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Showing posts from August, 2010

Duck Fat - Portland, Maine

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We had a couple nice dinners in Portland at Fore Street and Street and Company, but there are of course more meals in the day. When not scarfing down lobster rolls, we had one particularly notable lunch at Duck Fat. Duck Fat is a spin-off from Hugo's, whose chef Rob Evans was the 2009 winner of the James Beard Best Chef Northeast award. While Hugo's appears to play with many contemporary motifs (the menu intrigued but its schedule did not coincide with ours), Duck Fat has a much narrower focus: Belgian style fries, fried in duck fat, with panini and a few other things to eat along with those fries. It is outrageously successful at what it sets out to do.

The restaurant is folded into a tiny space just a couple blocks off the main drag of the Old Port area, with most of the seating at stools facing the wall, a smattering of two-tops, and a couple long tables. I'm not quite sure if these were intended to be communal tables, but that's what they became when we were there.…

Street and Company - Portland, Maine

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Having had such a good experience at Fore Street, the following night we went to its sister restaurant, Street and Company, just a few blocks away on cobblestoned Wharf Street.[1] Street and Co. has a more singular mission than its sibling, with a menu focusing almost exclusively on fish and seafood dishes. While several things we had at Street and Co. were excellent, the overall experience was somewhat more haphazard.

If Fore Street's food is straightforward and honest, Street and Co. takes things even further in the direction of rusticity. Though some small "tastes" and appetizers show a little more variety, entrées are limited to a selection of seafoods simply prepared: grilled, blackened, broiled, or over pasta. Tables are all topped with brass both for decorative and practical purposes, the latter being to provide a safe landing for a number of dishes that are served right in the pan.

I started with a selection of local oysters that were some of the finest I've …

Fore Street - Portland, Maine

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It was perhaps fitting that our first dinner in Portland was at Fore Street. Opened in 1996, the restaurant appears to have been on the front edge of Portland's emergence as a serious food town. As I noted earlier, the whole farm-to-table ethos seems to come very naturally to Maine's restaurants, and this is on clear display - even literally - at Fore Street.

A block off the waterfront in an old warehouse, the restaurant's physical layout is a fine preview for the straightforward honesty of its food. As you enter, there's a glassed-in pantry that holds a bountiful display of fresh produce, mostly sourced from local farms. But even more striking is that if you're not careful, you will walk right into the garde manger station, which is set up in an open kitchen right as you walk into the main restaurant space. In its own way, it was one of the most dramatic and effective restaurant entrances I've ever experienced, in part because it feels uncannily as if you'…

And Back Again

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Ten days in Maine. So what have I learned?

While other areas along the Eastern seaboard contemplate five-year lobstering moratoriums due to depleted fisheries, Maine has an abundance, likely largely due to forward-thinking, stock-preserving industry self-regulation which has been incorporated into state law since 1933. Healthy supply and lower demand due to the economy have driven prices down: Maine lobster retails for as low as $3.99 a pound - good for consumers, tough for lobsterers. This is actually an improvement for the industry from last year, when prices were so low, and tempers so high, that some lobsterers resorted to gunfire to settle disputes over rules both written and unwritten. Even if not priced like a luxury item, it still tastes like one.

The whole farm-to-table (or ocean-to-table) thing has taken hold quite nicely in Maine. Indeed, one gets the sense that it's not seen so much as a current trend as just the way things always were and continue to be done. Aside fr…

On Vacation

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Off to Maine for a little vacation. Portland, ME looks to be turning into a pretty food-centric town, some interesting stuff going on there. Fore Street is on the agenda, hopefully a stop at DuckFat, with a few others on the list too, plus maybe a trip out on a lobster boat. A couple days at an inn and organic farm near Wiscasset, likely some lobsters on the dock in Boothbay Harbor, then off to Camden, with a side trip to Primo in Rockland. Mrs. F also has fond memories of Moody's Diner in Waldoboro from a meal there about fifteen years ago. Then off to Bar Harbor for a few days. Do we follow in the President's footsteps to Havana and Mount Desert Island Ice Cream (a/k/a "Black Power Ice Cream")? Which is more implausible: black militants in Maine, or good Cuban food?

Suggestions welcomed.

Norman's 180 - Coral Gables

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[sorry, this restaurant has closed]

I'm going to come right out and say it: I don't think I can be entirely objective about Chef Norman Van Aken's new restaurant, Norman's 180. Some of the reminiscing in my last post previewing the restaurant's opening might give some indication why. A dinner nearly twenty years ago at his South Beach restaurant A Mano was one of my first truly memorable meals. His "Feasts of Sunlight" cookbook, published in 1988, was one of the first cookbooks I recall cooking from. Very simply, Chef Van Aken's food has played a not-insignificant part in my personal culinary history.

In the interest of complete disclosure, I should also add that I've attended a (free) friends and family dinner as well as a (free) media preview event at the restaurant,[1] and the chef and I have chatted at those events as well as chance encounters in local tapas bars. Since Norman's 180 officially opened, I've been back a few more times as…

Spiceonomics 101

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As mentioned peripherally in my last post, it's become increasingly common practice to kvatch about Miami Spice season, and to bemoan the absence of "values" among the $35, 3-course offerings. I'll be the last person to defend the ubiquity of the "Spice Trifecta" (farmed Atlantic salmon, chicken breast, churrasco); but I'm equally underwhelmed by complaints about restaurants not offering their "signature dishes" as part of the Spice menu, or the suggestion that restaurants are generally raking in money through their Spice deals.

As to the latter issue, it's one that Lee Klein of New Times seems to be pushing in his latest Spice post, "Five Annoying Things About Today's Herald Story on Miami Spice." Among other things, he points out that Florida restaurant sales totaled $27 billion last year, a statistic that prompts him to ask: "You kinda have to feel sorry for this industry, right?" It goes from there to a brief ra…