Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mill Town Sushi Blues: A Not So Sad Tale of Great Sushi and Chinese

Greetings my diligent explores of good food far and wide and welcome to anther belated installment of Novice Fork food judgery. For our discussion today, I must confess I have recently been caught in straight up foodie ignorance. I regrettably admit that, living in and around Portland, ME for most of my life, I begin to think of the peninsula as the only food stop for the state. I know this is a very limiting view of food in Maine because tip to stern Maine is lousy with good restaurants.

However, with such an aggressive concentration of eateries in Portland, my personal vibe usually is: why go anywhere else? So an invitation to try a (relatively) new Sushi and Chinese restaurant in Biddeford (say whaaa?) was a chance to branch out, tuck in, and get out of my own gastro-way. 

Enter Koi, in Biddeford, ME.

11 Elm Street,
Biddeford ME 04005-2007

Specialty Roll. Unreal.  

The Novice Fork gives this Chinese and Japanese killer combo
4 Forks for amazingly tasty Asian food
at a surprisingly affordable price.

As stated above, traveling south of my beloved Portland for food I can easily get in, well, Portland is often a stretch. I mean, we have King of the Roll, we have both Miyake's, and we have Yosaku. Pretty fine roster if you ask me. But I wouldn’t do the readers out there their due diligence if I didn’t get the heck of dodge once in a while. So to Biddeford I travel, dinner date lined up and hearty appetite ready to go.

Upon driving to the unassuming restaurant, in a parking lot off route 1, the outside does little to quell any suspicions I have. The décor when inside doesn’t do much either. Standard, almost bland/nondescript colors do little to describe how lip-smackingly good the food is here. 

The menu is more of a translators dictionary of Asian all stars, the names and descriptions are familiar. But with Koi, it’s all about the execution, which as I discovered was spot on. Feeling overwhelmed by the large menu, my friend and I choose a bit from column A and B. Two specialty Sushi rolls, an assortment of soups (Hot and Sour and Miso) and an entrée. First let me say this was the BEST Hot and Sour soup I have had in Maine. Period. Balanced, savory, sweet and sour all at once, I could have had a bathtub full. And the Miso? Suffice to say it was also delish.

The sushi? Settling on the weekly special “Oh My God” roll (the name is well deserved) and the Tiger Roll, both had excellent depth of flavor and freshness. I could not stop eating. But the all-star of the evening was the Crispy Orange Beef entrée. Holy crap. It was literally plate licking good, perfectly crispy and flavorful beef, perfectly cooked broccoli, perfectly steamed rice. The beef was gone far to fast, in fact the entire meal was done before I knew it. There wasn’t much talking, and this is a great sign that the food is so good words aren’t necessary.

Lets not leave out the service, as this was also perfect. Very gracious, our server was always ready to refill water at a moments notice. Lastly, the price is so affordable you can get a second roll guilt free. (Wallet not waistline guilt) 

I was very impressed with this meal. Not only because I was surprised by where the restaurant was located, but because a good meal anywhere is a happy thing to experience. And yes, Biddeford has good restaurants. Who knew. So look far and wide, food eaters, your next meal could be right outside your door, in a different state or even Biddeford, ME.  


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Crispo, Christmas, and all things Manhattan

Welcome readers! Now while it's obviously no surprise that New York City enables the plucky and enthusiastic visitor any number of experiences, summer or winter.  A few musts, depending on the season are strolling The Highline in summer’s heat (wear a tank top, trust me) ice skating in Central Park, (Don’t wear a tank top), or seeing that same Central Park in full bloom in late April (bring a blanket for an afternoon snooze) or catching a ferry to of the city’s many public beaches, to swim and explore the sights of New York’s migratory sunbathers. There truly is something for everyone.

