The Corner Room—Now Serving Sunday Brunch

14 Dec

Thanks to another great Living Social deal, Mark and I headed out to Corner Room for some brunch fare. I must admit my ignorance, as I didn’t even know they had brunch. I thought maybe it was a limited time thing, but I checked out the fine print and then Googled the menu and saw that indeed this was a legitimate affair. It’s something new that they are offering.

We strolled in early by brunch standards, 10:30 that morning, and were asked if we had reservations. Umm, no?! I wasn’t aware that most places even took reservations for brunch, so either I am going to the wrong places, or this was just a little unorthodox. The managed to “squeeze” us in, which was seemed odd, because only three other tables were occupied.

We sat down and quickly ordered coffee and I ordered a Blood Orange Mimosa, while Mark went for their signature cocktail, the Corner Room Corpse Revivor.

Blood Orange Cocktails Abound

The drinks were great, though mine wasn’t especially blood orange flavored. Mark’s was gin with conglomeration of bitters and other liquors with blood orange juice. I must admit, I couldn’t have cared less about it since it was made with gin. I hate gin. Mark on the other hand, thought it was wonderful. He had it made with Cold River Gin, made just up the road in Freeport, Maine.

Since we had a $50 coupon, we decided to splurge a bit and try a few different menu items. The Sweet Ricotta and Nutella Crespelle really spoke to me, because I love crepes and I adore hazelnut flavored ANYTHING.

Ricotta and Nutella Crespelles

The tiny hint of orange combined with the hazelnuts on top of the crepes really added to the dish. One of them looked a little burnt on the outside, but it tasted great, so it was more aesthetic than anything. It was not the best crepe I have had, but it was pretty darn good and we really enjoyed it overall. I kind of wish we have opted for it as a sort of “dessert” after our meal though.

For our main brunch item Mark ordered the Eggs Benedict. I swear this man is obsessed. He gets it pretty much everywhere we go, and on every occasion he deems Bintliff’s to have his most preferential version.

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict

This was no exception. He really didn’t like the olive oil hollandaise, and I can’t say I disagree with him. You could really taste the olive oil, and if there is anyone that you could feed olive oil to without complaints, it’s us! We use olive oil in everything—including baking, but this was an exception. It just really didn’t work with this dish.

I decided to go with the rather heavy Norcino Colazione, or butchers breakfast. In Italy a norcino was a butcher who went from house to house making sausages for pig farmers. I thought the name was very clever, but this dish reminded me more of an English breakfast than an Italian one. It came with two eggs fried in pork fat, black pudding, beans, bacon rashers, and toast.

Norcino Colazione

Beans

I would like to say, this was my first experience with black pudding. For those of you who don’t know, black pudding (or blood pudding as some call it) is a type of sausage that is made from congealed blood. I absolutely love blood sausage (much to the chagrin of many people I know). I swear, I really wish more people would try it as there is no “iron” or “blood” taste to it at all. It might sound a little odd at first, but it’s been popular in countries like Germany, England and Italy for centuries.

The black pudding at the Corner Room was pretty darn good. I even got Mark to try it and he gave it his seal of approval. There were some nice chunks of beautiful white fat dispersed throughout the loaf. It had a nice saltiness and texture to it. I would definitely eat here again just to have it. I don’t know of anywhere else in town that I can get black pudding for brunch.

The beans on the side were cannelloni, and they were definitely undercooked. I am not sure if they were supposed to be English style or what. I was more confused by them than anything.

The eggs were amazing and cooked to a delicate over-easy. Paired with the thick slabs of extremely meaty bacon they were salty and delicious. No seasoning needed whatsoever. They were also beautiful and you could tell they were farm raised from the colorful orangish-yellow yoke. Delicious.

I would recommend making a reservation before you go, it will be worth your while to avoid a wait. If you are an adventurous eater, don’t forget to order the black pudding. While the Corner Room didn’t have an overwhelming ‘wow’ factor for brunch (I prefer their dinner much more), I really liked some of the items we had. The theme just seemed a little lost, if you have an Italian inspired restaurant one would think the brunch would be more Italian inspired… but I digress. While I will probably eat here in again in the future there are many other brunch spots I would rather try before coming here again.

Corner Room Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon

Say Hallo to Portland’s New German Stronghold

6 Dec

I had been dying to try Portland’s new German stronghold, Schulte and Herr, since it opened a few months ago. Coming from a proud German heritage Mark was even more excited than I to give this place a go. When we moved to Portland I remember having a rather forlorn conversation about the lack of German restaurants nearby and we chalked it up to a potential deficiency of German ancestry in this part of the country. This was something we weren’t accustomed to since we both grew up in areas with a really strong German influence. It’s something that we both hold dear to our hearts, and has long been a sense of comfort in the food world for us.

