Posts Tagged ‘dining in Portland’

A Cold River night at Walter’s

May 29, 2010

I love the new Walter‘s, and I’m not alone. When I met a friend there on a Wednesday evening in early May, I didn’t expect to need reservations, but I should have made them. The place was mobbed. We were fortunate when a table opened in the lounge area, and we were able to snag it.

The old Walter’s feasted on the Old Port’s retro 1980s brick-walled  fern bar meets urban Victorian vibe; the new Walter’s redefines urban chic in Portland. It’s sleek, casual, comfortable, and decorated with contemporary flair; for once, brick is not the defining element.

What hasn’t changed is the food. Walter’s still turns out excellent fusion fare, melding Mediterranean, Asian, and Caribbean flavors with a Maine accent, and presenting them with flair.  (You nonfoodies need that translated? Damn good food crafted from eclectic ingredients you might not be familiar with but will come together in a happy dance on your tastebuds; not only that, but when it arrives, it looks too good to eat).

On Thursday, June 3, Walter’s is teaming with Cold River Vodka on a multi-course affair. It opens with a cocktail hour featuring Cold River drinks paired with passed appetizers, then continues with a four-course dinner ($75 per person, plus tax/gratuity).

Jeff Buerhaus, Walter’s owner and executive chef, is designing the evening’s menu to feature Cold River Vodka in select dishes, while Walter’s Bar Manager Steve Lovenguth will present attendees with a specially created array of Cold River cocktails.  One guest, drawn at random during the evening, will win a gift basket full of items from Maine Distilleries and Walter’s.

Menu highlights include:

• pastrami-cured duck breast appetizer

• roasted spring lamb chop

• vodka-based pasta dish with crumbled Greek farm cheese

• blueberry vodka cheesecake for dessert.

Cold River specialty cocktails include the Nor’easter, featuring Cold River’s Blueberry Vodka and HoneyMaker Blueberry Mead, and the Far East River, made with lemongrass-infused Cold River vodka and ginger liqueur.

In a nod to the evening’s culinary focus, Walter’s and Cold River Vodka will make a joint donation to the Maine Restaurant Association Education Foundation, which provides scholarships to deserving students pursuing post-secondary degrees in Culinary Arts or Hospitality Management programs. Nice touch.

And take it from me, when you go, whether for this event or on another night, do make a reservation.

Bar Harbor food faves opening in Portland

April 30, 2010

One of my summer pleasures is having dinner at Havana followed by a scoop or two of some outrageous flavor at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream. This summer, I won’t have to travel to Bar Harbor to do so. Both Havana and MDIC are opening outposts in Portland. According to MDIC’s Facebook page, it plans to open in May (according to Portland Food Map, it’s at 51 Exchange St.). Havana South is targeting a June opening for its Wharf Street location. Next thing you know, Acadia will opening a section of the park in the city (only kidding).

Grazing through Portland: Merry Table Creperie

April 28, 2010

Open the door to Chef/owner Jean Claude Vassalle’s the Merry Table Creperie, and step into an intimate country French bistro. It’s easy to be charmed here: Low ceilings, pine floors, and gold brick walls adorned with artsy posters provide a Provencal tone in the cozy bar and seating areas; soft music and French conversations linger in the background. It’s the perfect set for Vassalle’s fare.

True to the name, crepes are the specialty, although other items are available. Although tempted by the French onion soup, a standard on the menu, and the soup du jour, potato and leek, I skipped a first course and set down to deciding which crepe to order.

That’s not an easy task. After see-sawing between salade de crevettes (and open-style crepe with greens, shrimp, tomato, artichoke, bell pepper, asparagus, and house Dijon dressing), saumon (Boursin cheese, smoked salmon, red onion, eggs, capers), cordon bleu (chickent, ham, blue cheese, Bechamel), and poireaux (braised leeks, wild mushrooms, goat cheese), I opted for the latter. (Crepes run $9-13)

My poireaux crepe was elegant in its simplicity and absolutely divine. The accompanying small salad of greens, dressed in the house Dijon vinaigrette, provided the perfect counterpoint. While big eaters might find the servings on the small side, I found it to be the perfect proportion.

My tablemate had the jambon fromage (Black Forest ham, Swiss cheese), and was equally pleased.

And of course we split dessert. Dithering between the Suzette (made with sugar, butter, orange, and Grand Marnier) and the chocolate, I asked our waitress for her advice. “Chocolate,” she replied with decisive finality. One mouthful, and we understood why.

At lunch, sandwiches, paninis, salads, and a daily special (yesterday’s was coq au vin), are available, but not at night. When the weather cooperates, there are outdoor tables on Wharf Street’s cobblestones.

Note: Twice a month, Merry Table hosts French language tables, a wonderful way to learn, practice, or brush up on your conversational skills.

C’est bon!

Grazing through Portland: El Rayo

March 22, 2010

Bright, cheerful, and festive, El Rayo Taqueria is a colorful, casual spot for a Mexican-flavored meal. This funky garage-turned-restaurant is small, with hungry diners exceeding its seating capacity, with favored tables outside—when the weather cooperates.

During a recent visit, I managed to snag an inside hightop backed against the open kitchen. I’m a sucker for fish tacos, so I paired a cup of tortilla soup (the daily offering) with El Rayo’s pescado taco, washing it all down with with a housemade hibiscus flower & citrus refresco. The soup was good, not stellar, but good. I would have liked more punch–not heat, but punch; it veered toward bland. The fish  taco was very good, but frankly, I think the Baja-style fish taco served at Loco Poco’s Tacos, in Kittery, is better (and I won’t even begin to compare it to The Mexican Restaurant in Hancock, which is the real deal). Star of the meal was the refresco. But I quibble, for Mexican-fare in Portland, it sets a new standard. Would I return, hell yes.

Not only does El Rayo do an admirable job, but it also sources locally, seeking sustainable seafood and naturally raised meats. (Although, doing so really is an unwritten law for any restaurant aiming to be a player in this foodie town).

In classic tacqueria style, portions are small, but so are the prices ($3.25-$10.75). Next time I’ll go with friends and mix and match chilaquilles, quesaillas, tacos, burittos, and rice & bean bowls. This is a place that screams let’s party! On a warm evening, a picnic table outside, a pitcher of sangria…

And check out the specials:

• Sunday: Starving Artist Supper, with $6 entree from 4-10 p.m.

• Tuesday: Cantina Quiz, with prizes, 7:30 p.m.

• Wednesday: $1 oysters on the half shell while they last

• Thursday: Macho Borracho, Latin-influenced surfer and rockabilly tunes, 7-9:30 p.m.

• Everyday: Happy Hour, 4-6 p.m. and 9-10 p.m.

So, yeah, go ahead, grab the friends, join the party.