Tuesday, November 30, 2010

When Harry Potter and Tryptophan combine

Well… What a week it has been! I must apologize, faithful readers, that you have had to go without me for such a duration, but this week kicked my butt! What with many Thanksgiving festivities, a thoroughly awful cold I had to endure, and two Harry Potter viewings, I was busy, wiped out, and neglected the very Blog that keeps me sane. So…I have a lot to report back to you all. And I hope you’ll forgive me… but I have a good feeling you just might.

Thanksgiving was really nice this year, and I got all crafty and made a centerpiece for the table, which is on display below. I was proud of it, so I’m shamelessly promoting my botanical abilities here.
Fancy right? It's in a Pumpkin!

And now let’s begin in the cinemas, shall we? Well Harry Potter Rocked! Deathly Hallows, Part I might be the best movie in the franchise yet, beside the third movie (with the time travel and such) because it most accurately follows the plotlines of the seventh book. This is something Potter enthusiasts insist is the test of the movie adaptations. As any reader knows, the books are so good because of what J.K chooses to include in rich details and plot twists. Mess with this perfection, and you get a lot of angry fans. Go see this movie, for sure. And if you have been to all of the others, you certainly don’t need me to tell. O, this is a sad movie, so be prepared with some hankies, you’ll need em.

The second movie I was at this past week was Burlesque. Staring Cher (who hasn’t aged a day in 30 years), Christina Aguilera, who sang her fanny off, and Stanley Tucci, who is just funny and pleasant to watch. This movie, while not the stuff of Casablanca, certainly isn’t Glitter (sorry Mariah, I do love you) and it was pretty enjoyable to watch. I think to hear Christina sing would be enough, but Cher was good too, as where the supporting cast members, including a brunette Kristen Bell (what up Veronica Mars). The dance numbers were on a grand scale and the entire movie reminded me of Chicago, with the glitz, glamour, and really good music. Not Oscar worthy, but it’s defiantly not Showgirls, thank god!

So, on to the food, right? Ok.

This past week saw me at several different restaurants. (I know, I know, where do I find the time to go out to eat so often? Its really a full time job, so good thing I don’t have another one currently, haha.)

The real star of the week is where I pigged out twice. Otto’s Pizza and Enzo Wine Bar, www.ottoportland.com. This place is fantastic. Period. It’s a casual and laid back hole in the wall, and the pizza stands out as straight Naples style, street pizza. I’m talking GOOD! With a crispy and sweet crust, inspired and fresh, seasonal toppings, a very sweet and savory sauce, it is my favorite traditional style pizza in Portland. Because pizza is all they serve, they literally get it Right.

On both trips I had their seasonal specialty of Butternut Squash, Ricotta and Cranberry with fresh basil on top, which was simply amazing. You can either get their pizza by the slice, $ 3 dollars a pop for a generous size, or a whole pie, with prices varying on the toppings, with combos either dreamed up by the kitchen or by you, the hungry hippo.

Here is the menu, painted on the subway tile, I love how this looks.

Its space has the quirky authenticity of a place that has been there for ages and its setup is smart too. Otto’s is the small kitchen side of the restaurant, with a takeout setup and a few stools. Next door at Enzo, they have a pretty good wine selection and a more traditional sit-down style dinning, still with a rustic, family-style charm. The décor is really cool too, with everything made to look old. In reality, everything is either new materials or reclaimed from other places. In a rush or with time to kill, this place is for you. You truly won’t be disappointed by the food and the service.  

And, after talking to the helpful waitress about the place and its history, I made a new discovery. (Well new to me anyway).  The former North Star Café on Congress Street in the Munjoy hill area of Portland will become another Otto’s! So Portlanders will have two times the pizza loving fun, and we may all rejoice!

Fork time for Otto’s? Sure, this is a 4 Fork place. I think the quality and price is spot on, but since pizza is the only thing they have, it might not be for absolutely everyone, even though it should be. It really is my fave place for a slice, and if you go, you’ll get it too.

Sooo… words for the day?

There is no cure for the common cold, but good pizza, some turkey and plenty of DVD’s (Momma Mia! Any one?) can help with the boredom. And ABBA is really like pure cane sugar, so you’ll probably get some energy from it too. Have a good, and healthy, day everyone! Over and out.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Land of a Thousand Meals, Part III

Well hello world! Notice anything different? The website has upgraded! Right on! While the basic template served us well for the infancy of The Novice Fork, (thank you blogger.com), the savvier I become with designing this charming little website, the better it will look… basic cause and effect people. I hope you enjoy!

And we have also made it to the end of our trilogy, in the grand tradition of Lord of the Rings or half of the Star Wars series…. wait, hold on...

A long time ago, in a restaurant far, far away…

sorry, I couldn’t resist. Even though it wasn’t so long ago, more like Monday night, and the restaurant isn’t really that far, about 25 minutes away without traffic, give or take….

Sooo anyway, moving on, Monday night I went to an Indian restaurant in Portland, ME, which was a first for me. I have been to Indian restaurants all over, one really great hole in the wall in NYC, the best Indian French fusion restaurant in Boston called Mantra, www.mantrarestaurant.com, which rocks my clock! But never have I tested Indian cuisine in Portland, ME, so I was very excited to try some downeast Indian and see what our great city has to offer.

Choosing an Indian restaurant if you haven’t been to any in Portland can be tricky. There are a lot of options out there and I resisted because I didn’t know where to start. Well I manned up and randomly selected Tandoor Restaurant, www.thetandoorcuisine.com, at 88 Exchange Street in Portland and took the plunge into the world of Curry and Basmati rice. And man I’m glad I did!

Here is a picture, from their website. Cute right?

The tiny room of a restaurant, with no more than 20 tables, was quiet and pretty empty, with only 3 other tables occupied. The single waitress was swift and gracious, seating and watering me, (yes we are plants) within seconds. The aroma of the place is the first thing you notice, savory, spicy and thick, it’s how you want and expect an Indian restaurant to smell. This really got me excited for what was to come. The second thing you notice is the revolving crystal chandelier in the middle of the ceiling. Great touch, Liberace would be proud.

The menu was wayyyy to long, and I tend to get overwhelmed with too many options. But it all looked good, so I relied on my previous knowledge of what I liked in Indian cooking and started with two Samosas, “Deep fried, spiced and shredded potato turnovers” so says the website, which were delish and piping hot! Then onto some Dal Shorba Soup, “A traditional soup made with split peas & lentils, subtly flavored with spices, garnished with cilantro” so says the website again. This was good but not amazing, and I thought the lentils would have been whole but the soup was puréed instead, which was sort of anemic and was more of a sauce. Then I went with the Lamb Dilruba, which is lamb in curry sauce with mushrooms, garlic, fresh ginger, and this, served with Nan bread (the most delicious bread in the world) and a trio of chutneys and sauces, was wonderful. Hot, spicy, and filling, along side a large dish of Basmati rice, the dish was perfectly cooked and lovely. With all this, and about 5 glasses of water (they don’t mess around with spice), I really enjoyed my meal.

So, stuffed, and my nose dripping from the profuse spice used in the curry, I left a happy man, and discovered I like Indian food in Portland, ME.  The meal was a little over $25 dollars, but, for the sake of research, I must spend a little green to get gold. (Like that? Knew you would…) o and gold seems really fitting once you see the décor. Wow, that really tied up nicely!

So, rating time already? Aww shucks, I was having so much fun. I think this place is a 3.5 Fork joint. Keep in mind that even if the restaurant gives off a “questionable” vibe at first, the authentic food is the winner here, and isn’t that what’s important? You know, coming here, by the way it smells and tastes, you will be getting a great Indian meal from people who know how to make one. Go here, and you won’t be sorry.

There you have it, the final chapter of the trilogy. I have a feeling that if Smeagol had some decent Indian food from Tandoor, maybe he wouldn’t have obsessed over a stupid gold ring, just sayin’

Words for the day…

Today is Friday, and the precious weekend is upon us (thank you again, Smeagol). So enjoy the end of the work week, you know I will be. And heck, if you see me out, shout a good restaurant idea at me, I’m open to suggestions, and free drinks. Peace out cub scouts!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Land of a Thousand Meals, Part II

Hello again y'all!

Well I had a day to reflect on the genius of my previous post, and gave my hands a bit o' rest. Now I'm back at it, hooray! Thanks for hanging in there kiddies!

So Monday, for part II of my dining adventures, I was treated to an impromptu lunch at David's, www.davidsrestaurant.com/, by a fellow classmate after my first official docent class at the Portland Museum of Art (PMA for the cool kids). 

Located on 22 Monument Square, off Congress Street, and right next to another Novice Fork review, Shay’s, David's has that been there a long time vibe, with a strange decor of lots of brick and faux flowers (welcome to 1995). However, the waitstaff here get it right, friendly, attentive, and swift, we had a table in seconds, and water in little over a minute. This is a good thing, because after a long docent class, my eyes were the shape of T-bone steaks. The clientele of mostly business lunchers was subdued and buttoned up and sleepy, even though the place is large and was mostly full (an universal sign that the food is good, btw).

The menu, for lunch anyway, is a combo pack of lots of different things: Pastas, entrées, pizza, sandwiches, appetizer salads and larger entrée salads. It all looks good, but it’s somewhat hard to find a common theme, which I look for when dining out. If I had to, the overall theme reads as “innovative” with an attention to seafood and steak… nothing wrong there. I’ll call it “Pan-American” with Mediterranean and Asian influences. That said, there is something for everyone, even if the overall effect of the menu seems a bit scattered. 

I had a Grilled Chicken Sandwich (wow so original… I always get one when I don’t know what to get), and it was really good, char grilled, tender and juicy, with tomato, onion and BBQ sauce, it was the perfect chicken sandwich. My friend had a Hamburger because, in his words, he “needed some red meat after a week of salads” (I hear that). We both got fries, which were decent too.

I think the true test of a restaurant is if I can’t wait to go back, and I can’t say that about David’s. It’s the type of place I know will be there if I need it, but if another place opens up, one I truly love, I’ll be there instead. That said, it was a good lunch, I was full, the bill was small, $18.00 for the two of us, and the service was awesome, which always contributes more to an experience than I realize sometimes. So…

Rating time, yay! I think this is a 3 Fork spot, for nothing wrong in particular, but more because the place feels a bit old, menu a bit scattered and simply it is not my fave restaurant in Portland, ME. Then again, you’ll get a good meal, at a great value, and with great service, all things to be thankful for.

Words for the day? Sure, why not…

When it rains, like today, you want to get all cozy and cook at home, so do so. Bake some brownies, call some friends over, watch a movie or reruns of Glee, and enjoy being indoors, sometimes the best meal you can have is at home. Aww now I’m all sentimental, it’s fine for a guy to cry, right?   

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Land of a Thousand Meals, Part 1

Wow, a week has gone by, and not only have I realized I want to go to grad school (shocker) but I had some kick butt meals, at THREE different restaurants, in three days!

But how is this possible you may ask?... Its called dedication people, get some.

Because of my restaurant hopping, this would have been a long post, but I’m going to split it up into three parts, like a miniseries, (move over Sarah Palin)

So hang in there, there is some good info for your next dinner out... no, like real good info.

Sooooo… I'll start things off with Saturday night, and a trip to an Italian restaurant I haven't been to... shocker again! I feel like if there is an Italian place in Portland, ME, I have been to it. So, imagine my delight when I got the opportunity to go to Paciarino Restaurant and Store, http://www.paciarino.com/. Located on Fore Street in Portland's Old Port district, its a charming, small restaurant and store where one can purchase fine Italian food products straight from the boot (Italy).*

*(Disclaimer... I have had a lot of good Italian food in Portland and around the US, so I'm bit biased and have things I respond to better than others... just sayin')

I had reservations for 8 pm, and arrived early, mostly because I was hungry, but also I wanted to survey the place and get a little recon in before dinner. The space was friendly, colorful and small, with yellow walls and blue windows. Seating, aside from the cute and comfy vestibule couch, was hard "Bob’s furniture special" chairs. When seated by the flustered by kind hostess, I looked at the menu, and instantly became confused.

Wordy, disjointed, and with several grammatical mistakes, the menu makes it hard to focus on the delish plates they do have. Their menu is primarily pasta dishes, with their own special sauces straight from Italy, and their appetizer menu seemed promising as well, with standard fare like Caprese Salad and a plate of Crostini, Crostini all'Italiana, toast with various Tapenades (ground up olives and eggplants, etc...)

So to start, I ordered a Caprese salad and my friend ordered the Crostini. My salad was perfect!!! Fresh basil, light and moist mozzarella, and sweet, ultra ripe tomatoes, with sea salt and cracked pepper atop, drizzled with olive oil (wow I need a moment, and maybe a cigarette)

Ok back, the salad was really good! But… the Crostini were kinda weak. I prefer Tapenades saltier, and with more flavor in general, and the only one that was really exciting was the hot pepper pate, because it was stronger than bland.

