Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Little Grace Under Pressure

Hola readers. Well it’s been a few weeks, two to be exact, and man has the time flown. But what, you may ask, has been going on in my foodie life in all that time? Well… I was contacted for a job interview in Boston, score! I went to several amazing restaurants (double score) and it’s now the 8th day of spring (thank the lord). My trip down to Boston last week was great, albeit a little out of sequence for the few reviews I have to cook up. But since it was the latest adventure I’ve had, I think it makes sense to include it here now. But, the review, a supplement to the Novice Fork review of Masa Restaurant, in the South End of Boston, will be coming soon. Let’s turn now, to a wonderful Portland restaurant I want to give a little attention to, Grace. Was it good?  For certain.

Grace Restaurant

15 Chestnut Street
Portland, ME

The Novice Fork gives this church
turned luxe dinning establishment
4 Forks for its amazing atmosphere,
killer cocktails, and overall metropolitan appeal

The interior of Grace, so beautiful

What happens when you take three plucky twenty-somethings, a large (read very generous) gift certificate to one of Portland’s best restaurants, and a Friday night? Well a fantastic dinner and cocktail hour at Grace, of course. On this particular Friday, armed with two good friends and this (very generous) gift certificate, I thought a break from the normal bar hopping was in order. I crave good food, as most of you know, and thought how fun it would be to share this passion with a few friends. So to Grace we went, expecting the best. And we were not disappointed.

While Grace’s food is very good, the space and the drinks are really what one comes for. The site of a former church, the dinning rooms maintains most of the original gothic details, right down to leaving the altar intact behind the open concept kitchen. You enter on the main floor, with the spectacular central bar, round and with three gothic “sculptures” radiating out from it. And upstairs is more seating and a second bar, all overlooking the dinning room below from old church balconies. It’s simply a beautiful place to eat.

Before the food was decided upon, my friends and I enjoyed a few cocktails, a Greyhound for me, red wine for them. All of it was very tasty. The food? We, none too surprisingly, had enough money to sample a variety of different things so we did. I started with a warm salad with prosciutto and walnuts. Very good. My friend had the Pork Cretons, or a type of pork paté served with mustard and pickled vegetables. Wicked good. My other friend? The slider of course, which was perfect. (The girl loves her burgers) Are you sensing a trend with this restaurant?

These “starters” were all digested at the upstairs bar, but 4 lounge seats opened up right next to us so we migrated there and got even more food. For me it was the Pan Seared Goat Cheese Gnocchi, which was sweet, savory and fantastic. And my friend got the Hanger Steak, which, cooked medium rare, was perfection.

Now with this lavish meal you’d expect great service, and that’s certainly what you get here. Our bartender was excellent and I see her there every time I go. And our waitress was prompt and easygoing, my two favorite things and we felt taken care of but also left to our own deep conversations.   

So, if you go to Grace, you will find a diverse, inspired menu, banging good cocktails, and an atmosphere more big city than you’d expect to find in our little Port City. 4 Forks it is! You should go to Grace now if you’re smart… but no pressure.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Local Delicious, Whoopies and Spanish Eggs

Well hello everyone! The great thaw is slowly occurring in Maine and today, with temps around 50 and lots o’ rain, the snow is melting and with each inch we are all one step closer to summer. (I am over this). So in preparation for the “Great Thaw,” get out and enjoy the last three days of Maine Restaurant Week, and maybe if you wear a bathing suit, the sun will be forced to show up too. Additionally, I’d also like to briefly report on a business a new friend is starting. Her name is Beth and makes Whoopie Pies, so naturally I sniffed out a sample faster than you can say sugary goodness. Here is her contact info below.

Elizabeth Nason
Whoopie Pies, Breads,
Cookies, Cakes and more…

These are the best Whoopie Pies I’ve ever had. The chocolate cake was moist, dark and not too sugary, and the cream filling? So fluffy, rich vanilla taste and again not riddled with that crunchy sugar issue that so often plagues the Whoopie. I’m telling you these little guys are delicious. Help my new friend Beth, the baking entrepreneur and BUY HER PIES! You won’t be disappointed.

Now that I’ve given Beth some pastry love, let’s turn now to the restaurant on deck today. Local 188 on Upper Congress Street in Portland.

Local 188
685 Congress St
Portland, ME 04102-3303

(207) 761-7909

The Novice Fork gives this spot
4 Forks for fun artistic atmosphere,
inventive food and great people watching

Local 188's front door, pulled from their website.

Where do you go for an excellent brunch when in Downtown Portland? Where do you go to have a loaded Bloody Mary or delicious spiced home fries? The answer is, of course, Local 188, the art’s district spot with a lush atmosphere and scrumptious, Spanish influenced sustenance. I love this restaurant. Simply put its cool, laid back, sexy, stylish and the food is excellent, unique and inventive. I could end the review here, but that’s too short and I’m feeling talkative today, so hang in there.

On this gray Sunday, following some research at the Portland Museum of Art, my fellow docent suggested brunch to fuel up and discuss art. Local 188 is the perfect place to do both things, really. You first notice the mismatched furniture, the beautiful murals on the lofty walls, and the warmth the surrounds you when you enter the front door. With velvet drapes, and wonderful smells from the open kitchen, you understand why this place remains so popular, 10 years after its opening.

Because it was brunch, I had to enjoy a mimosa, which was a perfect blend of Champagne and fresh squeezed orange juice. My friend? The Bloody Mary, (I hate these, but she said it was good) The food? We both got the $8 Huevos Rancheros, which were perfect. Sunnyside up eggs, black beans, and sour cream, salsa and delicious ranchero sauce, these Rancheros rival the plate I had down in Boston at Masa (If you diehard readers may remember?) They were that good, and the perfect amount of food on the plate. If the egg dish isn’t for you, they have a great assortment of traditional brunch items (Bagels, salads, omelettes) or dishes with the ever present Spanish flair, something for everyone. Oley! Their dinner menu is ever more comprehensive without being overwhelming, so check it out as well!

The service here is friendly and very casual, but it matches the relaxed art vibe well. The only thing I was put off by is how popular this place gets on a Sunday. It was wall to wall people and we had to wait at least 30 minutes for a table. But the food (and certainly the drinks) makes the wait well worth it. Just call ahead if you’re hypoglycemic or don't like wating in lines.

There you have it, another rave 4 Forker. Go to Local 188 for brunch or anytime during the day, have a cocktail or two. You won’t regret the visit.   

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bright Lights, Date City

Salutations! Welcome to another installment of The Novice Fork, and may I say that I’ve had some rocking meals lately! For some reason I have been out more this month than any other, and it’s only March 8th! Whatever the reason it’s not a bad thing, and now I can share the vital info with you all. Let’s begin.

This overdue issue of the Novice Fork brings us to Portsmouth NH and the restaurant du jour Portsmouth Gas Light Co.

Portsmouth Gas Light Co.
64 Market Street
Portsmouth, NH 03801
(603) 431-9122

The Novice Fork gives this multipurpose
restaurant 4 Forks for good food,
convenient downtown location and warm ambiance

The outside of Gas Light Co. Very Portsmouth.

Why was I in Portsmouth, you may ask? Well on this particularly blustery winter’s night I traveled down to Portsmouth NH for a date and a good meal. Shocking I know! Who do I think I am? I’m always open to a little romance (and if good food is included then of course even better). My cohort suggested Gas Light Co. after much debate and while I’m sure any restaurant would have been fine, I’m glad we went here. The space, naturally, is the first thing you notice. Exposed brick, copper topped tables, candles, live plants, a warmly lit and substantial bar and lots of seating options, it’s a beautiful restaurant. From the more formal street level dinning room or the downstairs pizza zone, the restaurant has a lot going for it.

The service here is professional and top notch. Our waitress had our waters refilled instantaneously, our happy hour half off wine (from 4-6pm) was very tasty and never empty, and our food came out so fast we didn’t have time to even ask those always comfy first date questions. (We had plenty of time after the food came though, not to worry.)

So the food? The menu here is sort of pan American with Asian and Mediterranean influences and a strong focus on seafood. (Wow I wonder why, we were near the ocean.) I had a really, really good Greek inspired garden salad with freshly grilled chicken atop, adorned with feta cheese and cucumbers. This was such a good salad I didn’t mind the massive portion and I ate the whole thing. My date? An “Apple Harvest Salad” a spinach salad with fresh cut apples and bacon with a cider vinaigrette and bleu cheese. (Which was just as large and looked real tasty too).

The prices here are a bit steep, my salad came out to be around $14 once including chicken. But you get what you pay for, with the great service and the atmosphere that surrounds you as you eat. The dessert list looked great and since my date knew I’d be writing a review, they insisted I get one to try. (Do I need any more reason? No.) So we got the very tasty fresh berry cake, a yellow cake with compote made of fresh berries on top and cream inside. It was very, VERY good too.

So, a summary? The food is good here, and spans a few different culinary influences, allowing you to get whatever you want. The service is good here, so you’ll never be waiting for your wine, and the restaurant itself is nice, which adds atmosphere to a fun and romantic date. (I’m happy to report this last fact and I’ll keep you all posted.) A 4 fork experience for certain. Hooray!  

Words for the day...

Simply to go out and enjoy the last remaining days of restaurant week, you never know what kind of adventure you'll have. Over and out.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Lost Weekend, Part II

Well hello readers! We are back for round two of my Connecticut weekend of frivolity and I’m happy to serve it all to ya! In this second installment you may notice some slight changes on our little website, namely now you’ll be able to click directly on a restaurant’s name to get to that review. Revolutionary I know. But what’s behind my new proficiency in web design, you may ask? Well… I recently took a course at the Maine College of Art in web design and I learned a heck of a lot, namely how to use the great templates provided by Blogger better and faster. So enjoy the fruits of my colligate labor and the fresh, efficient new layout!

So, on to the review. Today we are highlighting a Stonington Borough, CT institution Noah’s.

113 Water Street
Stonington, CT 06378

The Novice Fork gives this spot
4 Forks for its neighborhood feel,
great food, and chilled out atmosphere

The outside of Noah's, cute right?

On the sleep deprived last day of my weekend, desperately seeking a nap or a chocolate shake, my friend decided to take me and his main squeeze to Noah’s, in Stonington Borough. Established in 1979, Noah’s is the type of neighborhood spot reserved for and revered by the locals and tuned in tourists who know where to go. The first thing you may notice about this joint is that the entire restaurant is covered in art and colorful gimcracks one can only accumulate over many years. Plaques, paintings of the restaurant, costal Connecticut memorabilia and wood paneling adorn the walls, the bar is deep and comfy, and the tables are sunlit and well worn. This pleasant scene is continued when greeted with the very friendly and casual (while at times, a tad slow) service, especially at the bar where it seems everyone actually knows your name.

On any given Sunday they have a brunch, lunch and dinner menu and I’m sure whatever you order off of any of these menus would be delicious. Having had French toast earlier that day, I thought a salad would be a better fit for me so I ordered the garden salad. Smart move. Mine was composed of field greens, tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms and red onion, dressed in vinaigrette. Simple and classic. My friend ordered the bacon and onion quiche with a side arugula salad, and his girlfriend ordered the Asian noodle bowl which looked incredible and tasted good too, I had to test it of course. My cohorts enjoyed a beer or two and I couldn’t possibly, but several glasses of water were my drink of desperate choice. The prices arfe right here too, my salad was only $6 and just the right amount of food.   

All and all, the service, food and atmosphere here makes one understand Noah’s longevity and the reason locals and visitors keep coming back. Its only shortcoming could be that restrooms, past the kitchen (which is awkward), are so small you need to sit on the toilet to wash your hands. But if you’re an optimistic person, this only adds to the charm of this, well, charming little restaurant. 4 Forks it is, but just because you’re so damn cute, Noah’s. Eat here now!

Great, now we have the end of my time in CT. I’m as sad as you that my time there was so brief, but have no fear. I’ll be back soon and I know Mystic and its surrounding communities will be ready. (Or god I hope so)

Words for the day…

Only this. With so much negativity in the world currently, any break for you is well worth it. Take a lunch break from a hectic day, reconnect with an old friend, and enjoy any quiet moment you can. Don’t worry, be happy now. (Or eat chocolate.) Have a great one all!  

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Lost Weekend, Part I

Greetings readers! What a week it has been, with lots to report and many meals to dissect. But before I begin, I feel contractually obligated to share that our newest post comes at the beginning of Maine Restaurant Week, which I’m totally excited about! Already three days into the great event, the twice annual Restaurant Week lets Maine restaurants highlight what they do in a typically 3 course pre-fix menu and affords food lovers the rare opportunity to experience new places and dine and enjoy. Their website, http://www.mainerestaurantweek.com/, is loaded with useful information and gives a full list of restaurants participating, including my faves Cinque Terra and The Corner Room Kitchen and Bar in Portland!

Maine Restaurant Week
March 1- 12 2011

Traditional 3 course, pre-selected menu at a decent price!
Go out and have a new food adventure.

So since I’ve given Maine Restaurant Week some love, let’s turn now to my recent trip to Mystic, Connecticut and Providence RI. As some of you readers may remember, Mystic was the site of my first posting and the quaint town still holds a certain cranny in my heart. Visiting a college roommate and close friend is never a bad idea either. The weekend flew by and with it I grabbed some great material for the blog!

The first restaurant on deck, however, doesn’t reside in the famous land of pizza and movies about pizza, but rather in Providence RI and on the storied, collegiate Thayer Street. With my friend in tow, I was very excited to visit the same street I spent so many afternoons escaping the Wheaton College grind. Thayer Street is Brown University’s answer to Harvard Square and it has a similar vibe, notorious for its hip restaurant and the hole in the wall clothing stores. I love it here! While wandering about we stumbled on a new sushi place. The obvious choice was, then, to step inside and check it out. And just so you know, Shark Restaurant ended up being fantastic.

Shark Restaurant
275 Thayer Street
Providence, RI 02906

The Novice Fork gives this place
4 Forks for delicious sushi,
sexy atmosphere and great location

The outside of Shark Restaurant, full of Providence cool.

This restaurant has it all. A selective and easy to navigate sushi menu, a Hibachi grill, great music, full bar, and a stunning fish tank with a resident pet shark keeping a firm watch over his diners. We arrived without a reservation and for a Saturday night this can be tricky, but we were seated right away and were enjoying that tasty Japanese beer Sapporo within minutes.

For dinner I settled on the “Shark Delux” a sampler of 9 pieces of nigiri-sushi (fish over rice) and two different maki rolls. Served with a miso soup and an Asian inspired salad, the price isn’t cheap, at $24 bucks, but with all that food, and a beer, I was filled to the brim and happy. My friend got a similar combo platter of sushi and I only got rave reviews on his side of the table. (Thumbs up!)

The waitress we had was also great. With the entire restaurant inundated with guests and a mere several inches with which to move from table to cramped table, she was speedy, kind and attentive, always ready with water or a eel dipping sauce. (A general tip about dining out: Tell your server that you’ll be writing a review on that restaurant, your service will be on point… sneaky but it never fails). Overall, the experience was great, the sushi was great and you should eat there.  

But what happens when you want the good times to continue in Providence, the land of red clam chowder and Federal Hill Italian food and cultural district? Since I had no readily discernable answer, my friend and I decided to drive a bit and find a classy but laidback watering hole to continue the night. (In an attempt to become the cast of The Hangover, naturally.) After a parking search, we settled on Local 121. Again, this was a smart move.
Local 121
121 Washington Street
Providence RI, 02903

The Novice Fork gives this local food spot
4 Forks for its beautiful bar, hip clientele
and attention to local food sourcing

Local 121, love the stained glass!

This place is beautiful. That’s the first thing you think when you walk into this large restaurant and cozy, wood paneled and fully stocked bar. The second thing you notice is that much of their food and drink selection comes from locally sourced vendors. Be it the beets on the spinach salad or the beer from a brewery down the road, the focus here is LOCAL, plain and simple. This is really cool because while I assume a city the size of Providence would have restaurants like this, it’s nice to see them in practice.

Unfortunately, I was still too stuffed from my sushi mere minutes before to even think about food, but the drinks, I can say, were top notch. I devoured two of my favorite Greyhounds (Grapefruit Juice and Vodka) and amazingly enough they were made with fresh grapefruit juice. My friend tried a local and organic beer, which got a resounding thumbs up.) And the prices were right, with my Greyhounds costing around $6 each and $5 for the pint of beer. (Not too shabby.)

At around 11 pm, this sleepy and upscale bar/restaurant turns into a wild, Urban Outfitters type dance extravaganza, where girls in stylish dresses and guys with ironic mustaches and glasses danced to a mash up of pop and electronica. Wild time. The dance floor was very small, but if you don’t mind bumping into a few people while shaking it to “Bille Jean” then go for it. It was a pretty fun and random way to top off the night.

Thank you Local 121 and Shark Restaurant for giving me a great night in Providence, RI, I’ll be back, so get the sushi and Grapefruit juice ready. And there you have it, part one in a two part review on my “Lost Weekend” to providence RI and Mystic, CT. I hope you enjoyed!  

Words for the day? As always, why do I ask this question every time? Not sure, so I’ll continue….

Since Maine Restaurant Week is underway, there is no excuse really not to go out and enjoy a lavish yet affordable meal at a restaurant you’ve never been to. Life’s an adventure and eating your way through it is the tastiest route. Eat, Drink and explore ya’ll!