It was a beautiful sunny Saturday when we headed to Cumberland Avenue to check it out. We arrived around 11:45 a.m. so breakfast was over and lunch had been in swing for about 15 minutes. We were both ready for some lunch fare, so it didn’t bother us that we had skipped over brunch.

The menu was small, but adequate. I am a firm believer in restaurants doing just a few menu items, and doing them really well. I hoped that this would be the case for Schulte and Herr. We ordered the potato pancakes as an appetizer with sour cream and applesauce on the side. They also have a version with house-cured lox, which was very tempting to me, but Mark is a traditionalist and he really wanted to try them “the German way.” He grew up on his grandmother’s potato pancakes so I knew he would be a very tough critic.

Potato Pancakes

When they came out they were fried to a beautiful golden hue. The outside had a great crunch and the inside just melted in your mouth. I love mine with sour cream, but tried a bit of the applesauce. Both ways were amazing. The applesauce added a touch of sweet to the fried saltiness of the cakes. The house also offers every table house made rye bread with a cream cheese spread. It was quite delicious as well.

Homemade Rye Bread

After whetting our appetites with the potato pancakes we both ordered some hearty lunch fare. Mark decided to try the Beer Braised Beef Sandwich and I opted for the Goulash, a stew made with slow roasted beef.

Beer Braised Beef Sandwich

Mark raved about his beef sandwich and after being afforded just one small taste I realized why. It was absolutely the best roast beef I have ever put in my mouth. The bun was spread with beautiful brown whole grain mustard and served with a side of horseradish. The mixture of the mustard and horseradish was incredible. It was a splendid choice on his part and I was slightly jealous of how amazing it was.

Goulash

My goulash was fantastic as well, but also fairly predictable as I have had it many times. The beef was very tender and flavorful with wonderful hints of paprika, for which the dish is known. I appreciated that there wasn’t much salt on either one of our lunches. It allowed one to taste the actual flavors instead of just salty preservatives. The goulash was served with fried sour dough bread on the side, just like they do in Deutschland, and I loved that very much, as it is a really authentic touch. I also had a side of the roasted golden and red beets. Those beets were nothing short of fantastic. They tasted very fresh and had nice flecks of fresh ground black pepper and chives on top. I adored them.

Roasted Golden and Red Beets

We had a lengthy discussion with our waitress (before being tempted to try some homemade dessert). I asked when they might be opening for dinner and she informed us that they were working on getting a liquor license before opening in the evenings. She also told us that they get all their sausages from the Sausage Kitchen in Lisbon Falls and the sauerkraut comes from Morse’s in North Waldoboro, but they “doctor it up” a bit in-house before serving. I asked if they might be including Weisswurst (white veal sausage) on the menu soon, and she said it has been a topic for discussion, and that they might try is as a special first to see how it is received. Anyone who is really familiar with German Food knows that Weisswurst is a staple in Southern German food. Bavarians are quite fond of this sausage and it’s hard to go anywhere in Munich without seeing it on the plates of many patrons in traditional German restaurants.

Even after all that eating, we decided we still had room for just a bit more. For dessert we shared the special for the day—Molasses Cake.

Molasses Cake

It was quite delicious, reminiscent of a delicate gingerbread. Very light with hints of cinnamon and clove. It was the perfect end to a great lunchtime meal.

All in all, this is a superb addition to the Portland food scene. I am happy to FINALLY have a German restaurant to patronize. The two cooks in the kitchen are both from Germany, and I overheard our gracious waitress say she used to be a German teacher before leaving her job to pursue this endeavor. I can’t wait to go back and try more German delectables and have some more great conversations with the staff because we most certainly will be back, sooner rather than later.

Schulte & Herr on Urbanspoon

Zapoteca—Upscale Mexican and Margaritas Served Straight Up

29 Nov

I was finally afforded the opportunity to eat at Zapoteca recently, due to a double-date night with Ben and Laura and a sweet Living Social deal (paid $25 to get $50 worth of food). We strolled down to their Fore Street location after imbibing a bit at Ben and Laura’s casa.

