Belgian Fries, fried in duckfat

The fries were incredibly crunchy and substantial. The fat they were fried in gave them a richness and texture that makes fries other restaurants serve seem like health food. We preferred the Thai Chili Mayo over the Curry Mayo. The curry mayo was just too overpowering. It masked the rich, fatty flavor of the fries instead of adding to them.

After the fries we were ready for more (duck)fat. Unfortunately the panini’s don’t get a special happy hour price, but we ordered them anyway. Mark decided on the Meatloaf Panini. It comes with bread and butter pickled veggies, horseradish mayo and cheddar cheese.

Meatloaf Panini

Mark absolutely loved it. The pickled red peppers on it were extremely fresh and delicious. While it didn’t have an overwhelming wow factor for me (there are just so many amazing choices) he just can’t stray away from this panini. He has gotten it every time he has eaten here, proving why it has lasted for so long on the menu.

I went for something I haven’t had before, the Corned Beef Tongue Reuben. I have been really into beef tongue lately, so I was extremely excited to try this.

Corned Beef Tongue Reuben

First of all, let me say, the beef tongue was so tender it was melting in my mouth and fusing with the amazing flavors of the swiss cheese and sauerkraut (which they get from Morse’s in North Waldoboro). Top all that off with just a small dab of 1000 island dressing and you have a meal fit for the Gods. It was incredibly filling, so I think next time I would just get one and split it, but it was so good I ate the entire thing. Between that and the fries, I will be on Lipitor by June.

Overall, I think this is great high brow pub grub in Portland. Its ever-so-slightly off the beaten path location only adds to the charm of it. The laid back vibe of both the staff and the patrons is contagious, and no one seems to be in a hurry for anything here (though I will say food comes out fast and hot). The exposed brick walls are lined with magnet boards to come up with your own magnetic poem or phrase to just while away the hours drinking and eating great food. Rob Evans has certainly succeeded in creating a neighborhood joint for the budget conscious consumer. After all, Hugo’s doesn’t figure into everyone’s budget, but everyone in Portland certainly deserves a taste of his culinary creations.

Duck Fat on Urbanspoon

Taco Escobarr—Serving up Inauthentic Tacos the Right Way

22 Dec

Taco Escobarr on Congress Street in downtown Portland

I came home on Monday night simply unwilling to cook. Yep, I’m that lazy and unmotivated. Mark suggested Tu Casa, and while I adore that place, I wasn’t ready for our 450th visit to be achieved that night. Since he had his heart set on Latin American food I knew I had to come up with a like alternative, so I went out on a limb and suggested Taco Escobarr. I must say I’m not the biggest fan of NOSH, so I wasn’t expecting much from this sister establishment. I figured it would probably walk the line between bad Americanized tacos with yellow cheese and a bacon-dusted nightmare.

We arrived at 6 in the evening, just in time to miss happy hour. I felt that was an incredibly bad omen, but sat down anyway. There was a table open in the window so that made the bleak evening seem a little brighter because I love to people watch while I eat. Once seated, a very friendly waitress came right over to take our drink order, and since I missed happy hour I ordered plain tap water. Mark followed suit. I learned just what a cheapskate I can be when I miss happy hour by one minute.

The menu was small but adequate. Since I hadn’t eaten there before I was confused by the several different offerings of taco shells/accompaniments. I asked the waitress to explain, which she did and I felt it steered me in the right direction a little bit.

I went for the Puffy Taco, filled with lettuce, tomato, and cilantro. I ordered three different fillings to try out what they had to offer—picadillo, ancho chile pork, and chipotle chicken. I also ordered a side of Mexican crema, green hot salsa, and had them throw some cheese on top. I love cholesterol, what can I say?

A trio with Puffy Shells

When my meal arrived, it was sans cheese and sans crema. I wasn’t really happy with this, but our waitress was great and she went right back to the kitchen and fixed the issue. When it returned mere moments later it looked perfect!

The Puffy Shell was rather tasty and held up quite well with the fillings. It reminded me of a hand-held taco salad. It wasn’t greasy, just light and airy, but it was lacking in flavor a bit. Luckily the fillings made up for that. The pork and chicken fillings were by far my favorite. The picadillo had a bit too much cinnamon in it for my liking and I really didn’t think the beef was that good. I also was upset that what was presented to be Mexican crema was nothing more than regular old sour cream. I think they need to update their menu if they aren’t going to be delving out the real deal.

Mark decided to order the crispy corn taco filled with onion, cilantro, and queso. He went for the crema on the side and three different fillings as well—carne asada (again with the beef), chipotle chicken, and ancho chile pork.

A trio with Crispy Corn Shells

His were pan-fried crispy and reminiscent of a mini-quesadilla. The cheese was melted and deliciously gooey. They were piping hot and very tasty. He won the taste off because I definitely preferred his choice of shell over mine. He said that he felt the carne asada was the best filling, but I really loved the ancho chile pork in the crispy corn shell.

Overall, I think that Taco Escobarr is doing a lot of things right. They have a small menu and they are mastering that. It’s also fairly inexpensive, we only spent $16. For Americanized versions of tacos they were really well done and I wouldn’t hesitate to eat here again or recommend it to others. If you are looking for a cheap and quick sit down dinner I think this is a great option in Portland, I just beg them to get real crema.

Taco Escobarr on Urbanspoon

%d bloggers like this: