Thursday, October 4, 2012

Marriage and Weekend Eats in Portland Maine

I'm officially a married man now, which coupled with the Orioles improbable playoff run may provide all the evidence needed that the Mayans were right. I never really thought Anna and I came across as "anti-marriage" or especially afraid of commitment, but it appears once you are of a certain age and in a committed relationship people start countdown timers... and as the years tick by with no nuptials, those same people start thinking you must just be opposed to the concept in general... because what else could it be? Or at least that's what they've been telling us. Well, it that is not the case that we are marriage haters... but both of our parents are divorced... and I suppose I can't argue that we took our time about it.

So, on Friday September 28th 2012, we just walked into City Hall and walked out twenty minutes later as a married couple. Neither of us dreamed of our wedding day as children, and to our minds this was much, much preferable to an elaborate wedding with swans, ice sculptures, and string quartets. However I was not quite able to pull the trigger on full frontal elopement, and in a nod to the traditional approach we told people ages ago we were going to get married... and will even have a reception dinner in Baltimore to celebrate with family and friends this coming weekend. We are also going to have a honeymoon in Costa Rica, but not until February (to take best advantage of the intersection of Central American seasons and Boston winters)... and we still wanted to make the weekend we got married feel special... so instead of just going down the street to Cambridge City Hall, we decided to make a weekend of it up in Portland Maine. Maine is a place we visit a lot given that my (now) mother in law lives there, but beyond that, early on in our relationship Anna and I would meet up in Portland for random weekends fairly frequently... so it has a bit of a special meaning to us.

Over the weekend we hit Vignola/Cinque Terra, Bintliff's, Fore Street, and Duck Fat. Except for Bintliff's these were all places that we had never visited. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures of our meal at Vignola/Cinque Terra, but it was quite good nonetheless. More food than either of us was expecting based on similar "high end Italian" experiences we've had at local places like Dante. We got an awesome cheese plate with four cheeses to start, and were practically stuffed before the next course even came. As I am sure we will be visiting there again, hopefully I will be a little better prepared for documentation next time.

Roasted Rabbit

The following evening we had another fancy dinner, this time at a Portland institution in the form of James Beard Award winning Fore Street. Given that the place is usually booked two months in advance and we had no reservation, how did we get a table? Well locals know that the restaurant leaves a pretty high percentage (not sure if it's a third or half) of space available for walk-ins. So what you can do on a Friday or Saturday night is queue up around 5 (when the restaurant opens - and, yes,there will be a line) and put your name down. If you're at the front of the line you might get seated right away, but otherwise they'll tell you to come back at time when a table should be ready (for us 7:15) and you can go have drink at Novare Res or do some shopping. Works out especially well if you are already staying downtown.

Side of Mushrooms

Dinner there was great... certainly worthy of its sterling reputation... and surprisingly reasonable price-wise (relative to Boston anyway). Unfortunately I forgot that they don't post their menu online so I can't remember what the dishes pictured above were except "rabbit" and "mushrooms"... but they were good! I had actually never had rabbit before this, so I had some trouble figuring out how to eat it... and after leaving a lot of meat on the bones, I shamefully confessed my ignorance to the waitress. She told me that she normally tells people to just pick it up and eat it with your hands... so a tip for next time. I guess that's not super classy, but I can certainly confirm that a knife and fork is not terribly effective.

Fore Street isn't the greatest place for vegetarians, but it's still pretty solid. They had salads and larger dishes that were vegetarian, but you could also assemble a meal from sides... kind of tapas style... which was what Anna did. Our waitress said they fed 2-3 people, which is probably true if you get a big ole' rabbit like I did, but as you can see above you'd need at least 2 (and probably 3) of them to make an entree.

Lobster Eggs Benedict

We also made a brunch visit to Bintliff's, which I would guess also qualifies for the "Portland institution" label... or at least I would hope so given the perpetual wait times on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Another insider tip I have for you here is that they reserve a table specifically for large groups... one morning I was waiting for a seat by myself at the bar and saw a group of six waltz past a line an hour deep because they were the only big group looking for brunch that morning. Strange but true (unless they change their policy - no promises).

Anyway, I really enjoyed my lobster benedicts and seafood bisque, while Anna loved her pecan caramel waffles. If you think brunch is the dumbest meal ever, then Bintliff's is not going to change your mind. They're not pushing boundaries, but if you enjoy a classic American style brunch then this is a great place to visit. It's crowded and noisy and you have to wait ages to sit down, but isn't that what The Brunch Experience is all about? But seriously: the food is good and it's worth a stop.

Duck Confit Sandwich

Duck Fat was our last stop on the way out, and it plays a particularly cruel joke on vegetarians: awesome french fries, beignets, and churros fried in... I bet you can't guess... oh alright, yes... it is indeed glorious, glorious, duck fat. Other than that notable issue, vegetarians do fine here with soups, salads, etc... but you may have a tough time convincing one (I certainly did!) that it will be totally cool for them to watch you stuff your face with fries they can't eat.

It's a pretty small place, and at least on the Sunday afternoon we were there, it was "communal style seating"... i.e. they will squeeze you in wherever there is space. This was my least favorite meal of the weekend... though the fries were good, the duck confit sandwich pictured above was overpowered by the condiments involved. I'd go again, but it didn't live up to the picture in my head at least.