The valet attendant opened the door for us. I was glad we walked, because $6 valet parking hardly seemed like a good deal to me. Being the cheapskate that I am I probably would have driven circles causing us to miss our reservation instead. But I digress, because the minute we walked in the lively atmosphere took over. Bartenders were shaking up every kind of margarita imaginable. The smells from the kitchen were as spicy as the name of the restaurant itself rolling off my tongue. Zapoteca is no place to eschew in the vibrant Portland food scene.

We arrived promptly at eight o’clock for our reservation. We were told our table would be a few minutes, so we cozied up next to the bar to check out the cocktail menu. Just as we were about to order we were directed to our table through the back open kitchen area. I loved the concept and I could see everyone working and garnishing the plates. It was a perfectly beautiful, clean, and organized space.

When we were seated our waitress came right over to take our drink order. I decided on the Blood Orange Margarita, Ben got the Guava Margarita, Laura decided on the Pomegranate Margarita, and Mark (not one to drink Tequila) tried the La Rumba—a drink made with rum that was reminiscent of a mojito. We also put in for the Ceviche Trio, which consisted of one made with whitefish in a tangy lime juice with jalapeños; one made with huge chunks of lobster marinating in a grapefruit salsa; one shrimp and calamari ceviche made with lime, orange and chili habanero. Each came served in a martini glasses with tortilla chips on the side. I thought the whitefish one was by far the best, but the lobster ceviche was a huge hit with the rest of the gang.

Drinks at Zapoteca

Ceviche Trio

They were all delicious, but there weren’t nearly enough tortillas for four people and the large amount of ceviche.

We also had the steamed mussels with chorizo. They were in a rich sauce, and while the mussels weren’t of the freshest quality, the sauce made up for it.

It was then time to order our entrées. Laura decided to go with the Enchilada Suizas de Pollo. This was a beautiful plate of wood roasted enchiladas with local Jack cheese and topped with fire-roasted tomatilla sauce, black beans and guajillo salad.

Enchilada Suizas de Pollo

She loved the dish, but thought it needed some extra spice, so she sent our waitress for some house made ghost pepper hot sauce. After tasting it, she claimed it wasn’t even that hot (though we all know ghost peppers are the hottest in the world). Her maiden name is Hernandez, so she joked that she was born to handle the heat. My background is French, so I didn’t even attempt that madness.

Ben ordered the Carnitas De Puerco. Those were made with locally raised pork shoulder and topped with a tomato chile sauce with black beans, salad, and grilled tortillas on the side.

Carnitas De Puerco

That block of pork looked absolutely amazing. I snuck a taste while Ben ate away. He was three-quarters of the way done before he realized he was eating it without the tortillas. He didn’t seem to mind, as it was perfect with, or without, them.

My husband, ever the beef lover, just had to try the Ancho Filete Con Champiñones. Locally grass-fed beef (his main weakness in life), chipotle sauce, and queso blanco harkened him to a gastronomic state of zen rarely able to be achieved in such a boisterous atmosphere. Topped off with some “perfectly cooked” asparagus and garlic cheddar chipotle mashed potatoes and you had one happy man.

Ancho Filete Con Champiñones

I was having the absolute worst time deciding what to have. So many items just sounded too good to pass up, but I finally decided on the Relleno De Puerco. It was an absolutely amazing fire-roasted poblano pepper filled with chorizo and pork, then topped with queso fresco and tomato habanero sauce with black beans on the side.

Relleno De Puerco

It was absolutely wonderful. The habanero sauce on top was quite spicy, but nothing a margarita or two couldn’t solve. The roasted pepper was cooked to perfection and I was very impressed with the quality of all the ingredients. I would definitely eat the dish again and would recommend it to anyone who has an obsession with relleno, because I have a semi-serious one and it was more than I even hoped it would be.

I don’t think Zapoteca is trying to give the impression that it’s authentic Mexican food, but the inspiration is quite fantastic. I think for an upscale Latin American food experience it hits a home run. They have a wide variety of menu choices (only one vegetarian option though…) and their drink menu is inventive to boot. The only complaint I have is that many of the dishes were quite salty (not to the immediate taste, but an after effect was felt later that night and next day). I simply could not drink enough water to quench my thirst for the next 24-hours. It was overall an excellent dining experience in Portland and I really just can’t wait to go back and taste some more of their menu items—I’m  definitely thinking enchiladas next time.

Zapoteca Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Veranda Noodle Bar is Portland’s Pho King

22 Nov

Starving after a long day of work, my friend Laura and I stepped out for a girl’s dinner at Veranda Noodle Bar. I have been telling her about this restaurant’s amazingness for over a year now. Seriously, this place is staple in my life. I first ate here with my brother, Philip, and his friend Alex in March 2010. Mark and I had just moved to Portland a few months earlier and were still new to the food scene when Philip found this restaurant online (he was desperate for some duck). The first encounter was amazing and Mark and I have been eating here on a regular basis ever since. The prices are excellent for the amount of food you get (I usually get two meals out of mine) and the quality is amazing. So, we drove there straight from work and told our friend Jacq to meet us there.

We arrived about 15 minutes before Jacq so we hopped on the drinks. Hue, a Vietnamese beer, for me. Singha, a Thai beer, for Laura. When Jacq arrived she went for the Hue too. I thought it was a good beer—light and crisp. I knew it would be cutting the massive amounts of Sriracha I would be putting in my mí. Laura loved her Singha.

Hue Beer (Vietnam)

We ordered some crab rangoons to start while I did a quick run though of the menu for the girls since they weren’t familiar with Vietnamese food.

The rangoons are the best in Portland. Perfectly crisp and wonderfully creamy. Jacq commented that they weren’t very “crabby” and she is right, so that would be my only complaint. Other than that I think they are heavenly.

Crab Rangoons

When the waiter came to take our order Laura went for the Pho Ga. An amazingly solid choice.

Pho Ga (Chicken Soup with Rice Noodles)

Pho Ga is made with a deliciously spiced and slow simmered chicken broth with rice noodles. It also comes with a side plate of bean sprouts, tons of beautiful Thai basil, lime and chili peppers. She loved and it, and told me she would definitely be coming back for more.

Jacq decided on the Mein Ga. It is a clear noodle soup that comes with in a chicken broth with chicken and clear “bean thread” noodles made from bean starches. It comes with a side of lettuce, bean sprouts and fried red onions.

Mein Ga (Clear Noodle Soup)

She really enjoyed it and thought the clear noodles were interesting. I think she would probably try something different next time she goes, but was overall intrigued by the experience.

I decided to order something I hadn’t ordered there before—Mí Hoanh Thanh. Since I usually order Pho when I go I decided to try something with yellow noodles instead of the rice noodles the pho comes with. The Mí Hoanh Thanh is wonton noodle soup in a pork broth with yellow noodles, pork and ground chicken and shrimp wontons. It comes with a side plate of bean sprouts, lettuce, fried red onions, lime, and chili peppers to add to your soup pot as you wish. I added the chili peppers and sriracha for extra spice and some hoisin for a bit of sweetness. It was incredible and I will definitely be ordering it again when I don’t feel like having pho.

Mí Hoanh Thanh (Wonton Soup with Yellow Noodles)

The "side" plates

Overall, I think this is an excellent restaurant. I have never had a bad meal here and constantly tell people that they need to try it. So, now I’ll tell you, if you haven’t been you need to go now. Veranda is the pho king in Portland.

Veranda Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

Easy Broccoli and Cheddar Soup

18 Nov

Broccoli and Cheddar Soup with Bacon on top

For this tasty fall recipe you will need:
1 Carrot, small chop
1 small onion, chopped
1 glove of garlic, chopped
2 bay leaves
3 tbsp of flour
3 cups chicken or veggie broth
2 cups of milk (I used skim and it worked out fine, so any kind will do)
4 tbsp butter or olive oil
One large head of broccoli, cut into florets
2 cups cheddar cheese, mild, sharp, extra sharp, whatever!
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion and carrot in a sauce pan with the oil or butter for about five minutes, do not let it burn. Add the flour and stir in, add more flour until there is no liquid left in the pan. Slowly whisk in the milk and broth. Add the bay leaves. Turn heat to medium low and allow to simmer (no lid) for 20 minutes. It should get thicker as the minutes go by. Add in broccoli and simmer for another 20 minutes. Remove bay leaves and puree batches in a blender or use an immersion blender  in the pot to blend the soup. After blending return to the pan and gently stir in cheese until melted. Voilá! Top with some pan-fried bacon if you want. My husband really likes that so I did. Enjoy, and let me know what you think if you try this recipe!

The Thirsty Pig Brings Home the Bacon

17 Nov

There are few things I love more than dinner and drinks with friends on a Friday night. I recently met Susanne and her boyfriend Jay who are fresh off their move to Portland from San Francisco. They’ve only been here since July, but it seems like much longer, because I have enjoyed Suzanne’s company since the minute I met her. I knew that Mark would really like them too, so I arranged a little double date to kick off Maine’s First Annual Beer Week and try out The Thirsty Pig for the first time, which has been getting rave reviews from other Portland area bloggers.

I may go straight to hell for saying this, but as much as I love beer, I have an extreme dislike for IPAs. I know, I know, people think I’m insane, but the hops overtake the beer and make them unmanageable for my taste buds. I much prefer a good porter or stout any day of the week over an IPA…so, when we arrived at The Pig and found only IPAs on draught for beer week, I was ready to just get up and leave. I knew Jay was going to fit right in with Mark and I when he confessed he didn’t enjoy IPAs very much either, because they, “bite back.” I thought this was the perfect description of what happens and the most obvious reason not to like them. After some discussion with our waiter, a tasting, and some serious coaxing, Mark and I ended up with New Guy IPA from Atlantic Brewing Company in Bar Harbor. Mark and I are huge fans of Atlantic Brewing Company and their Coal Porter is actually my favorite porter around, so it was only natural that we would be attracted to this IPA. I thought it was fantastic, not nearly as hoppy as many I have tasted, and it went down smooth. Suzanne also had the New Guy and Jay had the Lunch IPA from Maine Beer Company located in Portland on the Marginal Way, I think it bit him a little as he didn’t say too much about it.

After we had some beers in hand we placed our orders and were told we could grab some peanuts to shell and eat while we waited. I could hardly think of anything better to do while waiting on house made sausages than eating peanuts and drinking beer. As Jay pointed out though, it was a little awkward as we all shelled our peanuts and made neat little piles on the table instead of throwing them on the floor, but since no one had instructed us on The Pig’s peanut etiquette (and there were no other visible patrons eating them so we could follow their lead) we stuck with our neat little piles and primly ate our nuts and swilled our beer over conversation of San Francisco, snow, and teaching Suzanne to drive a standard. It was filled with laughter and jokes, just how every Friday with friends should be.

It didn’t take long before our sausages started arriving.

Suzanne ordered the daily special which was Bacon Sausage with a Fried Egg on Top and beans on the side.

Bacon Sausage with a Fried Egg on Top

In Suzanne’s own words,”My bacon sausage didn’t taste much like bacon. It was a little boring, though the egg was perfect and the beans were delicious.”

Jay went with the basic dog, an all beef dog topped with mustard and sauerkraut, with chips on the side.

The Classic Dog with Sauerkraut and Mustard

Jay mused,” It was pretty good. Had a nice snap to it, which is what you want in a dog.”

Mark went for the Lithuanian Kielbasa, a pork sausage with lots of garlic, parsley, and mustard seed steamed in Shipyard Export beer then topped with mustard and sauerkraut, with beans on the side.

Lithuanian Kielbasa with Sauerkraut and Mustard

He raved about it and said he would definitely be having it again the next time we pop into The Pig.

I deliberated over several menu items and actually ended up going with what was probably the worst choice—the Hot Italian Sausage. I am very particular about my Hot Italian Sausage since I grew up in an area where making a Hot Italian Sausage sandwich is an art form. This one didn’t quite live up to the standards set by the Italians in the greater Pittsburgh area. It was hardly what I would call hot, even topped with giardiniera, a “spicy” pickled pepper topping. This topping is most famously used on Italian Beef sandwiches all over Chicago (how did I bring up Italian Beef two posts in a row? I must be craving it or something?). It was all so extremely lackluster for me. Maybe I am not expanding my tastebuds enough that I was expecting the old and familiar Italian Sausage of yesteryear, but this just really missed the mark for me. I left sad, and my mouth wasn’t even on fire from the sausage to ease the pain in my heart from having something I love so dearly, butchered in the way that they have. I wouldn’t order that again. I liked the chips though, salt-n-vinegar. Those had to speak to me, since the sausage didn’t. *Sniff.

Hot Italian Sausage

All in all, it was a good experience. I never should have ordered the Italian sausage and the next time I go I think I will try the Greek Chicken (so many people have been raving about it). Now, to find some other places to take our artsy San Francisco friends to! I want them to love Portland as much as we do, and I’m sure with their great taste it won’t be a problem.

The Thirsty Pig on Urbanspoon

Red Meat Heaven at The Grill Room

12 Nov

Mark is addicted to The Grill Room, and he’s hardly apologetic about it. We figured out that since moving to Portland in January 2010, we have eaten there nine times. That’s nine times I would have rather tried somewhere new, but sometimes love means compromise (me) and never having to say your are sorry for loving meat (him). That is not to say though, that I don’t equally love this place. It was actually the first restaurant we ever went to in Portland together, so it has such a special place in my heart for that. I have read the reviews and I know not everyone holds it in such high regard, but I have honestly, in all those times never had a bad meal there, until now.

We stepped into The Grill Room on beautiful fall evening at 6:30. We wanted to get some grub before the Steelers game came on at 8:00, and I’ll admit that I was just too lazy to cook. When we walked in there was hardly anyone in the restaurant. This was a new scene to witness as there are usually no tables in the whole place, but I suppose everyone was busy at a bar or their house watching the Patriots lose to the Giants. We, on the other hand, were poised to enjoy unobstructed views of the fall of the house of Brady while having a gourmet burger.

Every time I eat at The Grill Room I feel like I have been instantly transported to Chicago. The beautiful exposed brick walls, polished dark wooden tables, and elegant, but not overly pretentious bar feel very Windy City. Or, maybe it’s the meat? Am I alone in thinking that Chicagoans love to eat meat (especially red meat)? Maybe it’s all the Italian Beef they make…

One thing I really love about The Grill Room, is that while they are known for their steaks, they also have excellent seafood as well. All of their meat is also locally sourced from Pineland Farms and grass-fed to boot (this is my preemptive apology to those of you who worship at the church of corn-fed beef, but green grass is not only healthier, but tastier too in my opinion)!

So, having eaten there more times than is really necessary for any sane human to do in less than two years time span, we decided to go and try out menu items we have always wanted, but have never ordered. For Mark this meant their Gourmet Pineland Farms Burger, seared to a perfect medium-well.

Grill Room's Gourmet Pineland Farms Burger

It was oozing with juicy deliciousness, topped with cheddar (also Pineland Farms), arugula, and homemade aioli. Simply spectacular. I think I heard an angel trumpet when I snuck a bite!  The side of sea-salted fries that came with it were a meal in and of themselves. There were simply so many it was disturbing, but in a deliciously gluttonous way. Mark took some home to enjoy during the game.

I had been eying up the duck and brie pizza since about our second visit, but had never had the heart to order it over any of the other beloved seafood dishes that I have had there (the trout there is simply unbelievable. If you can drag yourself away from their steaks you should try it. You will not be disappointed).

Duck and Brie Pizza

This was actually quite awful. Duck confit, brie, apples, and caramelized onions all with a balsamic drizzle on top. Sounds like it would be divine, but I assure you, this is not made with the same love that their grilled items are. Obviously, it was my irrational mistake; if someplace calls themselves The Grill Room, don’t order brick oven pizza there. The duck was so dry, I couldn’t tell if it had been confited earlier in the day, or earlier this year. It was absolutely horrible. The brie tasted like Président brand from Hannford, which I will admit, I have eaten, but come on! I expected something of a somewhat higher quality here. The dismal balsamic drizzle added little to the whole preparation. The apples and caramelized onions, also left tons to be desired. The apples were far too undercooked, while the onions were wilty and lacking in any onion flavor (which I am still trying to figure out how that was even possible). The whole pizza was a complete and utter failure on their part. I would never order this again or suggest it to anyone—in fact, I propose they remove all pizzas from their menu effective yesterday to save anyone else from making as horrific of a mistake as I did.

Despite the pizza mishap, there is no way I won’t be eating here again, there are too many other wonderful menu items to keep me from coming back, but I am going to go with this brief closing sentiment. Go for the grilled items, blow off anything else (or risk extreme dissatisfaction). In short—burger, amazing. Pizza, lousy.

Grill Room & Bar on Urbanspoon

Ladies’ Night goes South of the Border at El Rayo

8 Nov

Nothing says the weekend like margaritas and a Girls’ Night Out. Friday night I stepped out with some very lovely ladies to eat, drink, and (salsa) dance the Portland night away.

We started our evening at El Rayo Taqueria. I had eaten there once with Mark over a year ago and we hadn’t been overly impressed. My friend Bitzy is a fiend for their fish burrito and begged me to reconsider trying the restaurant again because a) she didn’t think I gave it a fair shot and b) she obviously had an intense fish burrito craving. I decided it was time that I gave it another shot. After all, maybe I just had a bad meal there.

We strolled in at seven o’clock, and literally walked in at the perfect time. The place erupted with business about 5 minutes later. We only had to wait about 15 minutes amongst the intensely bright and overdone (and also somewhat cheesy) décor. It was just long enough for everyone to get a drink. Bitzy and Laura love tequila so it was all Margaritaville for them. Alicia decided on the Rosa Limonada, a vodka drink, since she isn’t a tequila girl. I, being a lover of all things mojito, decided to give El Rayo’s version a test drive. It was very well done— quite strong with just the right amount of mint. The only complaint I have is the price. For $8.95 it could have been about two or three times the size. I switched to beer after I finished it for fear of going broke.