This, then, is a common theme for this restaurant. It has the right idea, and the ingredients are right on, but somehow the entire combo just misses the mark. This is true of the service as well. While some tables had bread, we did not receive any. Our table had a candle, some tables didn’t. The entire experience seemed a bit frenzied, but every table was packed so I’m sure that has most to do with that.

Ok, entrée time. I got a special of the night… Ravioli filled with Porcini mushrooms, toped with an uber-rich (too rich) butter sauce, fresh parmesan, and walnuts. The ravioli themselves were amazing, and the Porcini filling was savory yet light. However, the sauce was way too rich and buttery, and competed with the delicate and earthy mushroom filling. (If this were a light cream sauce, this dish would have been far better). I was also able to sample another special, as my friend got the sweet Pumpkin ravioli with fresh Parmesan, and drizzled with a balsamic reduction, almost too sweet, almost.

The wine selection was good here, but for non drinkers, there really isn’t much more than water or tea. However, the dessert menu was traditional. I had to get dessert, naturally… for you know research… and settled on my fave, Tiramisu!!! Absolutely delish, might be the best I’ve had. And for $7.95 I'm glad it was.

So, is it time for the fork test? I think so. Overall fork rating this time is a 3 Fork, with maybe half a fork toward the authenticity of the food. Grand total then? 3 Forks because that Tiramisu and Caprese were both so good, but the service, overall entrée impact, overall dining experience, and food’s value fell a bit short (the shiz is not cheap here).

There, 3.5 Forks, we are done with Paciarino, and I’ll be going back, for a lunch Caprese Salad.

Words for the day?

Thanksgiving is almost here, and for better or worse, family will be around you. So surround yourself with a buffer of good food, as this will make you happy, your family impressed and jealous, and maybe you’ll slip into a food coma and sleep right through the pain… Gobble Gobble y’all.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Art, Fries and other Musings

Sorry gang, it’s been a few days. Here is what you missed...

It rained, I ate some things, and it rained... (Glad we are all up to speed)

So the most pressing thing I can post about was my adventure with the Portland, ME First Friday Art Walk, Sponsored by the Portland Arts and Cultural Alliance, http://www.portlandarts.org/, and dinner at Shays, http://www.shaysgrillpub.com/, in Monument Square.

Everyone was out during the Art Walk, I mean EVERYONE, the sidewalks were completely overrun with artistic voyeurs in hot pursuit of free Pinot Grigio and Hummus dip, paintings of trees or, egad, lighthouses, and the air was humid and merry.

There are so many wonderful galleries on Congress Street, Portland's official Arts District where the Maine College of Art, http://www.meca.edu/, is located, as is the Portland Museum of Art, http://www.portlandmuseum.org/, where I currently volunteer. The Art Walk is a great way to explore these spaces of creativity with the social lubrication and buffer of hundreds of other visitors, artists, students and tourists.    

After all this oil paint, slightly lightheaded, I walked down to Shays for a bite with my friend. It was easy to get a table at this small restaurant, dimly lit and local art littering the dark painted walls. Having been here many times before, I already know the Fork rating for this establishment... drum roll please, this is a bonafide 3 Fork joint, for satisfying "upscale pub food," really good fries, and a small bill. Two people for $23 bucks!    

I had a Grilled Chicken Sandwich with Gouda cheese and bacon, smothered in a BBQ sauce. Fries were piled high and were crispy and delish. (A small disclaimer... I have a weird need to always have a side salad no matter what I eat) so I also ordered a small side Caesar, and it was good, not great.

My friend had the Pulled Pork sandwich, also with fries, looked great and clearly was, because it was finished in a few minuets.

Sooo, Go to Art Walk!!! And if all the other wonderful places to eat in Portland, ME are full, go to Shays, because it is also good eats (for sho).

Words for the day?

When it rains, organize your house. You’ll feel accomplished about something indoors and you’ll work up an appetite to go OUT and eat. You don’t want to be a hermit, trust me.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

White Mountain Holiday (complete with snow and good service)

Greetings all!

Well first off, today is November 2nd, and you know what that means, Voting day!!!! Go out, go forth, go on and vote for who you think will best serve you, the public. (Small word of advice... if the candidate has a "D" next to their name, its probably the better choice, but who am I to suggest such things...) Ha! its fun to wear political pants sometimes.

I digress.

Now this is going to be a long post so hang in there baby, I promise it will be sorta worth it. This past week, from Thursday to Saturday morning, I attended a rehearsal dinner and wedding in the absolutely beautiful WHITE MOUNTAINS! I have only been through that region a few times, when I was much younger, and forgot how natural, rural and peaceful that area of northern New Hampshire.

Of course, for anyone who knows me, I love a good wedding (and outlet shopping in North Conway, what up Ralph Lauren.) So imagine my surprise when I was asked by a very good friend to accompany them to a wedding at the  Mountain View Grand Resort, http://www.mountainviewgrand.com/, in Whitefield, New Hampshire, and the place was breathtaking! I checked into the Mountain View Grand around 2 pm, where that staff was friendly, gracious and relaxed, a big plus for me. The lobby was rustic but classic at the same time, with plaid upholstered wing chairs, lots of leather, and a bevy of crystal chandeliers. I checked into my room, which was huge and had its own walk in closet! (move over Imelda Marcos). Even the bathroom was nice... those things are important from time to time!
But on to the food!

They have two main dining rooms on site, the formal Main Dining Room, where breakfast is served each morning, and The Tavern, where the two lunches I had there were amazing. The best table in the place, however, is in the Wine cellar, where a handful of small tables are surrounded by the resort's wine collection. Quite the beautiful space! For lunch both days, I enjoyed a sandwich, first a grilled chicken, and then a grilled veggie and hummus (delish) and two different salads, again first a squash and fresh berry salad with vinaigrette and then a caesar with anchovies! (imagine that!) But anything you see on the lunch menu is worth getting, trust me. (seriously)

So after check-in Thursday, that delish chicken sandwich, and a few laps in the warm and inviting pool (and sauna) I got dressed and headed for the rehearsal dinner at Littleton New Hampshire's The Beal House Inn, http://www.thebealhouseinn.com/, the next town over. When my date and I arrived, a long and lavish cocktail hour was in full swing, with the bartender, full of sass and stiff drinks, was eagerly entertaining the crowd. The venue was cozy, warm, intimate and the perfect place for well wishes, sing-a-longs on the piano and one too many white wines. Then dinner was announced and there was a delish carving station with ham, turkey, and roast beef (oh my!), salad with really fresh veggies and a melange of savory side dishes, potato included, that reminded me of a Thanksgiving dinner without the awkward family moments, and again, white wine aplenty! It was a great time!

That leads us to wedding day...

Back to the Mountain View Grand, where breakfast was a near delight, with fresh berries atop cold cereal, a must in my morning ritual, bagel with lox, and some decent but not amazing sunny side up eggs (they sort of tasted like onion, like the griddle was used for another dish before mine, a pet peeve I have.) But the morning was bright, and the world was my oyster, so I went to the on site library and leisurely read a few books about nature, took a short walk around the grounds, and went back to the pool and sauna, quite the relaxing day! (Feel free to gag anytime, who do I think I am, Hugh Hefner?)

And on to the main event, after showering and dressing in my snappy finest, complete with festive paisley tie (again Hugh, are you there?) My friend and I walked down to the ballroom for the ceremony, which was short (plus,) I didn't cry (bonus,) and it was really short, (o said that already.) Then it was right out the back doors into cocktail area for, well cocktails and appetizers, which were really tasty, with cheese, veggies, scallops wrapped in bacon...original :-/...and fried artichokes, which were really good.

Thennnnnn... nearing the end, I promise.

Dinner was in The Tavern again, like the lunches, and I had yet another salad and the Chicken Parmesan which was the size of Jerry Stiller's hands (taste wise it was a total yawn but hey it beats the Olive Garden) but the experience, the people and the service of the hotel more than made up for it!

Saturday morning, as I drove home, it snowed and it was beautiful. End of story.

So, rating time, this one is a bit split. For service, the Mountain View Grand is 5 Fork resort, but I have to give the food overall a 3 Forker (that damn chicken parm). The Beal House is a solid 4 Fork experience, because the service was da Bomb!

So, that wasn't too bad was it? You did it, you made it through the review, congrats! Prize? No no, no prize here, just another words of the day... yay!

Its November 2nd y'all, so vote, and when I did, I got a muffin... because I have political hookups, and they were gonna be thrown out anyway, so really I was doing them a favor. So sometimes when asked to do good you get baked goods, just sayin'.