This was certainly the case for one certain Saturday Night in the City. This past Holiday season I was invited to a festive, read fancy schmancy, holiday party in the West Village. Awesome… I LOVE parties. Any excuse to dress up, eat fancy finger foods and hobnob like I’m at the Oscars I’m all for it. (You like me, you REALLY like me!) Let me just say, this soiree deserves its own accolades and review from the Novice Fork. Put on by mutual friends in their lovingly restored and amazingly tasteful West Village brownstone, (what a house!) it was the event of my season. I even met a celeb (Australia’s Next Top Model, anyone?) I had a blast. Catered, bartended and robustly attended, and complete with a beautiful Christmas tree around which guests placed toys for a local charity, I was high on life (and gin). Definitely “thank you note” worthy.

Before this party, to make sure my hunger needs were attended to, my friend and I decided upon a restaurant of the Italian persuasion. Best. Decision. Ever. So this 4th installment of the Novice Fork “New York City Edition” brings us to a fantastic Italian restaurant smack dab between Chelsea and the West Village.  Crispo is its name and so we being.

240 West 14th Street New York, NY 10011
www.crisporestaurant .com

Novice Fork gives this cozy Italian nook 5 stars 
for its value, fun atmosphere and authenticity

Put very simply, I love this place. When I’m craving good Italian food I think back, very fondly, to the meal I had here. The first night I experienced everything that is Crispo it was cold, but a very festive atmosphere clung to the air. Holiday season in full swing and decked out in our finest, my friend and I made our way to our table of the cozy and warm restaurant with exposed brick, dim lights, and roaring laughter and glasses clinging. Dining room atmosphere? Check. The fun thing about this restaurant is that not only do they have the bar area and main dinning room, but they have a year-round garden room and carriage house with a beautifully rustic "family style" long table. Its beautiful. for my first time at Crispo we were seated at a very small table right near the bar area and large, garden level window and promptly watered and breaded and a bottle of white wine selected.  Service? Check.

The regular menu at Crispo has the usual Italian suspects, all of which I can boldly assume are great and they a have a decent wine list and a full bar to keep customers happy and hazily full of grappa and limoncello. The night I went here there was an additional specials menu that had a half dozen supplemental pasta dishes and salads. As a rule of thumb, I usually order the special, if its only around for a limited time I might as well take advantage, no? Featured was a special Caprese Salad, or quite consistently the best thing on the planet. So naturally I had to order it. Here at Crispo? They knocked out of the park. The Mozzarella was imported buffalo straight from the Italian source and this is what sets a good Caprese apart. With excellent tomatoes and a very rich balsamic drizzle and fresh basil it is my favorite salad and they did it very well. Ok ok, enough gushing. But damn it was tasty.

Now, the entrée. I again selected from the special menu and I am BEYOND glad I did. The dish I received was easily the best pasta I have ever eaten. Granted I haven’t, sadly, been to Italy (an issue) but suffice to say any visiting Italian to this restaurant would agree with me, or at least approve. Ladies and gentleman, may I present Lobster Bolognese over Squid Ink pasta.  OMG. To say I overreacted when taking my initial bites would be a gross understatement. I felt like Meg Ryan from, well, every movie she has ever been in. (Love you girl.) People stared, but did I care? NO, dammit! The pasta was salty but light and perfectly Al dente, the lobster perfectly cooked (and important distinction for a Mainer to bestow) and the sauce? Plate-licking good. Food? A massive, enthusiastic check.

For only $19, this dish was a steal— nuanced and well crafted. I was a happy holiday camper.  I can’t even remember what my friend had. Chicken? Who knows. Does it matter? No. I had a great meal here. Seriously one of those dishes I’ll always remember. Go to this restaurant the next time you are in the city. Honestly it should be your first stop. Enjoy


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Three Days in New York, Part 3

Greetings once again faithful eaters and welcome to the third but not final installment of New York freshness, hot outta the oven.  It truly was an amazing NYC weekend, but awesomeness is nothing new for the city, obviously. Anytime I go to New York I feel rejuvenated, my soul recharged, energized, and ready for all things new. But all that positivity and exuberance can, on the flip, be quite exhausting. After three days of eating, drinking (read guzzling) and general walking about with a confused wonder on my face, a guy could and does get tired. Too full after my many bagels, gin and tonics, and more bagels, sometimes the soul (or gut) needs something else. Enter, Doughnut Plant. 

Doughnut Plant
220 West 23rd Street, Between 7th & 8th Avenues
New York, NY 10011

Love the artwork! 

The Novice Fork gives this specialized 
doughnut purveyor 5 Forks 
for doing one thing amazingly well. 

Now it’s not surprising to many, through the roughly two decades of Doughnut Plant’s various incarnations and consistent success, that this place makes a potent doughnut. However, having never gone to a location before and finding discovery with one’s own taste buds the best cure of hype, I knew this was a must stop for any self-respecting “foodie” (I still don’t like that word). The idea that I was happy I went here is an understatement. These are the best doughnuts I have ever had. PeriodFin

I loved both the “yeast” style, chewy, light, and so sweet hand dipped in dark, rich chocolate, and I loved the chocolate “cake” doughnut, dense, moist and not too filling.  I could have easily eaten a dozen if my friend hadn’t pried my away from that beautiful case full of the most delicious doughnuts found anywhere. (Sorry Voodoo Doughnuts, NYC and Doughnut Plant have got you beat.) Go there, located in the Chelsea Hotel between 7th and 8th, or to their way downtown location, and you will not be disappointed. Seriously. My waist line may be pissed, Doughnut Plant, but my soul and general sugar induced giddiness thank you. Seconds, anyone?


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Three Days in New York, Part 2

Greetings my fearless eaters and welcome to the second installment of New York deliciousness, served up hot in three courses. Loosen your belt loops, because we are getting to the meat and potatoes and its going to be good. How good? Read on and belly up. Hope you’re in the mood for something spicy.

Now you may be wondering what this Novice Forker’s second favorite activity in the City that needs Ambien to sleep may be aside from stuff my pie hole on amazing global cuisine and the best bagels I’ve ever had (well, duh…) 

Legit Bagel Experience

What is this activity I simply couldn't live without? Shopping, my dears, shopping. 

My credit card was so hot it burned right through my wallet as I ripped through SoHo like the Tasmanian devil. My tip to all of you? Forget 5th Avenue with its throngs of tourist cramming into the M&M Store (sorry little guys) and head south, south of Houston to be precise, to the best and most authentic NYC shopping experience. Sure it’s the same stores (H&M, Banana, and Hollister) but you’ll be in the heart of it all, open air, bustling streets, and the xfactor that makes NYC what it is. It is the best, and once you go, you’ll know what I mean.

But food remains my top priority and here we come to a certain Friday evening in the City that brought us to a place possessing my favorite Mexican in NYC. The Rocking Horse Café in the ever-popular neighborhood of Chelsea.

The Rocking Horse Café
182 8th Avenue New York, NY 10011

Love the colors!

The Novice Fork gives this Chelsea stalwart
4.5 stars for reliability of food,
awesome atmosphere and swift service.

Now this place is amazing not only because it has been going strong since as long as anyone can remember (that’s a lot of years) so its no exaggeration that The Rocking Horse Café is a fixture of the Chelsea dinning scene (with most locals remember it as being at the forefront of the Chelsea’s renaissance.) Once you enter its unassuming front door, you the eater begin to see why. The lively, packed and good looking crowd downing amazingly potent margaritas, bright colors and worldly artwork, and with the strong smells of cilantro, braised pork and mole all grab at your attention all at once.

Seated either at the long and popular bar, or into the very long and narrow restaurant, the atmosphere envelopes you. Dimly lit, warm, and very “city” it’s what you want when you come to New York.

When you go to Rocking Horse, get the guacamole, its delicious. And the normal menu really has something for everyone. But on this particular evening the special menu featured a special pork loin with salsa Verde and chipotle mashed potatoes. This I couldn’t pass up on. However, since I’m not the biggest fan of the mashed potato (Shocking I know) I opted for a side of garlic sautéed kale. This was a great switch. 

The Holy Pork Loin (for serious)

Finishing up with a few margaritas, (maybe one too many) and with exceptional company intimately across the table from me, my night was perfect. I can’t even remember what they had to eat (Chicken?) but it doesn’t matter, it was good, like the food always is. I hope you all feel festive everyday of your lives, but if you don’t, Rocking Horse Café is a good medicine.