We sat down and ordered some chips, salsa, and guacamole as an appetizer for the table. Everyone agreed that the guacamole was great, though nothing like “authentic” versions I have had in other Mexican restaurants. It was not creamy and there was a lot of cilantro. I like it when guacamole can stand more freely without all of the extras, so overall, while this was good, it wasn’t great in my opinion. The salsa, however, was stellar. I could tell it was made in-house and I appreciated the fresh taste and slight “kick” that it provided.

Chips, salsa and guac

When it was time to order Bitzy went straight for her Yucatan burrito. It has fried fish (haddock perhaps?), coleslaw, avocado, rice and chipotle mayo. She said she’s has better versions of the same on other occasions, but overall I could tell she was overjoyed to be eating it. I tasted it as well, and it was delicious.

Her love for the Yucatan Burrito knows no bounds

Laura had never tried the tacos there so she ordered three different varieties to see what they might be about. Since she usually orders a burrito when she goes, she felt change might be a good thing. She ordered one frijoles (black beans, cheese, pico and lettuce), an Al Pastor (slow braised pork with pineapple salsa and shredded lettuce) and a pulled pork (topped with cotija cheese and lettuce). The frijole and pulled pork tacos were her favorite. She said the Al Pastor was very dry and lacking flavor. I must say though, from the looks of the tacos El Rayo is on the right track. They doubled up on the tortillas to avoid soggy breaking (everyone hates that, right?) and the accompaniments were minimal. After all, tacos are meant to be simple Mexican street food. I think next time she goes back she’ll be back on the burrito bandwagon.

A taco trio—Frijole, Al Pastor, and Pulled Pork

Alicia decided to get the Carnitas burrito with pulled pork, caramelized onions and a ranchero sauce. She was happy with her choice, and though I didn’t try it, it looked absolutely delicious. I would probably give it a try if I go back another time.

I decided to order the enchiladas that were on the specials menu for that evening. Pork enchiladas with cheese and onions covered in with red sauce served with black beans and rice on the side. The pork in it was excellent—tender and flavorful. The red enchilada sauce left a lot to be desired though. It was practically non-existent and what little was put on top had already soaked into the tortilla. I was definitely disappointed.

Pork Enchiladas

All in all, it was a good start to a fun night. While not my favorite place to get burritos, tacos or enchiladas in Portland I don’t think that it’s terrible. I can’t put my finger on exactly what is lacking there for me, but if a friend wanted to go have a causal dinner there again, I would certainly go. I would not, however, get the enchiladas ever again. The quality of the pork was good, so it gives me hope if I decide to go back sometime and try a pork dish another time around. I just don’t think I’ll be knocking down their door anytime soon though. I apologize profusely to Bitzy and other El Rayo frequenters, but it’s just not my jar of salsa kids.

Next stop? Taco Escobarr?

El Rayo Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Going Greek at Emilitsa in Portland

23 Oct

I have a small obsession with Greek food. Not that I have eaten a lot of “authentic” Greek food, but I keep dreaming of the moment when I will be sitting in a café in Mykonos enjoying it. So, even when I am stuffing a faux gyro in my mouth I imagine that it’s real, and that makes me feel better inside. Alas, it’s not real and it never has been…BUT with that being said, my number one dining partner and I decided to have a date night at Portland’s local Greek restaurant, Emilitsa, because I needed to eat and dream of an island hugging the Aegean Sea where I might one day sit eating my truly authentic Greek food.

We walked into a bright restaurant that was bustling with life at 8:30 on Friday night. The modern décor is simple and clean with exposed brick walls that make it feel like you are snuggled into a West Village restaurant in New York. The bar was packed and there wasn’t an open table in the place, so we were thankful that we had sprung for reservations. We were very promptly seated and handed a drink menu. Their drink menu is fantastic and only features Greek wines and a nice selection of Greek and local beers. The waiter was kind enough to explain the wines so we could order something to our liking (me similar to Pinot Noir, Mark similar to Cabernet).

I ended up with the Boutari, which was very full-bodied and spicy. I loved it. Mark ended up with the Harlaftis. It was, indeed, a Cabernet I found upon investigation. It was subtly rich and extremely pleasing. I would recommend both if you also enjoys Pinots and Cabs.

After whetting our appetites with a bit of alcohol we were ready for some serious mezethakia (appetizers). We were sent some complimentary hummus from the kitchen, but we knew we’d need more to experience all Emilitsa had to offer. Never ones to shy away from anything scallop, we went for the Htenia me Ouzo. Large sea scallops were wading in a light ouzo-tomato cream with dodoni feta. It was, in one word, incendiary. I dream about scallops like those. The ouzo cream sauce was otherworldly. I couldn’t believe the symphony of flavors that was playing in my mouth.

Homemade Garlic and Onion Hummus with Crostini

Htenia me Ouzo

The other mezethakia we decided we couldn’t live without was the Kefalograviera me Syka Saganaki, pan fried sheep’s milk kefalograviera (a hard, salty cheese) with baby Turkish balsamic peppered figs. The cheese was earthy and delicious, while the figs added the sweetness needed to balance out the intense flavors and saltiness of the cheese. Overall, very solid and I would have it again in a heartbeat.

Kefalograviera me Syka Saganaki

The wine was pumping through our veins now and we were well on our way to calling this our favorite restaurant in Portland, but we still had to get through the main course. We both decided Greek Comfort food was the way to go. I can never turn down lamb in any form and I had never, ever, had lamb’s neck before so ordering the Lemo Arnou was a no brainer for me. This dish was an all-natural grass-fed lamb neck, slow braised in a mastic yogurt honey sauce and then served with olive oil pomme puree and fire roasted florina peppers. It was perfectly fresh and definitely heavy. I loved the subtle gaminess of the lamb paired with the light sauce and pomme puree. I would go back a hundred more times to eat that dish again. Perfection.

Lemo Arnou

Mark is obsessed with Emilitsa’s Moussaka, and really, who could blame him? It’s the best I have ever had. Beautiful layers of organic oven roasted eggplant baked with a ground beef mixture and then topped with a Greek yogurt béchamel sauce. I must say, even I have been dreaming of and craving this dish since we went. The béchamel is so light and delicate, but certainly not lacking in flavor. It adds the subtle creaminess to the dish that I have never experienced with Moussaka before. Usually I just think it’s too heavy and creamy. I know Mark wants to go back for this dish sooner than later.

Moussaka

It was a beautiful fall night out at what I will certainly say is my absolute favorite fine-dining restaurant in Portland. The flavors and intense, the wines are rich and the atmosphere is supremely cosmopolitan. We can’t wait to go back and try more things from the menu, or even stick with the ones we know we already love. Greek food has never been nearer or dearer to my heart.

Emilitsa on Urbanspoon

Make Tu Casa You Casa

16 Oct

It’s no secret that there is a severe Latin American food drought in Portland. It’s so severe that I have tried many places, in vain, (some multiple times) just hoping for a miracle of authenticity. That’s the stark, unappetizing reality. The good news is, that in trying all these completely bogus places I stumbled across a little gem that oozes authenticity without even trying. I’m talking about a place where the papusas are served hot and the hot sauce is served even hotter. That’s right! I’m talking about Tu Casa on Washington Avenue in Munjoy Hill, and if you haven’t been there the joke is certainly on you.

According to their website, “It’s like Mexican, but healthier! Try it, you’ll like it.” Try it and like it we did! Mark and I started with two papusas—the national food of El Salvador. We had one with meat and cheese and one with beans (it was the special that day). Those two extra thick tortillas filled were packed with flavor and love, and at $1.75 they are a real bargain. They come served with a Salvadorian cole slaw and two different hot sauces—red and green. Both are excellent and I recommend a mixture of the two on, well, everything! They are not for the faint of heart though as both pack quite a punch.

Frijole Papusa

After our amazing appetizers we waited on our meals. Mark went for the Beef Burrito, his all time favorite burrito anywhere! It comes stuffed to the max with bean, cheese and beef. So delicious.

Beef Burrito

And I opted for the Chicken Enchilada Salvadorena. The spiced chicken and toppings come served on crispy tortillas with bean and rice on the side. They are always garnished with the best avocado you can find in the state of Maine. Seriously, always amazingly fresh! Where are they getting these things?!

Chicken Enchilada Salvadorena

While the décor at Tu Casa is sparse, the flavors certainly aren’t. Get yourself there and taste some authentic Salvadoran cuisine, and meet some really awesome people. The place is really starting to get packed, even on weeknights. When the tables are full you can pretty much anticipate a wait for your food, but rest assured it will come out piping hot and extremely fresh.

Tu Casa Salvadorena Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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